Bernie Sanders Loves The Pentagon's $1 Trillion War Machine
March 2, 2016
Tim Mak / The Daily Beast & Patrick Martin / World Socialist Web Site
Bernie Sanders has made his opposition to Hillary Clinton's hawkishness a cornerstone of his campaign but, four months into the campaign, Sanders makes little or no reference to foreign and military policy in his stump speech nor has he offered the slightest hint of what he would do as commander in chief and foreign policy isn't addressed on his campaign website. And he's backed a $1.2 trillion fighter considered by many to be one of the Pentagon's bigger boondoggles.
Bernie Sanders Loves This $1 Trillion War Machine
Tim Mak / The Daily Beast
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (March 1, 2016) -- Sen. Bernie Sanders has railed against big defense corporations at rallies, but he has a more complex history with the military-industrial complex. Most notably, he's supported a $1.2 trillion stealth fighter that's considered by many to be one of the bigger boondoggles in Pentagon history.
Sanders has made his opposition to Hillary Clinton's hawkishness a cornerstone of his campaign. But he hasn't exactly been antiwar all his career. When it has come time to choose between defense jobs and a dovish defense policy, Sanders has consistently chosen to stand with the arms-makers rather than the peaceniks -- leading to tension with some of the most adamant adherents of progressive ideology.
In 1985, for example, protesters massed at the General Electric plant in Burlington, Vermont, where Sanders was serving as mayor. They were protesting the fact that the plant was manufacturing Gatling guns to fight socialists in Central America.
Jim Condon, now a Democratic state legislator in Vermont, was news director of a local radio station at the time and describes himself as an "old acquaintance" of the senator.
"There were protesters who were unhappy that General Electric was manufacturing Gatling guns at the plant, and so they would lock themselves to the gates and engage in civil disobedience. And so the mayor, Bernie, finally got cops to go in and arrest the protesters," Condon told The Daily Beast. "The GE plant was one of the largest providers of jobs in the city. So it was economically important that the plant stay open and people who worked there went to work."
When it comes time to make speeches, Sanders has slammed defense corporations for political gain.
"We know that there is massive fraud going on in the defense industry. Virtually every major defense contractor has either been convicted of fraud or reached a settlement with the government," Sanders said in Iowa City last year at a town hall. "We need a strong military, it is a dangerous world. But I think we can make judicious cuts."
But when those defense corporations come to his own backyard, he quietly welcomes them in.
The Vermont senator persuaded Lockheed Martin to place a research center in Burlington, according to Newsweek, and managed to get 18 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets stationed at the city's airport for the Vermont National Guard.
"In very clever ways, the military-industrial complex puts plants all over the country, so that if people try to cut back on our weapons system what they're saying is you're going to be losing jobs in that area," Sanders said at a Q&A in New Hampshire back in 2014. "[W]e've got to have the courage to understand that we cannot afford a lot of wasteful, unnecessary weapons systems, and I hope we can do that."
History has shown that Sanders has not had the courage to do that.
Immediately after he made those comments, an audience member pointed out that the F-35 fighter jet project had a lifetime cost of $1.2 trillion: "When you talk about cutting wasteful military spending, does that include the F-35 program?" the questioner asked.
The F-35 stealth fighter is untold billions over budget, years behind schedule, and plagued with embarrassing problems. There have been problems with its software, its sensors, and its gun (which won't be able to fire until 2019). A few months ago a military spokesman said that the fighter jet "wasn't optimized for dogfighting." In fact, in a test battle with the 40-year-old F-16, the brand new F-35 jet lost.
"The F-35 will, in my opinion, be 10 years behind legacy fighters," one Air Force official affiliated with the F-35 program told The Daily Beast about a year ago.
Sanders countered that the plane was "essentially built." He acknowledged in his 2014 Q&A that while the F-35 was "incredibly wasteful," it is now the "plane of record… and it is not going to be discarded."
During his 2012 reelection campaign, Sanders ran against a Republican who opposed the F-35 as a waste of resources. Sanders was all for it. In a 2012 statement, Sanders made the point that the F-35 would have to be located somewhere, whether in Florida or South Carolina or Vermont. "I would rather it be here," he said.
Some of his constituents would rather it not. Residents around the Burlington airport sued to block the placement of F-35s there, but were rebuffed by the courts. The F-35s are scheduled to be based in the town starting in 2020.
Sanders's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Much of the criticism of Sanders's foreign policy stances have come from his left flank. The World Socialist Web Site called Sanders a "silent partner of American militarism." And Counterpunch, a left-wing magazine, has criticized Sanders on more than one occasion for being insufficiently pacifist.
"He behaves more like a technofascist disguised as a liberal, who backs all of President Obama's nasty little wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen," wrote Thomas Naylor in the magazine. "Since he always 'supports the troops,' Sanders never opposes any defense spending bill. He stands behind all military contractors who bring much-needed jobs to Vermont."
Sanders's support of the Kosovo War led to the resignation of an adviser; when antiwar activists occupied his office, he had them arrested; and Sanders voted to authorize the war in Afghanistan, Howard Lisnoff wrote in the same publication.
"[R]eaders ought not to count on him to push back on the militarism and military actions that have become routine under both Democrats and Republicans who occupy the presidency," Lisnoff added.
