The senator powerfully linked domestic and foreign policy in the context of massive global inequality.
By Stephen Miles
This piece originally appeared in The Nation
hroughout the winter and spring of 2016, Bernie Sanders challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, proudly laying out an agenda that pulled together one progressive policy plank after another. But in one important area, there was near deafening silence: foreign policy.
Well, today Sanders finally delivered the speech many of us have been hoping to hear, from him or anyone else, for quite some time. In laying out a principled and bold progressive vision for recentering US foreign policy at the core of a progressive platform, Senator Sanders has given voice to those of us who have always believed that our values don’t simply stop at the water’s edge.
Taking to the same stage where Winston Churchill delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech almost 70 years ago, Sanders’s challenge to the progressive movement, and indeed to all Americans, was to redefine for the 21st century a vision for America’s role in the world. Laying out the questions he sought to answer, Sanders asks:
At a time of exploding technology and wealth, how do we move away from a world of war, terrorism and massive levels of poverty into a world of peace and economic security for all? How do we move toward a global community in which people have the decent jobs, food, clean water, education, health care, and housing they need?
As Sanders admits, these are not easy questions, but they are ones “we cannot afford to ignore.”
At the heart of his speech was the argument that the divide between domestic and foreign policy is not only artificial but also counterproductive. An expansive view of foreign policy—not merely as the idea of what happens over there, but also as part of who we are here at home—challenges us to enlarge our own thinking. Foreign policy, in Sanders’s argument, is not just about whether we go to war or not. It is about our democracy at home; it is about climate change; it is about global oligarchy; and it is about how American leadership can come together and solve the challenges we face through diplomacy.
Sanders rightly connects the dots between an exploding Pentagon budget and Republican attempts to take health care away from tens of millions of Americans in the name of fiscal responsibility. He makes clear that a progressive foreign policy also means that “We cannot convincingly promote democracy abroad if we do not live it vigorously here at home.” And in the way he does so well, Sanders reminds us that no progressive view of the world can tolerate the massive wealth inequality both here and around the world.