Bernie’s Repeated Failure

Bernie’s profound, concerted ignorance of foreign affairs is frightening and inexcusable.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has been saying the same things his entire political career. He staked out once far-flung positions on social issues that have only recently entered the political mainstream, such as LGBT equality. There is a heartwarming video of him defending gay service members in the military on the floor of the House of Representatives in 1995, a year before President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. In his endorsement message for Jesse Jackson in 1988, a long shot candidate for President, he said that Jackson was bringing together “all people who are looking for fundamental changes in our current political and economic system and new national priorities.” He even squeezed in a favorite phrase of his on the campaign trail today, “enough is enough,” while declaring his support for Jackson, a refrain that his supporters have taken to saying with him.

Senator Sanders did not limit his view of just what those new national priorities should be to domestic responsibilities. His last bullet-point reason for endorsing Jackson notes that, as President, the reverend would “change the direction of American foreign policy and become an ally of the struggling peoples of the Third World, not their oppressor.” Again, Bernie demonstrates the implacability of his worldview. At the PBS debate on February 11th, he made swipes at past U.S. foreign policy decisions at almost every opportunity, citing the seeming impulse for regime change over the past sixty years that policymakers indulged without understanding what the consequences of those actions might be. He noted that this was an area in which he and Secretary Clinton disagreed “in kind of a vague way, or not so vague.”

In the context of the rest of his remarks on foreign policy, Bernie sounded as though he was thinking out loud when he said that last part, inviting us into the inner shakiness that he evinces whenever he spends more than a few insignificant moments on the subject. He seems stuck in the 1970s. He compared the 2011 Libyan intervention to the overthrow of Mossaddegh in 1953, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran who attempted to nationalize British oil fields. He calls Syria and Iraq “quagmires,” the label famously applied to the Vietnam War. He decried Secretary Clinton’s relationship with Henry Kissinger, the seminal national security advisor and Secretary of State in the Nixon and Ford administrations, from 1969 to 1977. He spoke of the wrongheadedness of the domino theory, which was widely discredited in the wake of Vietnam and has not influenced a decision in an administration since Lyndon Johnson’s, in the 60s. It has been utterly irrelevant since the end of the Cold War, which was over a quarter century ago. He ties the degradation of workers’ wages over the past thirty years to Nixon’s trip to China, widely regarded as a diplomatic coup and a major foreign policy success.

O.K., so his frame of reference is dated a few decades. That comes with the territory of being seventy-four. If anything, this should inform his perspective on the world today, right? That doesn’t seem to be the case. Senator Sanders, to use a dated reference, is like Wile E. Coyote. He zooms forward on the firm policy ground of campaign finance reform, chasing the road runner of political revolution, until he runs onto the empty space of his foreign policy knowledge, suspended in air and floating about as long as voters allow him to.

At the February 4th Democratic debate, Meet the Press anchor and debate moderator Chuck Todd asked Senator Sanders why he hasn’t unveiled a foreign policy doctrine yet. The Senator responded by mentioning a Georgetown speech in November in which he claimed his comments on foreign policy had been eclipsed by his discussion of democratic socialism. So we went back and took a look at the speech. It’s not impressive. In over an hour, he only made mention of ISIS, ignoring four of the five threats that Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter laid out earlier this month as those most threatening to U.S. national security, and only partially covering the last one. He laid out intentions to engage in unilateralism as a last resort, to create an organization like NATO “to defeat the rise of violent extremism” (who knows what that could mean), and called on “Western powers, Muslim nations, and countries like Russia” to take part of a coalition fighting ISIS. Why didn’t President Obama think of that? His last substantive point was to say that countries in the Middle East have to put aside their religious differences and focus on ISIS. That is all well and good, but in what world would any of that prove plausible? Such views illustrate almost zero understanding of the underlying dynamics fueling ISIS and allowing non-state actors more broadly to thrive in states of anarchy. Bernie seems to live in a realm of infinite possibilities that has a barely tangential relationship with reality. While this can also be said of his domestic agenda, his foreign policy views seem to be based on concerted ignorance rather than willful idealism.

In that Georgetown speech, he mentions King Abdullah of Jordan’s November 15th speech on the threat of terrorism to the Middle East. Perhaps this helps explain Senator Sanders’s mispronounced references to the hereditary dictator of Jordan as a crutch on which to lean anytime he was asked to discuss his views on ISIS since. In any case, he never seems comfortable when discussing anything outside the U.S. He criticized Secretary Clinton “ in a vague way” about her alleged support for regime change, then in the same breath, cited his wish to see Libya “move to democracy” as the rationale for his support of the U.N. Security Council’s 2011 intervention there. He could not explain why he believed North Korea was the largest threat to national security beyond that the rogue state lives “in a very strange situation.” One wonders why, if he views North Korea as our greatest threat, his focus has singularly been on ISIS.

