Far from shunning foreign policy in favor of a focus on domestic priorities, Sanders frequently expressed the belief that foreign and domestic policy are deeply intertwined. “I saw no magic line separating local, state, national, and international issues,” he explained in his memoir.
That idea underpinned Sanders’s efforts to strengthen ties between the U.S. and far-left governments that many Americans viewed with deep distrust. When asked to explain why he hoped to see a thaw in U.S.-Soviet relations before departing for his trip to the USSR in 1988, Sanders suggested that hostility between the two global powers had cost Americans dearly. “These people have been our ‘enemies,’ and in the name of that rivalry, we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars that in my view should be spent on health care and housing,” Sanders said, according to a report in The Boston Globe.
Sanders deployed similar logic to call for normalizing relations with Cuba in 2014 on the eve of a trip to the country. “American businesses are losing billions of dollars because of the economic embargo,” Sanders said. (That wasn’t the first time he had traveled to Cuba. In his memoir, he recalls a visit in 1989 where he hoped to meet with Fidel Castro, but had to settle for the mayor of Havana instead.)
While traveling abroad, Sanders engaged with global affairs through the lens of economic inequality. At times, he seemed to go out of his way to highlight what he saw as the pernicious impact of trade policy on American and foreign workers.
In 2003, Sanders traveled to Mexico on a trip sponsored by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a major labor union, to study the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade deal signed by the U.S., Canada and Mexico. After returning, Sanders penned a scathing critique of economic globalization for The Nation, describing how rural farmers “had been devastated” by competition with American corporations.
Sanders visited China the same year amid concern that a trade imbalance had disadvantaged American workers. He used the occasion to again take aim at American corporations. “Sanders said his message to U.S. business officials in China will be: ‘The American people are catching on that you are selling out American workers,’” the Gannett News Service reported ahead of the visit.
As he crisscrossed the globe, Sanders has shown an interest in learning from other societies’ experiments and successes. In 1994, he traveled with a U.S. delegation that included his now-presidential rival Hillary Clinton to see Nelson Mandela sworn in as president of South Africa. Sanders suggested that America would do well to find lessons in the country’s effort to remake itself as a Democratic society. "What has happened in South Africa over the last three to four years really is in many ways a beacon of hope for people throughout the entire world,” Sanders said, according to an Associated Press report. “We have much to learn from their struggle," he added.