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Sanders’ Media Critics Should Concede That Fixing the US Is a Foreign Policy

If we want to break the power of the Pentagon-industrial complex in the Middle East, we have to break its power in Washington.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to a crowd of more than 10,000 during a campaign rally in Madison, Wisconsin, on July 1, 2015. (Photo: Juli Hansen /

“Where are Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy advisors?” screams the establishment media in chorus.

Sanders himself provided one important answer: not Henry Kissinger. As Dan Froomkin pointed out at The Intercept, where someone stands on Henry Kissinger tells us a great deal about where they stand on other things.

Foreign Policy provided another answer: several hundred members of the Washington foreign policy establishment are already signed up as “advisors” to the Clinton campaign:

One expert said the system helped ensure loyalty for Clinton by creating “the illusion of inclusion.”

“Even though you’re one of hundreds, you feel like you’re part of the team,” said one prominent think tank scholar.

It’s the type of dynamic that can make an outside expert think twice before tweeting a snarky reaction to a Clinton gaffe or offering a less-than-flattering quote to a reporter. The end goal for many experts is to parlay a stint on an advisory group into a plum job in a future Clinton administration.

Larry Korb provided another answer:

[W]hat matters is not who advises you, but what positions you take. Obama gave his ‘dumb war’ speech about Iraq while he was a state senator, without a cadre of foreign policy advisers…

It is hard to know what challenges the next president might face. That’s why, ultimately, judgment matters more than experience for a potential president. The presidents I have advised – Reagan and Obama, as well as George HW Bush and Secretary of State John Kerry – all showed great judgment in considering, but not bowing to, the advice of the foreign policy establishment…

Bill Clinton had far less foreign policy experience than George HW Bush, and Obama had less than John McCain – and both presidents had effective foreign policies. If he is elected, I believe Sanders will also be able to attract a competent foreign policy cohort, just as Obama did – including many of the current Clinton team. With the right partners in place – and, above all, the right principals and instincts – a President Sanders could be just the foreign policy president we need.

Here’s another answer: The most fundamental reform idea in US foreign policy today is that we should focus more on fixing the US and less on trying to control the world.

Here are three key reasons why:

  1. Don’t do stupid things. It takes a lot of resources to invade and occupy other people’s countries (see: “Iraq”) and overthrow and subvert other people’s governments (see: “Honduras” and “Haiti.”) We should get out and stay out of the business of invading and occupying other people’s countries and overthrowing other people’s governments because it’s morally wrong. But we should also get out of it because it’s not in the interests of US working families. From the point of view of the interests of the majority, it’s at best a wasteful and worst a counterproductive use of resources that could be much better spent on fixing the US. Trying to control other people’s governments by military force or CIA subversion is a waste of money, it’s a waste of lives, it’s a waste of political capital and it’s a waste of focus. And, often, when Washington is “successful” at controlling other people’s countries, what they’re successful at is driving down living standards so US corporations can relocate there more profitably.
  2. Injustice in the most powerful country in the world is exported. In 2009, Dick Durbin said about the Senate: the banks “own the place.”He was talking about the banks’ domestic political agenda at the time of so-called “bankruptcy reform.” But the banks have a foreign policy agenda too, and it’s no more altruistic than their domestic agenda. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank smash working families around the world but few Democrats in Washington – outside of Bernie Sanders and the Congressional Progressive Caucus – say anything about it. Think that might have anything to do with “the banks own the place”? The political power of the brand-name pharmaceutical industry has blocked Medicare from negotiating drug prices. Think that the political power of the brand-name pharmaceutical industry might have foreign policy implications? (See: “Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement,” which Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says is “the worst trade deal ever for access to medicines and will make life-saving treatments unaffordable for those who need them most.”)
  3. Justice in the most powerful country in the world can also be exported. In 2000, NGOs convinced Congress to pass a law requiring that the US representatives at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (who report to the Treasury Secretary) oppose the imposition of fees on primary education and health care in poor countries. Here was the winning argument we made to members of Congress: “We don’t do this to kids in the US. Why would we do this to kids in Africa?” Then, when Treasury failed to comply with the law, we told on them to Congress. That wasn’t the only thing that made school fees go away in many countries, obviously – the engine that pulled the train was the complaints of people in those countries. But we helped. That was world historical. But we had trouble making progress after that, because for other things people were complaining about, we couldn’t use the “we don’t do this in the US” argument.

If we want everyone in the world to have access to health care, we have to win it for everyone in the US. If we want to break the power of the US banks in Argentina, we have to break the power of the banks in Washington. If we want to break the power of the Pentagon-industrial complex in the Middle East, we have to break its power in Washington.

If you agree that an essential step towards reforming US foreign policy is breaking the political power of corporate America in Washington, here’s a baby step to help agitate for this idea: petitioning President Obama to nominate Sen. Elizabeth Warren to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. If we want a Supreme Court justice who will vote to rein in corporate power, we need to agitate for it. And one thing that helps a lot with agitation is to have a person who symbolizes the thing you’re agitating for.

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