While the mainstream media focuses on Bernie Sanders and criticizes his democratic socialist domestic policies, as we will see in this posting, Bernie Sanders has a very long and very consistent policies on one key issue that goes back decades, the issue of the right and just American role in foreign affairs. I apologize in advance for the length of this posting but I want to give Senator Sanders a fair chance to defend his foreign policy agenda.
Let's open with this interview that Bernie Sanders gave in 1989 to CSPAN back when he was just ending the last of four two-year terms as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont:
Here's the key part of the exchange:
"INTERVIEWER: At various times the governments of Nicaragua and the previous government of Grenada have said that they were not Communist. They were socialist, Marxist, how do you relate to that?
SANDERS: I agree with that. I agree with that! What they said, what the government of Grenada said, under Maurice Bishop is that they wanted to forge their own way. And they were overthrown by the United States government. In Nicaragua, you have a government which has...came to power and I believe has tried to do the right thing for its people in terms of health care, land reform, education. If you trace the history of the United States vis a vis Latin America and Central America, there has never been a time where a country made a revolution for the poor people where it was not overthrown by the CIA or the United States government, or the marines. Salvador Allende was democratically elected by the people of Chile. He made the mistake of believing that his job as president of that country was to represent the people of Chile. And he did his best. And he was overthrown by the CIA. So the interesting question is why does the United States government think, whether its Nicaragua or any other country in Latin or Central America that it has the right to overthrow those governments." (my bold)
Not only is it rare to hear an American politician talk about the role of CIA-led covert operations in foreign nations, it is even rarer to hear the mayor of a small American city have such a grasp on American over-reach into the politics of other nations. Obviously, he had a very accurate assessment of the foibles of American foreign policy.
For those of you that are not aware, Chile's Salvador Allende was overthrown after he made moves to nationalize Chile's copper industry. At that time, two of the leading Chilean copper companies, Kennicott and Anaconda, were owned by U.S.-based mining companies. With the assistance of the CIA and U.S. government, a military coup took place which ended the life of Salvador Allende. Allende was replaced by General Augusto Pinochet, a man whose government tortured at least 28,000 people, executed 2,279 and left 1,248 missing between September 1973 and March 1990. In addition, approximately 200,000 Chileans were exiled.
A little discussed committee from the 1970s took a long, hard look at the role of the American intelligence services in global affairs. In 1975 and 1976, The Church Committee aka the United States Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities looked at the potential abuses of both law and power by the various U.S. intelligence agencies. The Church Committee, under the leadership of its chairman, Senator Frank Church, took testimony from hundreds of people, accumulated files from the FBI, CIA, NSA, IRS and other federal agencies and issued 14 reports. Since 1992, over 50,000 pages of the Church Committee Records have been released to the public, giving us insight into how the United States has attempted to assassinate foreign leaders and otherwise influence foreign governments, spy on American citizens and infiltrate organizations that were considered "leftist" (i.e. anti-Vietnam War). Here is a highlight from Book 1:
"Nowhere in the National Security Act of 1947 was the CIA explicitly empowered to collect intelligence or intervene secretly in the affairs of other nations. But the elastic phrase, "such other functions," was used by successive presidents to move the Agency into espionage, covert action, paramilitary operations, and technical intelligence collection. Often conceived as having granted significant peacetime power's and flexibility to the CIA and the NSC, the National Security Act actually legislated that authority to the President.”
If you go to this link, you'll find an entire report entitled "Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders" from the Select Committee to Study Government Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities" from November 1975. Here are some interesting pages:
The report outlines the plot to poison Castro using pills containing botulism toxin, a method that was recommended by mobster Sam Giancana. This is a prime example of American intelligence community overreaching
Let's go back to the Church Committee and look at some of their conclusions. Here they are:
"(1) The most basic conclusion reached by the Committee is that covert action must be seen as an exceptional act, to be undertaken only when the national security requires it and when overt means will not suffice. The Committee concludes that the policy and procedural barriers are presently inadequate to insure that any covert operation is absolutely essential to the national security. These barriers must be tightened and raised or covert action should be abandoned as an instrument of foreign policy.
