Dhaka, April 21 — Few were expecting Bernie Sanders to come out swinging on foreign policy as he did in the ninth Democratic debate. He had been dismissed or ridiculed in the media for months for an alleged delinquency on foreign policy issues. Hillary Clinton supporters released a letter just prior to the debate slamming Sanders for perceived disinterest in global affairs.
Yet the Sanders campaign was ready for that letter, immediately releasing its own signed by 20 foreign policy experts praising Sanders’ judgment and vision for American leadership. In Thursday’s debate, Sanders moved to articulate an alternative approach, with distinctive views on climate change, the Middle East, and strengthening multilateral alliances. He then immediately flew to the Vatican, where he gave an inspirational speech on the need for American moral leadership on global economic inequality.
The maths still favours Clinton in the Democratic primary. But whether or not Sanders ultimately takes office, the most important legacy of his run could be the articulation of a progressive national security vision as an alternative to either Clinton’s hawkish neoliberal interventionism or the militarism and mercantilism characterising the Republican race. Even if the most Sanders succeeds at is pulling the national foreign policy conversation to the left, this will have been significant after a decade of living under the troublingly expansive national security complex ushered in by the events of 9/11. And should his foreign policy vision end up reflected in either a Sanders or Clinton administration, this can only be good for US national and global security.
So what is a ‘progressive national security policy’, and how could it increase American security in the years to come? The letter circulated by Sanders supporters stress military restraint, human-rights-minded diplomacy, and global economic justice as pillars of national security. Such a vision was also outlined in Foreign Affairs last summer by several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senators Brian Schatz, Martin Heimrich and Chris Murphy. They argue a progressive national security policy would include a revitalised foreign aid budget, support for multilateral institutions, military restraint combined with a commitment to veterans, human rights and gender equality at home and abroad, and strengthening the socio-economic base of US power.
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