A Warren adviser, who spoke under the condition of anonymity to engage in a broad-ranging discussion on the senator’s worldview, told me that Warren sees force as a last resort, and that when it is employed, she believes there should be an exit strategy, it should be limited, and it should be multilateral, preferably through the United Nations. It’s a position that sounds almost identical to Obama’s.
The 44th president was also deeply skeptical of military interventions, but found himself drawn in. For instance, by 2014, Obama had pulled American troops out of Iraq and was holding fast against involvement in Syria. But the rise of ISIS, the beheading of hostages, and the fall of Mosul created a groundswell of public pressure to deal directly with the threat. It was a reminder that even a president skeptical of intervention is one terrorist attack away from getting involved. That dynamic will not change in 2021. A progressive president is unlikely to argue that the United States should be indifferent to an ISIS-style group in the Middle East that conquers territory or attacks Americans. Sanders’s track record suggests that he is more pragmatic than he lets on.
There is little doubt that Sanders and Warren are sincere in their desire to prioritize diplomacy over the use of force, but here, too, they have a dilemma: When it comes to preventing a rogue state from acquiring nuclear weapons, a credible threat to use force often creates the leverage necessary to get the other side to the table. In her book, Wendy Sherman writes about how the Obama administration deliberately deployed a bomb that could penetrate Iran’s underground enrichment facility, “backing up our diplomacy with the credible use of force.” Would Sanders and Warren do the same thing? If not, what’s their theory of building leverage? Matt Duss, who serves as Sanders’s foreign-policy adviser, told me that Sanders is “against large-scale military interventions or the threat of them, and would rely more on economic sanctions to create leverage for negotiations like those for the Iran nuclear deal.”
The second theme is that both of them draw a dramatic divide between democratic and authoritarian states. In a major address at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Sanders said:
There is currently a struggle of enormous consequence taking place in the United States and throughout the world. In it, we see two competing visions. On one hand, we see a growing worldwide movement toward authoritarianism, oligarchy, and kleptocracy. On the other side, we see a movement toward strengthening democracy, egalitarianism, and economic, social, racial, and environmental justice. This struggle has consequences for the entire future of the planet—economically, socially, and environmentally.
Sanders went on to identify the authoritarian movement as including Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman, and President Trump, whom Sanders sees as on the wrong side of the struggle between autocrats and democrats.