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Sanders calls for new NATO that includes Russia
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for a new accord between America, its closest allies and Russia as well as Arab nations as a major plank on how to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
"We must create an organization like NATO to confront the security threats of the 21st century - an organization that emphasizes cooperation and collaboration to defeat the rise of violent extremism and importantly to address the root causes underlying these brutal acts," the Democratic presidential candidate said Thursday during a speech at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
"We must work with our NATO partners, and expand our coalition to include Russia and members of the Arab League."
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, started at the doorstep of the Cold War and eventually became a major alliance against the then-Soviet Union. So accepting Russia into NATO, or creating a new defense group all together, would rearrange one of the world's most powerful bonds by uniting the former rival countries around ISIS as the modern enemy.
But Sanders immediately added that the fight against the terror organization, which has taken responsibility for last week's attacks in Paris, "must be done primarily by Muslim nations with the strong support of their global partners."
He criticized America's allies in the region, specifically Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which he believes "have contributed far too little in the fight against ISIS."
He bashed Saudi Arabia, with the third largest defense budget in the world, for devoting more resources to the fight against Iranian-backed Shia Muslims in Yemen than ISIS. And he criticized Qatar for spending a reported $200 billion on the 2022 FIFA World Cup, "yet very little to fight against ISIS" and for not being "vigilant in stemming the flow of terrorist funding."
"All of this has got to change," he said. "Wealthy and powerful Muslim nations in the region can no longer sit on the sidelines and expect the United States to do their work for them."
International efforts in the region have been complicated by chaos created by the Syrian civil war, which has allowed for a power vacuum in which ISIS has been able to rise.
America has been vocal in its opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but Russia has effectively come to his aid by attacking Syrian rebels - who are trying to uproot the embattled leader - under the guise of attacking ISIS.
Sanders reiterated his view of Assad as a "brutal dictator" and signaled support for the international plan, agreed on last week, to set a timetable for new Syrian elections. But he said that defeating ISIS must be the priority for "nations all over the world who share a common interest in protecting themselves against international terrorists."
The Vermont senator had rarely discussed foreign policy on the trail until the Paris terrorist attacks last Friday. And while he answered national security questions during last weekend's televised Democratic debate and has touched on the topic during his stump speech, Thursday's address amounted to his most expansive explanation of the campaign.
"I'm not running to pursue reckless adventures abroad, but to rebuild America's strength at home," he said.
"I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will never send our sons and daughters to war under false pretense or pretenses or into dubious battles with no end in sight."
But during a question and answer session after the speech, Sanders pushed back against the characterization that he's a foreign policy dove despite his vote against the Iraq War.
"I did vote for the war in Afghanistan because I thought that Osama bin Laden should be held accountable. I did vote for President Clinton's effort to end the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo," he said.
"No, I am not a pacifist. I think war should be the last resort, but we have the strongest military on Earth and we should be prepared to use it."
Sanders's speech came just hours after Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton called for "an intensification and an acceleration" of the American policy against ISIS.
-- Julian Hattem contributed.