Bernie does have substantive differences with Secretary Clinton, who is farther to the right on foreign policy than most of the Democratic base and the current Democratic president. The Secretary has yet to explain why she supports no-fly zones over Syria, which Bernie spent a fragment of a sentence addressing in one of the seven Democratic debates that have taken place. The problem is that his foreign policy views lack any coherence, and he does not seem to have done any critical thinking about them in a little under a half-century.

Senator Sanders is no longer applying for the job of representing a small, white, rural state tucked away in a corner of the country. Even for that position, he should know more than he does. Running for president with his level of profound, studied ignorance is a fatal flaw to his candidacy. One can only hope that you can teach an old dog new tricks, but conventional wisdom begs to differ.

Paris, Daesh, and Fear

How the West and the world must and must not respond.

As has been widely stated, reported, corroborated, the attacks in Paris were an assault on our free, democratic way of life. The sites chosen – the Bataclan concert hall, the Stade de France, le Petit Cambodge restaurant, and cafes on the bustling Boulevard Voltaire, Rue de Charonne, and others – were soft targets, designated because they were easy, unguarded locations in a youthful, bon vivant part of Paris. The terror these small, miserable murderers sowed on that Friday night, the lives they took were to send a message: wherever you go, you are not safe.

It was a message that the French met with typical defiance and disdain, demonstrating France’s grace under fire as Parisians returned to lounge at the bistros and cafes so essential to the fabric of French cultural life. The courage the French people continue to exhibit is the right response to the wicked barbarity of Daesh’s new global front. Now let us explore the wrong responses, plural.

Since the attacks, tempers in the West have run high, and the 1.57 billion Muslims of the world are once again paying the price for a band of marauding troglodytes who have appropriated Islam for their own gain. In the U.S., Syrian refugees have fallen into the crosshairs of mounting public anger and presidential politics. Despite the fact that the refugee resettlement process takes 18 to 24 months and that Syrian and Iraqi refugees are screened by five different federal agencies, every Republican candidate who has chosen to speak up on this issue has called for them to be denied entry. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz want to accept only Christian refugees, while Trump, Carson, and other irrelevants want to stop accepting them all together. Carson, who until recently was the frontrunner in Iowa, compared Syrian refugees to a rabid dog, while Trump claims he saw “thousands and thousands” of Muslim residents of Jersey City cheering 9/11.

The Republicans disgracing themselves with these bigoted views are only reflecting the welling anger against Muslims that the American public, and particularly the Republican base, feels in the wake of the Paris attacks. This is dangerous for two main reasons. The first is that the emotional turbulence the nation feels in response to this cowardly attack on the people of France must be tempered by an understanding that the world has a lot more to defend and to lose than just the lives of its citizens. The terrorism that springs forth from Daesh’s version of Islamic extremism is not just about slaughter. They seek to sow fear in the daily lives of citizens of free, democratic, multicultural societies that they want to see expunged from the Earth, enough fear that the principles upon which our societies are founded become just another casualty of war. Daesh wants to see the better angels of our nature swept up by the free-flowing tide of fear their violence provokes. If we allow our Syrian refugee policy to be dictated by that fear, then we have already lost a crucial battle. As President Obama reminded us all, the Statue of Liberty’s inscription should have the final say on our attitude towards these latest victims of the world’s volatile cruelty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Full stop.

The second is that the undeserved antipathy we channel towards our Muslim neighbors, colleagues, friends, family, and fellow citizens only accomplishes one thing, and that is confirming Daesh’s twisted ideology and aiding its propaganda efforts. Daesh seeks a clash of civilizations. Its propaganda highlights a “gray zone of coexistence” in which Muslim populations residing in the West engage with Western life, participate in Western institutions, and live peaceful lives as Western citizens. Daesh seeks to destroy this fact of life by provoking responses to its terrorism that help further an “us vs. them” narrative. For Daesh, there is an Islamic camp and a Crusader camp, and its ultimate mission is to make this binary, absolutist fantasy a reality. Therefore, it does not take a genius to gather that the worst possible thing you could say in the aftermath of the Paris attacks is that we should only accept Christian refugees, that Muslim Americans cheered 9/11, and that refugees are the figurative equivalent of rabid dogs.

