Presidential Campaign

What Sanders should say about national security


Heading into Super Tuesday — virtually tied in pledged delegates, but without a clear path to victory — Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) must confront the image that Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination, has painted of him: a single-issue candidate without the foreign policy experience to serve as president.

Sanders has gambled that his laser-like focus on economic inequality will distract attention from the issues where he feels less comfortable. Yet by doing so, he has made himself more vulnerable on the very issue on which the Democratic base is most uncomfortable with Clinton: national security.

{mosads}Instead of limiting his foreign policy discussion to a critique of Clinton’s vote on Iraq, Sanders needs to make the case for an alternative vision of national security — something that has been conspicuously missing from the national stage since the withdrawal of Republican candidate Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.).

Sanders’s website lays out some general principles for war and peace: moving away from unilateral action, and ensuring war is a last resort. Ramping up diplomacy, development and humanitarian aid. Closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, reining in the National Security Agency and abolishing the use of torture. What he fails to explain is how these proposals would keep America safe.

It’s not that his foreign policy principles are wrongheaded; it’s simply that they lack an explicit and coherent organizing principle. To get back on the offensive, Sanders needs to make clear that Clinton, like the Republicans, is proposing to double-down on an approach that simply isn’t working. In fact, it has left us less safe.

After more than a decade of war and hundreds of billions of dollars spent on drone strikes and bombing and boots on the ground, we’re no better off in our fight against extremists. In fact, the threats have multiplied. 2014 saw the largest increase ever in deaths due to terrorism, with an 80 percent rise in fatalities and more than twice as many countries suffering over 500 deaths. Terrorists are targeting civilians more than ever before, causing an upsurge in the number of refugees, erasing development gains and destabilizing governments. A 2014 RAND Corporation report found that “since 2010, there has been a 58 percent increase in the number of jihadist groups, a doubling of jihadist fighters and a tripling of attacks by al Qaeda affiliates.”

Despite her experience as secretary of State, Clinton has not learned the lessons of the past. Unlike President Obama, she has called for “defeating” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which she intends to achieve by ramping up airstrikes, creating a no-fly zone and expanding the deployment of U.S. special forces. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same formula that so dismally failed in Iraq and Libya. It ignores the fact that we’ve already wasted $500 million equipping and training so-called “moderates” in Syria, nearly all of whom have fled or were killed or captured.

Sanders can change the paradigm by recognizing that we can’t make ourselves more secure by making others less secure. Instead of playing whack-a-mole with terrorist groups, we must starve them of resources and sympathy. We should stop arming and bankrolling corrupt and oppressive regimes, and work with our allies to do the same. We should end the drone strikes, military interventions and indefinite detentions that stoke resentment and escalate violence. And we should help the international community go beyond offering food rations and temporary shelter for refugees and displaced persons by supporting efforts to create jobs, provide education and upgrade local infrastructure. One of the primary reasons refugees are flooding into Europe is the deplorable conditions in the countries of first asylum, aggravated by shortfalls in international aid.

Ultimately, however, Sanders should help Americans accept that we can’t solve every problem around the world. We keep Americans safe by expanding healthcare for all, by making college affordable and by paying a decent wage. We improve security by fixing roads and bridges, cleaning up our water supply, and ensuring that police not only serve and protect but defend and respect. And we augment our global power by faithfully upholding in our own country the principles we seek to promote abroad.

Ohlbaum is the owner of DLO Global LLC, an independent consulting firm providing legislative and political strategy for sustainable human security.

Tags 2016 Democratic primary 2016 presidential election airstrikes Bernie Sanders Defense Drone Hillary Clinton Iraq ISIS Islamic State in Iraq and Syria National security Rand Paul Refugee Syria Terrorism
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