It’s no secret that Bernie Sanders is making Hillary Clinton’s vote in favor of the invasion of Iraq a big issue on the campaign trail and at Democratic primary debates. However, this commitment to a supposed antiwar position is a bit iffy when you look at his record on other US interventions. Indeed, during the first Democratic debate he openly bragged about his support for NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999. I feel that the issue of Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion needs to be looked at to get a greater feel of the candidate’s stance on war and peace. In this post, I will address his stance on the First Gulf War.
In early 1991, Sanders made numerous statements into the Congressional Record about his opposition to a US-led military solution to the Iraq-Kuwait crisis. It is clear from these statements he was adamantly opposed to any sort of military action but believed that sanctions could and should be maintained to pressure Saddam’s regime to leave Kuwait. In fairness, many antiwar activists held this pro-sanctions position at the time but later changed their minds when it became clear that the combined effects of the embargo and the Coalition bombings were causing a humanitarian crisis. He also made a number of statements that connected US’ willingness to go to war to protect “feudalistic dictatorships as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait” with its unwillingness to take care of its own domestic population. Once and a while he did touch upon the suffering among Iraqi civilians that the war would inevitably create:
What I don’t agree with, however, is that war–and the potential loss of thousands of young American, lives and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi women and children–is the only means by which we can achieve our goals.
It seems to me, however, that the challenge of our time is not simply to begin a war which will result in the deaths of tens and tens of thousands of people, young Americans, innocent women and children in Iraq, but the real challenge of our time is to see how we can stop aggression, how we can stop evil in a new way, in a nonviolent way.
He also contrasted the eagerness to go to war with the hesitance to combat Third World poverty:
Today, 30,000 children starve to death in the Third World, and all over the planet people were saying, ‘Finally, now we can begin to address those problems, deal with the needs for helping the Eastern European countries that are becoming democratic.’ There is rejoicing. Then suddenly once more we heard that as soon as we took a deep breath that the cold war was over, there is another war upon the world.
While the condemnations are likely far beyond what most anti-war members of Congress could muster at the time, they still far short of anything a Marxist–or even a committed anti-imperialist–would have said.
But credit where credit is due: Sanders voted against the Gulf War and forcefully spoke out against it. Perhaps more impressively, he was one of only six brave Congress members to vote against a resolution that “supported the United States presence in the Persian Gulf.” The text of the resolution was boilerplate “Support Our Troops” stuff that far too many anti-war voices find inoffensive. So props for that one.
In my next post I will address his (relatively hard to find) stances on the sanctions against Iraq.
Sanders Statements (1991):
Public opinion supports continuing sanctions, rejects war (January 09)
Avoiding war in the Persian Gulf (January 09)
Unions urge president to let the sanctions work (January 10)
Four Minutes during a debate (January 11)
Reflections on my views (January 15)
A tragic day for humanity (January 17)
An appeal to the White House to stop the bombing (January 17)
Why I voted ‘no’ on the resolution (January 18)
The Persian Gulf War (February 06)