The Bern Hits the Middle East

Bernie Sanders talks foreign policy at Westminster University

Ben Lewandowski

As the old man made his way through the crowd, smiling softly, waving at the students who found themselves captivated by his ideas, a nervous energy seemed to envelop the audience, made up largely of students and faculty of Westminster University, there to hear him speak. Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, was set to give his first major foreign policy speech. Known more for his ideas on health care, minimum wage, and income inequality, his foreign policy remained an unknown quantity as he began his speech, above the excited din, with audible shouts of ‘We love you, Bernie!”

This excitement was nothing new for Senator Sanders. Since he announced his campaign in mid-2015, he seemed to produce a fervor in any crowd seeing him speak. His seemingly radical ideas on healthcare and income inequality caught the hearts and minds of young liberals throughout America. In doing so, he tapped into a market of voters who had held largely apathetic views towards the democratic presidential nomination, with Hillary Clinton’s nomination having been a seemingly foregone conclusion.

He ran a bold campaign, based on the ideas of redistributing the wealth of the top 1% among the rest of the country, closing loopholes in both tax codes and Wall Street legislation, to protect American investments, and pay for parts of his numerous ambitious, and at times unrealistic, programs. These programs included paid family leave, medicare for all, free tuition for public colleges and universities, and more programs of this “socialist” nature.

Sanders opened his speech by reiterating his long held belief that in Iraq, the United States had gotten themselves into a conflict which they should never have been involved with. Giving his definition of foreign policy, including budget priorities, implying that the United States having an unnecessarily large defense budget. The Senator then paid homage to his roots, mentioning that Republicans in Congress had just approved another addition to the defense budget, while simultaneously throwing “32 million Americans off of the health insurance they currently have, because, supposedly, they are worried about the budget deficit.” This indicated the first of several deviations from his thoughts on foreign policy.

As the speech continued, Sanders proceeded to explain in great details the complex relationship he saw between foreign and national policies. He connected education to our ability to make intelligent foreign policy decisions. He made a comment, which, while it should be extremely clear, seems to get lost in the shuffle: “If we are going to expound [put forward] the virtues of democracy and justice abroad, and be taken seriously, we need to practice those values here at home.” Essentially he reiterated the biblical idea of practicing what you preach. If we as Americans are going to claim to be a great democracy, or a “City on a Hill” (a metaphor used by several presidents to describe our nation), and attempt to promote democracy worldwide, then we must begin with abiding by and respecting our own democratic principles here at home.

This speech also provided listeners with an interesting insight into the foreign policy priorities of Senator Sanders. While he spoke very little on military policy, he went quite in depth on his goals for the diplomatic relations of America. He spoke on the importance of global wealth inequality, where “the six, six wealthiest people in the world have as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population, 3.7 billion people.” He showed that he harbors fears of the world turning into an oligarchical society, largely controlled by multinational corporations and international financial institutions. Sanders called for cooperation with other world leaders to shift our energy sources from fossil fuels to renewable resources.

As Sanders left the Auditorium of Westminster University, he provided the students and faculty who had come to see him with his underlying beliefs behind his politics. “Every person shares a common humanity. We all want our children to grow up healthy, to have a good education, to have decent jobs, to drink clean water, and to breathe clean air, and to live in peace.”