The world must act decisively and swiftly to improve intelligence gathering services and cooperation, to end the Syrian civil war that allowed Daesh safe haven to begin with, to better European border security under Schengen provisions, and to better integrate large, disaffected Muslim populations in the West and beyond that have sent thousands of foreign fighters into Daesh’s bloodied arms. But beyond practical steps we can take, the most potent weapon we have at our disposal is not a bunker-busting bomb or the heavy trample of boots on the ground. It is something that we do every day without thinking, that fundamental, courageous act that Daesh wants to extinguish above all, and that is to coexist, to live amongst one another peacefully, without suspicion, apprehension, or prejudice.

The Daesh way of life – committing genocide against the Yazidi people, subjugating women and children into sexual slavery, destroying ancient artifacts in the cradle of civilization, performing mass public executions, and many more unutterables – is objectively evil and false. In the face of such hatred and violence, the world must do what it does at its best, and that is to affirm the dignity of all peoples and to promote inclusion, respect, and love for its fellow human beings. We cannot allow ourselves to succumb to the politics of fear that the Republicans have so shamefully embraced. The horrible truth is that another attack is more likely than not because of the massive surveillance and intelligence undertaking required to keep track of these coldblooded, chameleon killers. We cannot afford to falter in our resolve and undermine the foundational pillars of our free, democratic, inclusive world order. The stakes are far too high for such veiled weakness.

Institutional Disruption

How Russia, China, and Trump pose disruptive threats to America’s global position.

In Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention beginning September 30th on behalf of the beleaguered Assad regime has thrown the American-led coalition’s ineffectiveness in stark relief. Putin has brokered an intelligence-sharing agreement with Syria, Iran, and Iraq, aligning himself with a growing Shiite axis. Confident of both his and Assad’s strengthened bargaining position, he now prods the West for cooperation against the Islamic State, adding that East-West relations are at their most pivotal moment since the end of the Cold War. Just as he had in Ukraine, Putin asserted Russia’s right to coalesce a sphere of influence.

In the South China Sea, China is building entire islands for military and commercial purposes in contested waters and claiming sovereignty in violation of international law. This has led to a rapid increase in tensions with its neighbors, most notably Japan, which, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has recently moved to loosen the pacifist strictures of its constitution. The United States is only now sending regular patrols through the waters the U.S. Navy fears China may make a “no-go zone.”

At home, Donald Trump and now Ben Carson have routed the establishment, galvanized the base, and embarrassed the Republican Party to a global audience. The two command over 50% of Republican support in national polls. Staid, sober, and bumbling Jeb Bush is in fifth place, and Megyn Kelley this week felt the need to ask if he anticipates dropping out, despite his unrivaled $100 million Super Pac war chest. Trump – whose greatest assets are his steel-clad, inflated ego, his seasoned showman’s instincts, and his attuned, simplistic pandering to the populist mood – has changed the name of the game.

Russia, China, and Trump are agents of the same implacable force of disruption lapping away at the solid foundations of American institutions at home and abroad. Voters don’t just like Trump for his megalomaniacal tendencies, though that is certainly a crucial part of his appeal. They see him as an outsider with an insider’s lay of the land who is in a uniquely qualified position to identify the rot in our defaced, decaying institutions. The entire system, Washington, the establishment, the parties, the special interest and lobbies need to be firmly shaken up by someone who has ostensibly rejected them and their power of the purse in favor of the people. Specifics and policy only matter so much next to the visceral desire to take a sledgehammer to something the Republican base projects. It is exactly this same anti-governing philosophy that has turned the House of Representatives into a decapitated chicken running circles trying to find the next moderate Republican to cut down with the Speakership.

Russia and China are mobilizing their military, economic, and diplomatic clout to challenge the United States’ dominance of great power politics. They are doing so by flouting American-led international institutions and violating core principles of the American-led international order. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its invasion of Eastern Ukraine transgress a principle at the core of the United Nations: the illegality of territorial conquest. Russia violated numerous treaties it signed with the U.N. and NATO. Russia’s moves in Syria were a tactical coup for Putin. He has supplanted the American-led coalition there as the primary external factor in the fractured country’s brutal civil war, assuring Moscow of a permanently expanded role in the Middle East.

China’s informal occupation of these new islands it has created and its territorial claims directly contradict the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. In a press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping last month, President Obama felt he needed to make clear that “the United States will continue to sail, fly and operate anywhere that international law allows.” The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a Chinese initiative, is bitterly opposed by the United States, and the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership stands to reassert America’s role as the dominant power in the Pacific.

