Burlington’s Foreign Policy Reply

A writer at National Review (Neocon Central) inadvertently points out how Sanders has been a complete sell-out on foreign policy as his career has advanced.

“Burlington has changed over the past three and a half decades; progressives have moved up in the world. And Sanders’ foreign policy vision reflects the appetites and prejudices of a class that is moving up in the world.”

By Michael Brendan Dougherty

National Review

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks in Emeryville, Calif., during his 2016 presidential campaign. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

In the 1980s Bernie Sanders cozied up to dictators from around the world. Now, his updated foreign policy reflects a certain gentrification.

In his decades-long career in politics, Bernie Sanders was never more active as a foreign-policy figure than when he was the mayor of Burlington, Vt. He owned it. “Burlington had a foreign policy,” he wrote in his 1997 book, Outsider in the White House. From his mayoral perch he fired off missives to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, demanding better treatment of IRA prisoners held in Northern Ireland. He tried to establish direct relations with the incoming Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, hoping to establish a radio channel that would broadcast the revolution to Vermont. The mayor met with Daniel Ortega to convey that many Americans rejected the Reagan administration’s foreign policy. Ortega, in the many years since, has looted his country, installed hideous light fixtures along the major roads to please his wife, suborned much of the Catholic Church to his rule, and blown past his own constitution’s term limits. The country is sliding into unrest, as the aid that used to come in from the Netherlands and Luxembourg has dried up.

As mayor, Sanders cemented a sister-city relationship between Burlington and the Russian city of Yaroslavl (he and his wife spent their honeymoon in the Soviet Union). Sanders was diplomatic during his trip. After a presentation on central planning, Sanders told his Soviet peers that health care and housing were better in the United States, though they cost much more back in America. When he came home, Sanders praised Soviet train stations and “palaces of culture.” His wife was even more effusive, almost describing the theory of New Soviet Man, when she described a cultural life that wasn’t cleaved off from work, as a mere hobby, but fully integrated into an ideal of community service. Burlington’s foreign policy, as it was then, was driven by idealism (some of it misguided), lots of easy talk about imperialism, and dislike of “Ronald Ray-gun.”

By the time of his run for president in 2016, Sanders had let foreign policy drop somewhat. He was a domestic-policy candidate focused on delivering the unmet promises of mid-century liberalism: free health care and free college. His positions on Obama’s intervention in Libya were unclear. He co-sponsored a bill condemning Qaddafi’s regime, a vote that his opponent Hillary Clinton mischaracterized as a vote for regime change. Sanders might express hope that the military action in Libya would end and dither about his desire not to be in another quagmire, but he did not launch any direct criticism of President Obama. The U.S. policy under Obama of unrestricted drone warfare was the sort of thing that, if done by Reagan, would have had Burlington’s old mayor talking about fascism and lawlessness, perhaps looking for a Houthi radio broadcast to simulcast. But when asked about it during the last election, Sanders averred only that he would use drones “very selectively.”
But has he got a foreign policy for the 2020 campaign? New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie argues that, since his last effort, Sanders has developed a powerful and appealing foreign policy-vision for the left. And, in a certain way, Bouie is right.

Burlington has changed over the past three and a half decades; progressives have moved up in the world. And Sanders’ foreign policy vision reflects the appetites and prejudices of a class that is moving up in the world.

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