The Middle East Policy of President Bernie Sanders

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | –

Bernie Sanders opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation of that country.

Sanders wanted to get out of Afghanistan from 2011 much faster than the timetable announced by President Obama. Obama has now more or less extended a US military presence in Afghanistan, advertised as a training mission, indefinitely. My reading of Sanders is that he would get out of that country entirely.

A President Bernie Sanders would endorse the Iran negotiations of the Obama administration. He said of the talks,

“While much more work remains to be done this framework is an important step forward. It is imperative that Iran not get a nuclear weapon. It also is imperative that we do everything we can to reach a diplomatic solution and avoid never-ending war in the Middle East. I look forward to examining the details of this agreement and making sure that it is effective ‎and strong.”

Note that Sanders accepts the Washington consensus that Iran is trying to get a nuclear weapon, which Iran denies. Sanders has slammed the GOP obstructionists of the talks for “itching” for a war with Iran. He himself says that a war with Iran should be avoided ‘at all costs.’ However, it is not clear what he would do if the current talks broke down and he became convinced as president that the Iranians had developed a nuclear weapons program.

Sanders opposed the US taking the lead in the aerial campaign against Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, asking where the Arabs were and saying that American kids shouldn’t be dying to protect Saudi Arabia. The money spent on that bombing, he said, should have gone to help the US middle classes.

But Sanders also did say that the US should be “supportive” of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Jordan and Iraq in their campaigns against Daesh. It is not clear to me what this stance implies. Should the US do less bombing and insist the GCC do more? But that there should be some US bombing is not in question?

Sanders opposes the Obama plan to train 5,000 “moderate” Syrian fighters to take on both Daesh and the Syrian government. So, limited bombing in support of the anti-Daesh coalition but nothing more.

Sanders supported the Israeli attack on Gaza last summer but thought the Israeli army was a little heavy-handed and ‘over-reacted’ with some of its actions like bombing schools being used as civilian shelters. (There were no weapons at these schools). Sanders excused Israeli actions against Gaza civilian populations on the grounds that missiles were being fired from Gaza into Israel from populated centers. The Israeli campaign killed around 2000 Palestinians, most of them non-combatants. Another 1400 or so were killed in 2008-2009, and there have been many other Israeli bombings and other military actions against Palestinians in Gaza. Gaza rockets, most of them tiny high school science projects, mostly land uselessly in the desert, so that totaling them up into the thousands is a mere propaganda point. Over the past decade, they have killed 44 Israelis. The launching of the rockets by Hamas is a war crime, and the majority of those killed have been innocent non-combatants. But the disproportionate use of force is also a violation of international law, and a thousand to one kill ratio suggests disproportion. Sanders’ Israel policy seems likely to tilt more toward Tel Aviv than that of Obama, though Sanders did boycott the address of PM Binyamin Netanyahu to Congress in March.

Sanders The Times of India: ” A ‘democratic Socialist’ in the 2016 Race: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is Running”

35 Responses

  1. It is regrettable, but not surprising, that a candidate offering some sanity in domestic policy is apparently no more than another AIPAC operative in foreign policy.

      • If you are anything but a right wing Israeli, then YES, AIPAC is a BAD thing. It doesn’t have to be an either or between two evils but as long as you resign yourself to that, then that is what you will get.

  2. Sanders is awful on Israel. He must be aware that US stance on Israel is directly linked to the wars he opposes, and yet he intentionally fails to connect those dots.

    I don’t think a Sanders run will do much to pull HRC to the left. And it certainly won’t do anything to change US Israel policy.

    • I’m sorry to learn that Sanders’ does not defend the victims of Israel–so many killed in Gaza. Israel has suffered 44 losses in the last decade. How many Palestinians do you think have been killed? Let alone displaced, their homes destroyed.

    • There are no dots to connect. Iraq & Afghanistan had nothing to do with Israel. The Iraq war only helped Iran and hurt Israel.

  3. I don’t like that Sanders sided with Israel, but I’m thinking if one must stay on the good side of Israel to win an American election…so be it. He is the only choice of Doves.

    • “Iam thinking if one must stay on the good side of Israel to win an American election…” Thank you. I believe you’re right (is this what they call realpolitik?)

    • Except siding with Israel is equal to standing against Americans and American interests! There’s not a chance in hell that he would pose one way and then switch sides once in office. He is personally bias in favor of Israel. We have enough AIPAC stooges amongst our senators, we don’t need an ‘Israeli’ president!

    • Unfortunately these days, you can’t even get elected dog catcher in Klantown, Alabama, without at least partially towing the party line on Israel.

  4. Sanders is a mixed bag. His is one of the few voices to speak some sanity and advocate economic justice, but like almost all politicians in DC he is compromised. Consider this article:

    “The Problem With Bernie: Sen. Sanders Joins the Race: A Campaign of Capitulation?” by RON JACOBS – link to

    But there is a greater problem. Assuming that he is totally sincere when he calls for economic justice and other progressive issues and would fight for them, in the inconceivable event he were to be elected president he would be a lame duck before the end of January 2017. Not only would the GOP and the mainstream media gang up on him, but so too would the oligarchs and their cohorts in the Democratic Party who are beholden to Wall Street and the M-I complex. Just like what happened to Jimmy Carter.

  5. Sadly, these first two comments are absolutely correct. Boycotting the Bibi speech had more to do with poking the Republicans who invited him than any disdain for Netanyahu and his cruel policies. Whatever Middle Eastern policy Bernie Sanders might have, in the unlikely event he became president, would be made in Tel Aviv, just as Elizabeth Warren’s would. Read their webpages. The only presidential candidates not fully acceptable to AIPAC are third party candidates who have zero chance of becoming president. The US Government will continue to be Israeli-occupied territory.

