Bernie’s foreign policy, worse than Obama’s

A piece in Foreign Affairs discusses the foreign policy of Bernie Sanders. His statements on the campaign trail show that this is perhaps the only reason not to support Sanders.

It opens, “Hillary Clinton’s narrow victory over Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses made clear that the race for the Democratic Party nomination is far from over. Even if Sanders fails to secure the nomination, he can claim to have substantively changed the dynamic of the race. On domestic policy, Sanders has pushed Clinton to the left, bringing discussions of economic inequality and financial regulation to the forefront of the campaign. But when it comes to foreign policy, Sanders has been much less influential. Many assume that he just can’t compete on foreign policy with Clinton, who served as secretary of state for four years. In the last two televised debates, Sanders offered glimpses of his views on U.S. engagement with Iran and the need for multilateral coalitions to fight the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), but he has yet to offer a comprehensive foreign policy vision”.

Interestingly the author argues “He would not have to look far for one. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the inspiration for the “democratic socialism” that underpins Sanders’ domestic policy, can also provide the inspiration for how Sanders might engage in foreign policy. By embracing Roosevelt’s pursuit of great power cooperation within international institutions and international law, Sanders can articulate what the Princeton University professor John Ikenberry has described as a post-hegemonic foreign affairs strategy: the United States would relinquish its dominant role in maintaining a liberal world order and instead share power with rising hegemons in a system that treats all states as equals. Under this framework, the United States would promote multilateral cooperation through international organizations such as the United Nations and by encouraging collective compliance with international law”.

However, problems emerge with this straight away. Firstly, FDR only really dealt with Stalin during the Second World War and after that relations between the two countries froze and remain in stasis during the Cold War. Thus the notion that Sanders could coax Putin into “great power cooperation” would be even more of a naïve failure that the current Obama policy in this regard. Worse, the author mentions that Sanders could take a theme from Ikenberry who lauded the liberal building of the United States after 1945. Yet, in many of Ikenberry’s texts, he assumes that the order will survive after America has in effect retreated from the world. Kagan has rightly warned that this is a dangerous fantasy that should not be countanced. Thus, if the author is correct and these are the themes that interest Sanders then a Sanders foreign policy would be a heightened version of Obama’s, but even more extreme and dangerous. Lastly, this would only propagate the myth of American decline that Obama has both railed against but also done nothing to stop in practical foreign policy terms.

As the writer notes “This approach would build upon U.S. President Barack Obama’s liberal internationalism while rejecting Clinton’s embrace of American exceptionalism, encapsulated in her remark in the first debate: “We’re not Denmark!” Sanders could thus turn Hillary Clinton’s supposed leadership and experience against her and define her as being allied with neoconservative views and out of touch with the Democratic Party’s redefined foreign affairs legacy”.

The article goes on to describe FDR’s foreign policy, “Roosevelt successfully pursued this strategy during World War II. As the historians Frank Costigliola and Alan Henrikson have demonstrated, Roosevelt saw his main diplomatic objective as achieving “Big Three cooperation” among the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union. He emphasized the shared interests between the United States and the Soviet Union despite Anglo-American animosity toward Moscow. FDR believed that only cooperation among the great powers could serve as the basis for a new postwar order embodied in the United Nations, international law, and respect for human rights. Sanders has made a similar pitch with his call for a “coalition of wealthy and powerful states” to defeat ISIS, but he could make it more credible by suggesting that Iran would have a role to play in such diplomacy. The Obama administration’s success in negotiating the Iranian nuclear agreement, as well as Tehran’s presence at the Vienna talks on the Syrian civil war, suggest that Iran is willing to cooperate on shared interests in the region. The agreement has also empowered Iranian moderates, such as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, at the expense of hard-liners bent on regional domination. Given these developments, it is wise for Sanders to open the door to eventual diplomatic normalization with Iran, as he hinted he would in the last debate before the Iowa caucus. The long-term goal should be the development of a great power consensus about the final status of Syria and Iraq”.

The writer goes on to posit that “A Sanders administration could complement its pursuit of great power concert with a renewed commitment to Roosevelt’s postwar vision of international institutions and law. Sanders’ rejection of regime change and the unilateral use of U.S. military force are good first steps in this direction. His next move should be to declare an end to U.S. exemptions from international law by signing and promoting the ratification of the many worldwide treaties and conventions otherwise ignored by Washington, including the Rome Statute, which binds states to the International Criminal Court. The United States should also increase its efforts to reform the UN peacekeeping system to include major U.S. participation in peace operations. These initiatives, combined with support for reforming the voting shares system that governs the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, would demonstrate a new U.S. commitment to global institutions that limit the power of any one actor and reduce military and economic competition”.

The author adds that “By ending U.S. exemptions to international law, Sanders would reaffirm his commitment to these rights, and especially to protections that make up the core principles of the International Labour Organization (ILO). A Sanders administration could further seek to reform international trade agreements by proposing that all new trade treaties, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, adopt legally binding ILO Conventions as the basis for labor protections rather than the nonbinding and vague ILO Declaration on Rights at Work”.

However noble these words they are not grounded in any sort of reality. If the United States is to remain the global policemen, which it must, then it must be above these “laws”. This will correctly lead to charges of hypocrisy and double standards but this is the price worth paying for global governance. To sign these treaties would be a dangerous move which could be used by enemies of the United States to further weaken it and strengthen nations like China and Russia who have no intention of abiding by these treaties anyway.

He ends “Sanders’ articulation of a post-hegemonic vision of foreign affairs could form the strongest challenge yet to neoconservatives in both the Democratic and Republican parties. For example, Sanders could contrast his openness toward Iran with Clinton’s persistent hostility and connect her past support for regime change to future attempts at dominance. By strongly embracing international law and human rights, Sanders could initiate a broader challenge to exceptionalist understandings of the United States’ role in the world. Over time, internationalist ideas might become more acceptable, in the same way that “socialist” positions have become increasingly popular today. If Sanders ran on a comprehensive internationalist platform, he could transform the approach to foreign affairs in the United States and eventually make possible congressional ratification of international treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child”.



One Response to “Bernie’s foreign policy, worse than Obama’s”

  1. Order and Tradition Says:

    […] rivals — gave us anything to go by, the United States could be approaching a similar moment. Populist candidates threaten the two pillars that have dominated establishment views on U.S. foreign policy since the […]

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