Lousy Food, Small Servings -- Sanders Foreign Policy: Backing Saudi Intervention

There's an old joke about two elderly men at a Catskill resort. One complains: "The food here is horrible." The other vigorously agrees: "Yeah, I know -- and the portions are so damn small!" 

Several writers have noted Bernie Sanders' scant comments about foreign policy -- small portions. 

But another problem is the little that he has articulated in terms of foreign policy -- the foreign policy issue that he's been most passionate about really -- is extremely regressive and incredibly dangerous. That issue is the role of Saudi Arabia. Sanders has actually pushed for the repressive regime to engage in more intervention in the Mideast. 

In discussing ISIS, Sanders invariably has talked about Saudi Arabia as the solution rather than a large part of the problem. It's couched in language that seems somewhat critical, but the upshot is we need more Saudi influence and intervention in the region. In effect, more and bigger proxy wars, which have already taken the lives of hundreds of thousands in Syria and could even further rip apart Iraq, Libya and other countries. 

He's said this repeatedly -- and prominently. 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."

What? Why should a U.S. progressive be calling for more intervention by the Saudi monarchy? Really, we want Saudi troops in Syria and Iraq and Libya and who knows where else? You'd think that perhaps someone like Sanders would say that we have to break our decades-long backing of the corrupt Saudi regime -- but no, he wants to dramatically accelerate it. 

Even worse, after the Saudis started bombing Yemen with U.S. government backing earlier this year, killing thousands and leading to what the UN is now calling a "humanitarian catastrophe," and suffering that is "almost incomprehensible," Sanders continued. In another interview, again with Wolf Blitzer in May, Sanders did correctly note that as a result of the Iraq invasion, "we’ve destabilized the region, we’ve given rise to Al-Qaeda, ISIS." But then he actually called for more intervention: "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 [a] fight over what Islam is about, the soul of Islam, we should support those countries taking on ISIS."

Progressives in the U.S. are supposed to look toward the Saudi monarchy to save the soul of Islam? The Saudis have pushed the teachings of the Wahhabi sect and have been deforming Islam for decades. This actually helped 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 from the formation of the nation state of Saudi Arabia -- a nation named after a family. In return, the Saudis had the U.S. take the lead in extracting oil there and favored investing funds from their oil wealth largely in the West over building up the region, what the activist scholar Eqbal Ahmed called separating the material wealth of the Mideast from the mass of the people of the region. Saudi Arabia buys U.S. weapons to further solidify the "relationship" and to ensure its military dominance. 

The Saudis and other Gulf monarchies deformed the Arab uprisings, which transformed oppressive but basically secular and minimally populist regimes into failed states, giving rise to groups like ISIS and allowing Saudi Arabia to largely call the shots in the region. What has happened in the Mideast since the ouster of Mubarak and the so-called Arab uprisings is that the Saudis have been strengthened. Both the Tunisian and Yemeni dictators fled to Saudi Arabia. Mubarak himself was urged not to resign by the Saudis, and the Saudis are now the main backers of the military regime in Cairo. 

Why is Sanders doing this? Is there a domestic constituency called "Americans for Saudi Domination of the Arab World"? 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. They behead people, they are tyrannical. They have a system of male guardianship. Why the hell are they an ally?" 

But Sanders is unwilling to break with the U.S.-Saudi alliance that has done such damage to both the Arab people and the American people. Now, we have a full-fledged Israeli-Saudi alliance and it must be music to the ears of pro-Israeli journalists like Wolf Blitzer for Sanders to be calling for U.S. backing of further Saudi domination. 

Some have argued that Sanders' candidacy is very valuable -- that win or lose, he's putting the issue of income inequality front and center. But if the candidacy is to be lauded for raising issues of economic inequality, educate the public and galvanize around that, it's fair to ask how the candidacy is also deforming public discussion on other crucial issues. If the position of the most prominent "progressive" on the national stage is for more Saudi intervention, what does that do to public understanding of the Mideast and dialogue between people in the U.S. and in Muslim countries? 

