Why Does Bernie Sanders Want the Saudis to Exercise MORE Influence?

My colleague Norman Solomon has a piece published today: "Bernie Sanders should stop ducking foreign policy" in which he writes: 

"After a question about 'the military establishment' and 'perpetual war' from a man who identified himself as a veteran for peace at a recent town hall gathering in Iowa City, Sanders’ reply was tepid Democratic boilerplate. He blamed Republican hawks for getting the U.S. into Iraq. He called for progress against waste and cost overruns at the Pentagon. And he said that in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the U.S. government should act jointly with regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. ('Those countries are going to have to get their hands dirty, it cannot just be the United States alone.')

"When pressed for details on military intervention, Sanders has indicated that his differences with the Barack Obama administration are quite minor. Like many Democrats, he supports U.S. air strikes in the Middle East, while asserting that only countries in the region should deploy ground forces there. Sanders shares the widespread view among members of Congress who don’t want boots on the ground but do want U.S. air power to keep dropping bombs and firing missiles.

"Sanders has also urged confronting Russian leader Vladimir Putin over Ukraine. ('You totally isolate him politically, you totally isolate him economically,' Sanders said on Fox News last year.) Closer to home, the Vermont senator has championed the $1.4 trillion half-century program for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 beleaguered fighter jets. The Air Force is planning to base F-35s at the commercial airport in Burlington, his state’s largest city."

I had actually asked Sanders about the F-35 when he was at the Press Club in March of this year and he ducked the question. It was part of what the moderator asked as a two parter and Sanders replied to the other part of the question and simply ignored the question about his backing the F-35. I've listed all the questions I submitted below. 

However, the aspect of foreign policy as articulated by Sanders that has grabbed me the most is his stance on ISIS -- where he points to the Saudis being the solution. He's said this repeatedly. In February with Wolf Blitzer on CNN: "this war is a battle for the soul of Islam and it's going to have to be the Muslim countries who are stepping up. These are billionaire families all over that region. They've got to get their hands dirty. They've got to get their troops on the ground. They've got to win that war with our support. We cannot be leading the effort."

And in May, after the Saudi's started bombing Yemen, also when interviewed by Wolf Blitzer, Sanders correctly noted as a result of the Iraq invasion "we’ve destabilized the region, we’ve given rise to Al-Qaeda, ISIS." But then says: "What we need now, and this is not easy stuff, I think the President is trying, you need to bring together an international coalition, Wolf, led by the Muslim countries themselves! Saudi Arabia is the third largest military budget in the world they’re going to have to get their hands dirty in this fight. We should be supporting, but at the end of the day this is fight over what Islam is about, the soul of Islam, we should support those countries taking on ISIS."

What? Why should the U.S. be backing Saudi Arabia? You'd think that perhaps an alleged progressive like Sanders would say that we have to break our decades-long backing of the Saudis. But no, he wants to double down on it. They're not "pulling their weight" -- they're not exercising enough influence in the region. The Saudis have pushed Wahabism and have been deforming Islam, which actually give rise to ISIS and Al Qaeda. It's a little like Bernie Sanders saying that the Koch Brothers need to get more involved in U.S. politics, they need to "get their hands dirty."

But if your point is to build up the next stage of the U.S. government's horrific role in the Mideast, it kind of makes sense. The U.S. government helped ensure the Saudis would dominate the Arabian Peninsula. In return the Saudis invested funds from their oil wealth largely in the West instead of the region. They buy U.S. weapons to further solidify the "relationship" and to ensure their military dominance. The Saudis and other Gulf monarchies deformed the Arab uprisings, which turned oppressive but minimally populist regimes that were potential rivals into failed states. 

Perhaps most horrifically, Sanders continued this line of argument in May -- after the Saudis started bombing Yemen in March. As far as I can tell, he continues making the argument. 

But why? Is there a domestic constituency called "Americans for Further Expanding Saudi Power"? Well, yes and no. It would obviously play well in the general public to say: "We've got to stop backing dictatorships like the Saudis." There's no affront to any sense of U.S. nationalism there. There would seem to be no affront to the domestic constituencies obsessed with Israeli domination of the region. But the Israeli-Saudi alliance means that there is. It feels to me that Sanders is knowingly or not -- I don't know who his foreign policy advisers are -- telegraphing to the Israel fanatic crowd that he's on board in terms of Israel's geo-strategic interests in the region. And to the U.S. establishment generally. It's noteworthy that he's made the case on Wolf Blitzer's program, since Blitzer has long been a leading pro-Israel luminary. 

The U.S.-Saudi alliance has been one of the plagues that has devastated the Mideast. There's nothing "progressive" about doubling down on it. 

The following are the questions I submitted to the Sanders event at the National Press Club in March. Other than the question about the F-35, which Sanders didn't respond to, none were asked:  

* You're fond of saying "Wars drain investment at home" -- MLK referred to
this in his "Beyond Vietnam" speech, the notion that wars drain the public treasury as a "facile" connection -- and then listed several other reasons based on other moral grounds for opposing war. You rarely list other reasons for opposing war. Why is that?

* Why do you support the F-35 program?

* On Friday, CIA director John Brennan proposed a restructuring of the CIA to allegedly better confront current threats. Some former CIA analysts however charge that this restructuring will further politicize intelligence, so that "intelligence" will more likely come to "conclusions" that are politically convenient. Is this a growing threat?

* There's apparently a gag order on acknowledging the Israel has a nuclear weapons arsenal, even as many in the US and Israel have charged Iraq and now Iran with having a nuclear weapons program. Do you acknowledge Israel has a nuclear weapons program? Will you change decades-long US policy that refuses to acknowledge this?

* Last summer, the Senate passed a resolution by unanimous consent backing Israel's "defending itself" from Gaza in the conflict that left about 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza dead. Do you regret not objecting to that resolution?

* Noted historian Alfred McCoy recently wrote: "Under Obama, drones have grown from a tactical Band-Aid in Afghanistan into a strategic weapon for the exercise of global power. From 2009 to 2015, the CIA and the U.S. Air Force deployed a drone armada of over 200 Predators and Reapers, launching 413 strikes in Pakistan alone, killing as many as 3,800 people. " Are you for or against the drone assassination program?

* You recently said: “I find it remarkable that Saudi Arabia, which borders Iraq and is controlled by a multi-billion dollar family, is demanding that U.S. combat troops have ‘boots on the ground’ against ISIS. Where are the Saudi troops?...With the third largest military budget in the world and an army far larger than ISIS, the Saudi government must accept its full responsibility for stability in their own region of the world." Are you really wanting the Saudi regime, which has been accused of fomenting violence through the Wahhabi sect, to play a greater role in the region? Will you break with the decades-old alliance with the authoritarian Saudi regime?

* What issues do you agree with some, like Ron Paul, who are associated with the right wing? (Trade? Civil liberties? Cutting military budget? Cutting corporate welfare? Ending bank bailouts?)