Bernie Sanders speaks on American leadership in a time of global crisis at Westminster College
Drawing a direct link between the United States’ foreign policy and his own longstanding message of economic equality, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said Thursday that “the planet will not be secure or peaceful when so few have so much and so many have so little.”
“Foreign policy must take into account the outrageous income and wealth inequality that exists globally and in our own country,” Sanders, a Vermont independent, said during a speech at Westminster College. “There is no moral or economic justification for the six wealthiest people in the world having as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population, 3.7 billion people.”
The goal of Sanders’ speech was to lay out a progressive vision for foreign policy that focuses on international collaboration, humanitarian concerns and the promotion of democracy. The key must be building partnerships, he concluded, not just between governments, but between people.
“Our safety and welfare is bound up in the safety and welfare of people throughout the world,” he said. “Every person on this planet shares a common humanity. … Our job is to build on that common humanity and do everything we can to oppose the forces who try to divide us up and set us against each other.”
Far too often, the use of American military power has resulted incalculable harm, Sanders said, pointing specifically at the war in Iraq. America must not recede from the world stage, Sanders said, but it must rethink its priorities.
“The goal is not for the United States to dominate the world. Nor is our goal to withdraw from the international community and shirk our responsibilities under the banner of ‘America first.’ Our goal should be global engagement based on partnership rather than dominance,” he said.
The United States’ actions during the Cold War in supporting “murderous regimes” around the world continue to make the nation less safe. Fast forward to the Iraq War, which Sanders said was a huge mistake, and he said it’s clear that U.S. aggression helped create Islamic State and other threats that are still bedeviling the nation.
Even today, Sanders said, America’s support of “Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen” dramatically undermines “America’s ability to advance a human rights agenda around the world.”
That also means the United States cannot only preach its values, he said. It must live its values.
“If we’re going to expound the virtues of freedom and democracy abroad, we need to practice those values here at home,” Sanders said. “That means continuing the struggle to end racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia in the United States.”
As an example, he pointed to the recent unrest in St. Louis after the acquittal of a white police officer charged with murdering a black suspect. America’s ability to advocate for its values is undermined when its own citizens’ rights aren’t protected.
“As we’ve seen in St. Louis this week,” he said, “we need serious reforms in policing and the criminal justice system so that the life of every person is equally valued and protected.”
Climate change also must be considered a foreign policy priority.
“The threat of climate change is a clear example of where American leadership can make a difference,” he said. “This is a crisis that cries out for strong international cooperation if we are to leave our children and grandchildren a planet that is healthy and habitable.”
When the nation spends billions on weapons of war, Sanders said, that money can’t be used to ensure health care, education or the country’s infrastructure.
Republicans, Sanders said, want to increase military spending while “throwing 32 million Americans off the health insurance they currently have because supposedly they are worried about the budget deficit. They want to cut education, environmental protection and the needs of our children and senior citizens.”
He’s not swearing off the use of the U.S. military, Sanders said. But that “must always be a last resort.”
Sanders’ foreign policy speech carried with it some historic symbolism. It was delivered as the 58th annual John Findley Green Foundation lecture, the same platform in which Winston Churchill delivered his famous “Iron Curtain Speech” in 1946.
Besides Churchill, others who have delivered the Green lecture include Harry Truman, J.C. Penny, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford and Poland’s Lech Walesa.
Sanders ran as a Democrat for president last year, challenging eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by emphasizing universal health care and free college. In the Missouri primary, Sanders lost to Clinton by fewer than 2,000 votes out of more than 600,000 cast.