What baffles me about that analysis is why foreign policy is treated like an afterthought that doesn’t factor in the larger calculus. It’s true that neither Sanders nor Clinton focuses on it in their rhetoric, but that doesn’t make the subject unimportant.
Sanders may be unlikely to get a single-payer health-care bill through Congress. But there is every reason to believe that the Vermonter would be much less hawkish than his opponent, exactly as he says. And that difference is orders of magnitude more important than the domestic-policy fights that Democrats are having.
Let’s quickly review the consequences of the Iraq War that Hillary Clinton favored:
- The rise of ISIS.
- Hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis.
- Roughly 4,500 dead American soldiers.
- Tens of thousands of Americans wounded.
- $6 trillion in costs.
Here’s what Sanders said when he presciently opposed that same war:
Mr. Speaker, in the brief time I have, let me give five reasons why I am opposed to giving the President a blank check to launch a unilateral invasion and occupation of Iraq and why I will vote against this resolution.
One, I have not heard any estimates of how many young American men and women might die in such a war or how many tens of thousands of women and children in Iraq might also be killed. As a caring Nation, we should do everything we can to prevent the horrible suffering that a war will cause. War must be the last recourse in international relations, not the first. Second, I am deeply concerned about the precedent that a unilateral invasion of Iraq could establish in terms of international law and the role of the United Nations. If President Bush believes that the U.S. can go to war at any time against any nation, what moral or legal objection could our government raise if another country chose to do the same thing?
Third, the United States is now involved in a very difficult war against international terrorism as we learned tragically on September 11. We are opposed by Osama bin Laden and religious fanatics who are prepared to engage in a kind of warfare that we have never experienced before. I agree with Brent Scowcroft, Republican former National Security Advisor for President George Bush, Sr., who stated, “An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.”
Fourth, at a time when this country has a $6 trillion national debt and a growing deficit, we should be clear that a war and a long-term American occupation ofIraq could be extremely expensive.
Fifth, I am concerned about the problems of so-called unintended consequences. Who will govern Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed and what role will the U.S. play in ensuing a civil war that could develop in that country? Will moderate governments in the region who have large Islamic fundamentalist populations be overthrown and replaced by extremists? Will the bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority be exacerbated? And these are just a few of the questions that remain unanswered.
This isn’t hard. Sanders has much better foreign-policy judgment than Hillary Clinton. You could hardly make up a more stark illustration. They were on different sides of the most consequential and disastrous war since Vietnam. Yet this difference is dismissed as if it amounts to no more than an afterthought in most comparisons.