If the U.S. further subcontracts the Mideast to the Saudi regime, the setbacks and disappointments for peace and justice in the Mideast during the Obama years will be small potatoes in comparison. If the Mideast continues to deform, largely because of U.S. policies backing Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel, all the other things Sanders is talking about regarding economic inequality are arguably out the window. He himself has noted that "wars drain investment at home." Or does Sanders think it's all good if he can set up a scheme whereby the Saudis pay the bills and use their own troops for Mideast wars that the U.S. government backs? Martin Luther King in his "Beyond Vietnam" speech referred to the wars taking funds from the war on poverty as a "demonic destructive suction tube." But he also referred to just looking at the funding as a "facile" connection, listing several other, deeper, reasons based on other moral grounds for opposing war. But Sanders rarely touches on those other reasons. It's as though we've learned nothing about blowback since 9/11. 

Contrast Sanders' call for an escalation in Saudi Arabia's proxy wars with what insurgent Jeremy Corbyn -- whose campaign to lead the Labor Party in the UK has caught fire -- is saying. He's been challenging the British establishment about arming the Saudis: "Will the Minister assure me that the anti-corruption laws will apply to arms deals and to British arms exports? Will they involve forensic examination of any supposed corruption that has gone on between arms sales and regimes in other parts of the world rather than suspending Serious Fraud Office inquiries, as in the case of an investigation into the Al-Yamamah arms contract with Saudi Arabia?" See a section on Corbyn's website on Saudi Arabia and video of his remarks at the House of Parliament just last month, with Corbyn relentlessly raising questions of human rights violations by the Saudi regime. 

Instead of adopting Corbyn's human rights perspective, Sanders has used Saudi Arabia's massive military spending to argue that it should further dominate the region. Unexamined is how it got that way. Unexamined is the $60 billion arms deal between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that Obama signed off on in 2010. The BBC reports, Saudi "Prince Turki al-Faisal called for 'a unified military force, a clear chain of command' at a high level regional security conference in Riyadh, the Saudi capital." 

So Sanders and Saudi planners seem to be working toward the same ends, as though war by an autocratic state in a critical region can be expected to breed good outcomes. Sanders doesn't seem to take money from Lockheed Martin -- though he's backed their F-35, slated to be based in Vermont -- but his stance on Saudi Arabia must bring a smile to the faces of bigwigs there. 