In New Hampshire, where the Democratic primary is being held Tuesday, Sanders rallied supporters at a downtown Manchester theater. For an hour, he railed against the big banks and the current minimum wage. He never mentioned national security policy -- or the big defense corporations he sometimes supports.
Bernie Sanders: Silent Partner of American Militarism
Patrick Martin / World Socialist Web Site
(August 27, 2015) -- Bernie Sanders now leads frontrunner Hillary Clinton in polls of Democratic voters in New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary, and he is closing the gap in Iowa, the first caucus state, and in national polling as well. The Vermont senator continues to attract large crowds, favorable media attention (including a flattering front-page report in the New York Times, August 21), and a flood of campaign contributions.
The flaccid and unimaginative media punditry has largely ignored a significant void in the Sanders campaign. The White House aspirant has offered not the slightest hint of what he would do as commander in chief.
Four months into the campaign, Sanders makes little or no reference to foreign and military policy in his stump speech. The subject of foreign policy is not even addressed on the Sanders campaign web site, which lists 10 topics, all of them concerned with domestic policy.
A report on Yahoo News August 24 raises the question of "How President Bernie Sanders would handle foreign policy." It begins by taking note of this curious fact: "Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont, has a special 'War and Peace' section on his official website, detailing his views on issues like Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East peace process. Bernie Sanders, the contender for the Democratic presidential nomination . . . doesn't."
The report goes on to detail the positions that Sanders has taken on a range of foreign policy issues, based on his voting record as a congressman and senator.
His profile is typical of liberal Democrats, supporting the Clinton administration's war against Serbia in 1999 and the Bush administration's invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, while voting against the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Iraq in 2002.
Sanders criticized Obama's bombing of Libya in 2011 -- mainly because he did not seek congressional authorization -- but backed his bombing of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Sanders is a down-the-line supporter of the state of Israel, repeatedly endorsing Israeli onslaughts against the Gaza Strip, most recently the savage bombardment of July-August 2014 which killed nearly 2,000 Palestinians, including more than 500 children.
At an August 2014 town hall meeting, Sanders notoriously demanded that audience members "shut up" when they questioned his support for Israel's criminal actions.
He is a vociferous opponent of China in both economic and foreign policy, and backed the US intervention in Ukraine to foment a coup spearheaded by fascist elements to overthrow the pro-Russian government and set up a pro-Western stooge regime. "The entire world has got to stand up to Putin," Sanders declared last year, at a time when the warmongering campaign in the US and European media was at its height.
Yahoo News summed up the candidate's foreign policy profile as follows: "The picture that emerges is less that of a firebrand anti-war radical than a pragmatic liberal who regards military force as a second choice in almost any situation -- but a choice that sometimes must be made."
CBS News, in a profile of Sanders last week, noted his general alignment with the foreign policy of the Obama administration, including its war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, its nuclear agreement with Iran, and its decision to normalize relations with Cuba.
The continued silence of Sanders on foreign and military policy has become something of an embarrassment to some of his left-liberal supporters. In a commentary published earlier this month on the web site of Al Jazeera America, media critic Norman Solomon, after expressing enthusiastic support for Sanders on domestic and economic issues, complained of the candidate's refusal to address issues of militarism and military spending.
Solomon continues: "The same omissions were on display at an Iowa Democratic Party annual dinner on July 17, when Sanders gave a compelling speech but made no reference to foreign affairs. Hearing him talk, you wouldn't have a clue that the United States is in its 14th year of continuous warfare.
Nor would you have the foggiest inkling that a vast military budget is badly limiting options for the expanded public investment in college education, infrastructure, clean energy and jobs that Sanders is advocating."
Sanders is not only generally aligned with Obama administration foreign policy, he has refused to specify a single weapons program or Pentagon project that he would cut or eliminate if elected in 2016.
He is a longstanding backer of the most expensive US weapons program, the $1.4 trillion F-35 fighter jet, some of which are to be based in Burlington, Vermont, his hometown.
The so-called "socialist" has voted repeatedly for vast Pentagon appropriations bills, maintaining funding of the wars he was (rhetorically) opposed to, as well as funding for the CIA, NSA and the rest of the vast American intelligence apparatus, the infrastructure for police-state spying against the American people.
So right-wing is his record on foreign and military policy that even his most craven apologists, the pseudo-left groups Socialist Alternative and the International Socialist Organization, have been compelled to complain about it, although this has not stopped them hailing the Sanders campaign as a huge advance and openly supporting a candidate for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.
In a lengthy profile of Sanders, Dan LaBotz of the ISO describes Sanders' foreign policy views as "a big problem," adding, "What this record makes clear is that Sanders has no consistent and principled position against US imperialism." This is a gross distortion: Sanders is a longtime proven defender of US imperialism, not a half-hearted or inconsistent opponent.
LaBotz continues: "Sanders' program makes no mention of the military. While he calls himself a socialist, Sanders' foreign policy and military policy remain in line with corporate capitalism, militarism, and imperialism."
In other words, Sanders has nothing in common with the internationalist principles on which genuine socialism is based. He is cut from the same cloth as Tony Blair, the British "Labor" prime minister who was the junior partner of George W. Bush in perpetrating the criminal war in Iraq, and François Hollande, the French "Socialist" president who is Obama's junior partner in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and throughout Africa.
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