[Marxism] Bernie Sanders and imperialist war

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Nov 5 18:09:05 MST 2006


Hedging His Bets
Bernie Sanders Votes Maybe on the War


The US House of Representatives recently voted to endorse Bush and 
Rumsfeld's war on Iraq. They did this under the guise of a bill 
nominally supporting the troops that, in reality, endorses Bush's 
decision to invade and occupy Iraq. Only 11 congresspeople voted 
against the bill and 22 stood aside. The rest of the so-called 
representatives of the people outdid many of their constituencies in 
their unabashed support for America's latest imperial war. Indeed, 
many of those congressmembers who voted for the this resolution and 
the war represent districts where the sentiment continues to be 
against the current violence in the Gulf region. Perhaps nowhere was 
this more apparent than in Vermont, which is represented by its lone 
"independent" representative, Bernard Sanders .

Upon receiving notice of Sanders vote, I immediately called his 
office and registered my dismay. Within days, I received a letter 
from the office wherein Sanders reminded me that he voted against the 
October 2002 resolution granting GW Bush authority to use whatever 
force it required to take over Iraq. He wrote that he believes 
history will prove this to have been the correct vote. Further to his 
credit, before Sanders cast a yes vote for the most recent 
resolution, he entered a short speech into the Congressional Record 
decrying the partisan nature of the resolution. He went on to state 
further that he did not support the Bush administration's policies 
that "led us to where we are today." After stating his support for 
the UN inspections regime and reminding the House of the "phenomenon 
of blow-back," Sanders attacked the GOP leadership for cutting 
veteran's benefits in the same session they voted to create more veterans.

There seems to be some kind of contradiction here. Sanders may have 
voted against the budget that cut these veteran's benefits, but by 
voting to support Bush's war (no matter how much he protested it), 
history will most likely judge him to have sided with that 
leadership. Like a baseball line score, when one looks back at a 
legislator's voting record, s/he only sees the "yay" or the "nay." 
There is no play-by-play account--your team either has the winning 
score or the losing score. No details are provided about runners on 
third who got thrown out at the plate or an incredible pitching 
performance. Likewise, when history looks back on Bernie's vote for 
this resolution, they will see that he cast his lot with the GOP 
hawks, and not the Democrats and others who voted against the bill, 
despite their support for the human beings wearing America's uniform in Iraq.

At one time, Sanders claimed to be a socialist. When he was elected 
mayor of Vermont's biggest city, Burlington, in 1980, his victory was 
almost universally cheered by left and progressive folks in the US. 
Since he moved to Washington six terms ago, however, those cheers 
have diminished, especially amongst those who know him bes--his 
fellow Vermonters. It is time the rest of the country wakes up to 
this truth: Sanders Sanders is not a socialist and is not that 
progressive, especially when it comes to matters of war and peace. 
Instead, Bernie's politics are reminiscent of the Social Democrats of 
Germany during and after World War I. Despite a popular groundswell 
against that war, the Social Democratic leadership supported the war 
against the wishes of many in their own party. Then, during the 
failed revolution of 1919 against the German government, it was some 
of that same leadership that diverted the revolution from the masses 
and had Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht killed, precisely because 
these two revolutionaries exposed the duplicity and anti-worker 
policies of the Social Democrats.

This is not the first time Sanders has supported America's wars. For 
those of us with a memory longer than the average US news reporter, 
we can remember Bernie's staunch support for Clinton's 100-day 
bombing of Yugoslavia and Kosovo in 1999. I served as a support 
person for a dozen or so Vermonters who sat-in in his Burlington 
office a couple weeks into that war. Not only did Sanders refuse to 
talk with us via telephone (unlike his Vermont counterparts in the 
Senate-Leahy and Jeffords), he had his staff call the local police to 
arrest those who refused to leave until Sanders spoke with them. The 
following week Sanders held a "town meeting" in Montpelier, VT., 
where he surrounded himself with sympathetic war supporters and one 
university professor who opposed the war and Bernie's support for it. 
During the question and answer part of the meeting, Sanders yelled at 
two of the audience's most vocal opponents to his position and told 
them to leave if they didn't like what he had to say. They chose to 
remain and point out that Bernie's style of democracy seemed awfully 

After the bombing of Yugoslavia had ended and the US plan to 
Balkanize the Balkans neared its completion, I received many emails 
and calls regarding our sit-in at Bernie's office and opposition to 
his politics of war. Most of these messages came from outside of 
Vermont and considered what we did to be counterproductive. After 
all, the messages stated, Sanders went to Chiapas to support the 
Zapatistas and he's against the various free trade agreements and the 
WTO. He's more of an ally than a foe, isn't he?

My answer to these challenges is that I'm not sure. So called 
progressive politicians who do not draw the link between corporate 
America's wars and its attack on social security, health care, the 
minimum wage, forty- hour work week, and other issues working people 
consider important are doing us a disservice. The wars fought by the 
US military are ultimately fought for one reason only--to maintain 
and expand the power of corporate America at the expense of workers 
and the poor around the world. Didn't neoliberal writer Thomas 
Friedman write, "McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell 
Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the 
world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the United 
States Army, Air Force Navy and Marine Corps."

As the reader can tell, Friedman thinks this is a good thing. Judging 
from Bernie's support for the current war on Iraq, the sanctions 
against that country, and his support for previous US adventures in 
Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, one wonders if Sanders thinks so, too. Is 
this what progressives want to support? If not, I urge you to send 
Sanders a letter opposing his war support (no matter how lukewarm it 
might be) instead of a donation the next time you get a mailing in 
his name. Perhaps he will listen and mount a movement in Congress to 
end funding for the folly in Iraq. After all, in his letter to me, he 
wrote: "Please be assured that I will remain a strong voice for peace 
during these difficult times." Leading a congressional movement that 
calls for an immediate ceasefire and refuses to fund Bush and 
Rumsfeld's folly in Iraq is a good place to use that voice.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the 
Weather Underground.

He can be reached at: rjacobs at zoo.uvm.edu

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