(2) On the basis of the record, the Committee has concluded that covert action must in no case be a vehicle for clandestinely undertaking actions incompatible with American principles. The Committee has already moved to condemn assassinations and to recommend a statute to forbid such activities. It is the Committee's view that the standards to acceptable covert activity should also exclude covert operations in an attempt to subvert democratic governments or provide support for police or other internal security forces which engage in the systematic violation of human rights.
(3) Covert operations must be based on a careful and systematic analysis of a given situation, possible alternative outcome, the threat to American interests of these possible outcomes, and above all, the likely consequences of an attempt to intervene. A former senior intelligence analyst told the Committee:
"Clearly actions were taken on the basis of some premises, but they seem not to have been arrived at by any sober and systematic analysis, and tended often, it appeared, to be simplistic and passionate. In fact, thei-e was often little or no relationship between the view of world politics as a whole, or of particular situations of threat held by operatoi's on the one hand, and analysts on the other. The latter were rarely consulted by the former, and then only in partial disingenious and even misleading ways.""
Now that we've seen how Bernie Sanders regards the use of the U.S. intelligence network as a delivery system for American foreign policy in light of what the Church Committee and other Senate Committees have found, let's look at what he had to say about the Iraq War back in 2002:
Here are the key sentences:
"Mr. Speaker, I do not think any Member of this body disagrees that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant, a murderer, and a man who has started two wars. He is clearly someone who cannot be trusted or believed. The question, Mr. Speaker, is not whether we like Saddam Hussein or not. The question is whether he represents an imminent threat to the American people and whether a unilateral invasion of Iraq will do more harm than good.
Mr. Speaker, the front page of The Washington Post today reported that all relevant U.S. intelligence agencies now say despite what we have heard from the White House that ``Saddam Hussein is unlikely to initiate a chemical or biological attack against the United States.'' Even more importantly, our intelligence agencies say that should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he might at that point launch a chemical or biological counterattack. In other words, there is more danger of an attack on the United States if we launch a precipitous invasion....I am concerned about the problems of so-called unintended consequences. Who will govern Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed and what role will the U.S. play in ensuing a civil war that could develop in that country? Will moderate governments in the region who have large Islamic fundamentalist populations be overthrown and replaced by extremists?"
Bernie Sanders looks positively prescient, doesn't he?
Let's close with this excerpt from a speech given at Georgetown University in November 2015, focussing on the section regarding the current events in the Middle East:
"A new and strong coalition of Western powers, Muslim nations, and countries like Russia must come together in a strongly coordinated way to combat ISIS, to seal the borders that fighters are currently flowing across, to share counter-terrorism intelligence, to turn off the spigot of terrorist financing, and to end support for exporting radical ideologies.
What does all of this mean? Well, it means that, in many cases, we must ask more from those in the region. While Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Lebanon have accepted their responsibilities for taking in Syrian refugees, other countries in the region have done nothing or very little.
Equally important, and this is a point that must be made – countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE – countries of enormous wealth and resources – have contributed far too little in the fight against ISIS. That must change. King Abdallah is absolutely right when he says that that the Muslim nations must lead the fight against ISIS, and that includes some of the most wealthy and powerful nations in the region, who, up to this point have done far too little.
Saudi Arabia has the 3rd largest defense budget in the world, yet instead of fighting ISIS they have focused more on a campaign to oust Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Kuwait, a country whose ruling family was restored to power by U.S. troops after the first Gulf War, has been a well-known source of financing for ISIS and other violent extremists. It has been reported that Qatar will spend $200 billion on the 2022 World Cup, including the construction of an enormous number of facilities to host that event – $200 billion on hosting a soccer event, yet very little to fight against ISIS. Worse still, it has been widely reported that the government has not been vigilant in stemming the flow of terrorist financing, and that Qatari individuals and organizations funnel money to some of the most extreme terrorist groups, including al Nusra and ISIS.
All of this has got to change. Wealthy and powerful Muslim nations in the region can no longer sit on the sidelines and expect the United States to do their work for them. As we develop a strongly coordinated effort, we need a commitment from these countries that the fight against ISIS takes precedence over the religious and ideological differences that hamper the kind of cooperation that we desperately need."
That sounds like the basis for a very cogent foreign policy to me although I rather doubt that the American military-industrial-congressional complex will see it that way.