The Black Lives Matter movement has moved Sanders to "say the names" of Sandra Bland and others who are victims of police violence. Those striving for peace and justice around the world need to do the same regarding Sanders and U.S. foreign policy. 
9 responses
It is not a comment but I am rather curios about your take on Bernie Sanders. You have stated that Bernie Sanders has said little about his foreign policy and you seem rather upset about it. And you seem rather upset about his stance on the Saudis. Can you please tell us about what the (your) research says about the presidential candidate's statements before the elections and their actions after they win? Here are a few examples to jog your memory: George W. Bush: Not interested in nation building - said so publicly. Privately: Plans to invade Iraq well underway long before 9/11 happened. Barak Obama: Pre-election statements: More Transparency, Against war with Iraq, Closing Gitmo. Post Elections: Sent more troops to Afghanistan, Drone strikes sky rocket killing thousands of civilians, 7 years on and no decision on Gitmo. Charged Journalists under the espionage act, all these actions diametrically opposite to what he promised during campaign. And Obama is not alone in this. Every presidential candidate does it to varying degrees. In light of the fact that pre-election statements and post victory actions can be and usually are very different, to blame a candidate for not saying enough seems a bit egregious. Judging by Senator Sanders statements and actions on a large swath of policies to the run up of his candidacy, one could argue that it would be a safe bet that his choices would be more in line with the American values compared to those running against him.
Thanks for your comment Raj. I think if one is paying attention one can figure out when a candidate is deceiving. It was obviously laughable what GW Bush said in the 2000 campaign, from his background, the people around him, etc, it was clear he would be interventionist and militaristic -- Cheney was Sec of Defense during G HW Bush administration. Obama was saying that he wanted to escalate in Afghanistan in 2008. On Gitmo, I actually expected he'd technically close Gitmo, but find a set of legal loopholes to actually in effect move it, which might still happen. From 2008 -- "Anti-War Candidate, Pro-War Cabinet?" http://www.accuracy.org/release/1866-anti-war-c... On "transparency" -- Obama came out for telco immunity in June of 2008: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/02/us/politics/0... The conclusion one would have from these two cases would be that their ultimate position is rarely more in line with what I think would be best for the world than their stated position during the campaign, and so it might be for Sanders -- all the more reason to assert ourselves with such candidates.
On August 25, Margaret Kimberley at the Black Agenda Report said: “Bernie Sanders and his supporters claim he is different, a breath of fresh air. Yet he “won’t state for the record how his foreign policy differs” from Hillary Clinton and Republicans. “He doesn’t question why the US has the right to dictate policy to other nations, and “repeat the same discredited mantra” as Obama on the nuclear threat from Iran – a threat that even CIA has declared never existed. Socialism? He won’t even say the word.” Barnie Sanders, like the rest of the presidential hopeful, is against removing influence of big money from politics. When it comes to the Muslim world, Sanders is no different than Ben Carsons, who believes that every patriotic American must support Israel. Sanders is a lobbyist for the US military establishment, which brings much-needed jobs to his Vermont constituency. He also joined the 100 to 0 vote in the Senate giving a blind moral support to the Zionist regime during its 2014 carpet-bombing of Gaza, killing over 2,000 civilians including 567 children. Watch below how Sanders holds-on to his dirty Zionist pants. Bernie Sanders was born into a Polish Jewish family that arrived in United States in 1921. That means he cannot wear the ‘Holocaust Survivor’ badge around his neck, but nothing have stopped him laying that many members of his family died at Auschwitz. As youths, both Bernie and his older brother Larry spent some time on a kibbutz built on land stolen from Palestinian families. Larry met his first wife at the kibbutz. Jewish Tablet magazine said on August 20 that Adolf Hitler and Franklin Roosevelt had the greatest influence over both brothers. http://rehmat1.com/2015/09/01/bernie-sanders-a-...
For what it's worth, this misstates Bernie's position as proposing a greater US-Saudi alliance. What Bernie is actually saying is that the US needs to back out of intervention in the region & let the Middle Eastern governments fight their own conflicts. & sure, I'd like to see no conflicts over there at all (or anywhere), but I don't know how to achieve that & I do think the US has been such a bad player historically, particularly in this region, that anything we do there just makes things worse. Bernie has not specifically said turn it over to the Saudis, but he has noted (correctly) that they have the world's 3rd largest military, which could be construed as saying they should take over, so I'm not saying an inference can't be drawn that he's saying the Saudis should have a greater involvement. But in no way is he proposing a greater alliance or backing of the Saudis. In any event, this is one of those areas where I just don't see a solution & am unhappy with everyone's proposed solution, but drawing down US involvement sounds like the best thing I've heard - thus far. I'm definitely open to other suggestions, though - which major party candidate is proposing that we withdraw from the region AND refuse any alliance with the Saudis? I honestly would consider supporting that candidate, depending on their other policies. (& I'm sorry (honestly, not snarkily), until we can fix the duopoly of the 2 parties in the US, no third-party candidate has a chance, so that's why I put the "major parties" qualification on this. I'm a registered Green & I voted for almost all Green candidates when I lived in CA where the Dems had an almost certain chance of winning, but in NV (where I live now), a vote for a Green candidate works out to 1/2 a vote for the crazy teabagging Republicans we have here. It sucks, I'd love to see that change, but until we can get rid of the duopoly, that's reality.)
Jessica -- I think Sanders is pretty clear here: "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 [a] fight over what Islam is about, the soul of Islam, we should support those countries taking on ISIS." I note in the piece that Corbyn in the UK has taken a very different approach, questioning the legality of arming the Saudi regime and raising very real human rights issues. As noted in news release I pulled together for accuracy.org today, the US and Saudi Arabia sought to aggravate sectarian strife in Syria: http://www.accuracy.org/release/obama-saudi-mee... I have a proposal for ending the the duopoly -- disenchanted Democrats and disenchanted Republicans should pair up and vote for the third party / independent candidate(s) of their choice: http://www.votepact.org/about/ Sam
I find Rehmat's "comment" most insulting of Bernie Sanders and nothing but untruths about his belief's! Yes, he is a Jew. However, he does not practice his religion and I have never heard him agreeing with anything Israeli P.M. Netanyahu says. I have written several articles about Netanyahu's terrible treatment of the Palestinians and believe Sanders thinking is the same on this. I have never read the Jewish Tablet magazine. However, after what you have quoted them as saying, I would stay away from that "hateful spin"!! It sounds like they are nothing but a bunch of "fearmongers"! As in America, you have two factions in Israel, the pro Netanyahu group who have no "soul" and then you have the pro-Palestinian State group who believe Palestine should have their own "State" and who are working at trying to get Netanyahu to accept people in the Gaza strip, as "equals" in humanity!
Thank You, Mr. Husseini for the very informative article. I needed that awareness.
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