In Fulton speech, Sanders urges foreign-policy engagement

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., waves to the audience at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., on Sept. 21.  Sanders laid out his vision for foreign policy during his speech.  Photo courtesy Westminster College


FULTON, Mo. – During a talk last week at the lecture series made famous by Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders stressed multilateralism, diplomacy and themes of social justice as he laid out his vision of American foreign policy.

“The goal is not for the United States to dominate the world. Nor, on the other hand, is our goal to withdraw from the international community and shirk our responsibilities under the banner of ‘America First,’ ” Sanders, 76, told a packed auditorium during his Sept. 21 address at Westminster College, which was frequently interrupted by enthusiastic applause. “Our goal should be global engagement based on partnership, rather than dominance.”

Sanders, I-Vt., who is Jewish, became a hero to many American progressives during his energetic but unsuccessful run for the Democratic presidential nomination last year against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. His name is mentioned as a potential challenger to President Donald Trump in 2020.

His remarks this week were delivered as part of the John Findley Green Foundation lecture, an event that began in 1936 and gained international notoriety for this small mid-Missouri campus 10 years later when Churchill coined his now-iconic metaphor for Russian Cold War domination of Eastern Europe. Since then, the Green lecture has attracted big names in international affairs, including several former American presidents, ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and one-time Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Sanders, quoting figures from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the prophet Isaiah, inveighed against increased defense spending and cautioned against military solutions to international problems.

Advertisement for The J

“As the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth, we have got to help lead the struggle to defend and expand a rules-based international order in which law, not might, makes right,” Sanders said. “We must offer people a vision that one day, maybe not in our lifetimes, but one day in the future, human beings on this planet will live in a world where international conflicts will be resolved peacefully, not by mass murder.”

Sanders pushed a cooperative approach to international relations and rejected the idea that the United States should enforce a “benevolent global hegemony.” Citing examples from South Vietnam to Chile to Iraq, he said that American administrations have too often resorted to installing or supporting questionable foreign regimes for short-term gain without regard to long-term costs.

Sanders strongly endorsed the nuclear deal with Iran and suggested a similar model for dealing with North Korea. Trump has raised the possibility of withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement, which Sanders said would be a “serious mistake.”

“Not only would this potentially free Iran from the limits placed on its nuclear program, it would irreparably harm the United States’ ability to negotiate future nonproliferation agreements,” Sanders said. “Why would any country in the world sign such an agreement with the United States if they knew that a reckless president and an irresponsible Congress might simply discard that agreement a few years later?”

He also had harsh words for Trump on Russia, chiding the president for failing to mention alleged interference by Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the 2016 election that brought the real-estate mogul to power.

“Today, I say to Mr. Putin: We will not allow you to undermine American democracy or democracies around the world,” Sanders said. “In fact, our goal is to not only strengthen American democracy, but to work in solidarity with supporters of democracy all over the globe, including in Russia. In the struggle of democracy versus authoritarianism, we intend to win.”

Endorsing nonmilitary foreign aid as a means of extending American influence, Sanders said that American foreign policy successes should be modeled after initiatives such as the Marshall Plan. That effort rebuilt post-WWII Germany rather than punishing it, as the Allies had done in the wake of the First World War, a move some historians feel created a fertile environment for the later rise of Adolf Hitler.

Sanders also tied foreign affairs to domestic issues including budget priorities, economic policy, global warming and current debate over the treatment of African-Americans by police.  He said America must practice the virtues of democracy and justice at home if its promotion of these ideas abroad are to be taken seriously.

“That means continuing the struggle to end racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia here in the United States and making it clear that when people in America march on our streets as neo-Nazis or white supremacists or anti-Semites, we have no ambiguity in condemning everything they stand for,” he said. “There are no two sides on that issue.”

Noting a sister city program he began while mayor of Burlington, Vt., he said that interactions between individuals from different nations is an effective tool in promoting healthy foreign affairs.

“Hatred and wars are often based on fear and ignorance,” Sanders said. “The way to defeat this ignorance and diminish this fear is through meeting with others and understanding the way they see the world. Good foreign policy means building people-to-people relationships.”