  6. When Bernie Sanders introduced Russ Fine gold as a possiblecandidate for President, he began his introduction with, “We both support Israel”. And that was before he even introduced Finegold!
    As a Vermonter, I can assure he never gets my vote for Senator.

    • Many people who admired Russ Feingold for his admirable record must have been taken aback with Feingold’s support for Israeli atrocities. The only justification seems to be the Israeli lobby had its hooks into him as it does with most people in Congress. When the senate rushed like lemmings to vote for the PATRIOT Act they voted 99-1. Russ Feingold was the one.

      • I, as someone with family in Israel and with a father who served in the Israeli Army, on the other hand, am thrilled that there is finally a progressive (Bernie Sanders) who does not take a one-sided, anti-Israel view of the Mideast conflict. Both sides are to blame. The fact that Hamas’ missiles didn’t kill that many people only means that they are incompetent, not that they are any less malevolent.

  7. The only rationale behind Sanders’ refusal to condemn Israel’s bombing of schools appears to be his Jewish heritage. Kirk, Graham, Rubio, Cruz look to AIPAC for election support.

    • … his Jewish heritage.

      “THE LOBBY” would probably be more accurate. There are many people of Jewish heritage who condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza.

  8. Sanders will serve a good purpose if all he does is share a stage in debate with Hillary, The Anointed One. He can get specific when she tries her usual vague statements, daring her to say things she would rather leave unsaid.

  9. Sanders also voted for the Anti Palestinian legislation put forward by Ros Lehtinen in 2006 after the Palestinian election. When it comes to Israel Senator Sanders looks like the majority. Pro Israel to a fault. “A little heavy handed” Please…that is just sickening.

  10. Someone who seems great at domestic policies, but still falls short on foreign policies. How can he say intelligent things on one hand and so stupid things when talking Israel and even when he talks ISIS.

  11. “The launching of the rockets by Hamas is a war crime…”

    This is a highly contestable view. Citing standard textbooks on international law, Norman Finkelstein observes that “International law does not—at any rate, not yet—prohibit belligerent reprisals.”

    He notes furter:

    “…in its landmark 1996 advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons, the ICJ ruled that international law is not settled on the right of a state to use nuclear weapons when its “survival” is at stake. But, if a state might have the right to use nuclear weapons when its survival is at stake, then surely a people struggling for self-determination has the right to use makeshift projectiles when it has been subjected to slow death by a protracted blockade and recurrent massacres by a state determined to maintain its occupation.”

  12. Reprisals are allowed in International law. As long as they are only used to warn an opponent to stop his ongoing war crimes. And to cease when he does so.

  13. Gee, Bernie Sanders is not a perfect progressive. And who is? In following 50 years of politics, I have found only one person I totally agree with–myself and I have changed positions on issues over the years. Yes, Bernie is not very good vis-a-vis Israel and Palestine, but what national candidate is better? Which national candidate is better overall in foreign policy? My only concern about Bernie Sanders is that he could not win either the nomination and if he did, he couldn’t win the election. Pol;itics is the art of the possible and the most important thing is that the Republicans don’t win, or we will see another disaster domestically and/or in foreign policy within a few years after they take power.

    • Pol;itics is the art of the possible and the most important thing is that the Republicans don’t win, or we will see another disaster domestically and/or in foreign policy within a few years after they take power.

      Given their histories in Iraq and the Balkans and their links to Wall Street, the Clintons are not the cavalry coming to the nation’s rescue.

  14. You spoke of a disproportionate response by Israel to the rocket flux by Hamas.

    That, of course, assumes Hamas was the initiator and Israel, in its eternal innocents, was just ‘responding’

    That is very much a false assumption.

    However that may be, consider the following:

    n 1945, the US exploded the nuclear bomb, known as ‘Fat Man’ over Nagasaki. Fat Man had a blast yield of 21 kilotons of TNT equivalent explosive potential.

    Israel exploded the equivalent amount of explosive power over Gaza this past summer.

    Rashid Khalidi says in his essay, “The Dahiya Doctrine”: “During the latest campaign, stretching over fifty days in July and August of 2014, Israel’s air force launched more than six thousands air attacks, and its army and navy fired about fifty thousand artillery and tank shells. Together, they utilized what has been estimated as a total of twenty one kilotons, or twenty one thousand tons, of high explosives. The attack from air involved weapons ranging from drones and American Apache helicopters firing US-made Hellfire missiles to American F-16’s carrying two thousand pound bombs. According to the commander of the Israeli Air Force, there were several hundred F-16 attacks on targets in Gaza, most of them using these powerful munitions. A two thousand pound bomb creates a crater 15 meters wide by 11 meters deep and propels lethal fragments to a radius of 365 meters. One or two of these can destroy a multistory building …

  15. No he’s not perfect but he’s better than anyone else I’ve heard that’s running. He’ll force domestic issues to be confronted, money buying our politics (AIPAC just might come up) and inequality. He has important things to say that people haven’t heard from politicans about our current corruption. We should be celebrating, even though he has no chance of winning even the primary.

  16. I generally agree with Sander’s point of view and his unwillingness to be shy about expressing anti military industrial complex views. BUT when I see him standing next to the Democratic suit (now much a much larger one) that sold the Democratic Party out to corporations and their parasites……I wonder.
    Now Gaza? Is a there a politician in WA that has the cojones to take on AIPAC? If there is, they are out of work. They all hate being bullied by this the representatives of a foreign power, but far be it from them to work in concert to push back against their corrosive power.

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