There are two inevitable historical trends at play here. The first is that American superpower status is on the decline, and although many forecasts and present analyses of American weakness are overblown, we are unmistakably entering a more frictional world order of greater multipolarity. The challenge for America is to leverage its current clout to ease into and expand its global partnership and interconnected web of alliances so as to discourage the zero-sum, balance of power modus operandi of international relations of a century ago. America must integrate more of the world into the peaceful framework of interdependent economic development it has fostered since the end of World War II. China, which is still seen as the greatest success story of international integration, and Russia, a perennial pariah, threaten this mission, and more steps must be taken to counterbalance the disorder they encourage.

The second is wherever this unpredictable, cresting wave of anger, disappointment, and cynicism towards American democratic institutions is leading us to, and this is the larger challenge. As politicians of both stripes have repeatedly claimed, gridlock and dysfunction have crippled the country’s capacity to face longstanding social grievances that have only gotten worse as our system has neglected them: racial injustice, income inequality, the dwindling middle class, climate change, under and unemployment, stagnant wages, predatory health care costs, a vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty – we could go on.

How to walk the fine line required to tackle these conflicting, intractable, expensive problems that must receive their due is the defining question of our time. Amidst unmitigated uncertainty, one thing is clear: the disorder that Russia, China, and Trump offer must be rejected, and rejected firmly.

For all of their faults, and there are many, American institutions have been a force for progress and good in the United States and around the world. The international order of economic liberalization, rules and norms, and partnerships and alliances has enabled and encouraged the burgeoning globalization of the last few decades. The resulting growth has lifted billions out of poverty and into a new global middle class. China’s phenomenal growth story is the brightest example of what globalization has provided at its best. Domestically, institutions establish the confines in which the numerous political traditions of our federal constitutional republic operate. Our age-old guarantee of an individual right to the pursuit of happiness and our collective dedication to a more perfect union are at the heart of a democratic political tradition punctuated by new, more expansive births of freedom. And although it is slow, churning, and bitterly disappointing at times, our system, like the arc of the moral universe, bends towards justice.

America can’t indulge in the opportunism, smallness, and indefinable, nothing nihilism of a Trump candidacy. America has to continue to uphold international law and discipline those who stray from its loose confines. America must continue to lead, and to lead constructively, in unison with our partners, no matter how much we may wish to isolate ourselves anew from a world as enigmatic as we are.

The Case for Corbyn

On Saturday, Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the leader of the British Labour Party, following Ed Miliband’s resignation after the party’s disastrous performance in May’s General Election. Corbyn won nearly 60% and 300,000 of the votes for the contest, barely hearing the scurrying footsteps of those behind him— neither Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, or Liz Kendall breached a fifth of the vote.

May’s defeat was brutal for Labour; polls were encouraging, #milifandom took the internet by storm, and a “hell yes, I’m tough enough” performance gave the indication that the Conservative-Liberal Democrats coalition was seriously in danger of losing their majority of the previous five years. In the end, the Tories defied the polls and exit polls to storm to a clear majority. Miliband quit, Scotland was yellow (SNP), and the Lib Dems received fewer votes than the far right, xenophobic United Kingdom Independence Party.

Labour had to look in the mirror. The party lost 24 seats in Parliament after five years under the Tories, who stripped communities of resources, unions of rights, and, almost, the United Kingdom of Scotland.

The answer was never supposed to be Jeremy Corbyn, a 66 year old, vegetarian socialist who has never held a cabinet position. The answer seemed to be Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall— all of whom had links to Tony Blair (and his electoral success), Gordon Brown, and Ed Miliband. Blair, the father of New Labour, and Brown, one of Blair’s most trusted confidants, both expressed their dismay at Corbyn’s success during his campaign. This is not unexpected– Corbyn is not New Labour, not by any means.

Corbyn is as classically left as it comes in 2015— ridding the UK of nuclear deterrents, renationalizing certain industries, upping union rights, scrapping tuition fees, expanding the NHS and the welfare state, and opening doors to refugees. However, he is a huge proponent of investing in the UK’s broadband capacity, green energy, and research and development within business. He is anti-Austerity and has received the backing of the 40 economists, including David Blanchflower, who signed a letter dismissing criticism of Corbyn’s economic plans, saying they are “not extreme.” His shadow cabinet contains a variety of different MP’s and is a majority female, and his Prime Minister Question time contains questions the public has sent to him. Additionally, he wants parliament to rotate from London to Scotland and Wales.

Corbyn has received opposition from centrist Labour MP’s and Blairites who fundamentally reject his policies, preferring a “Third Way” approach— what they fail to understand is that Labour will not win with these Tory-lite policies. Labour must provide a genuine alternative to the Tories rather than trying to create a valence of responsibility through center-left ambiguity. The Scottish National Party did that in May, and Labour lost one of the party’s former heartlands. Only 37% of the electorate voted for the Conservatives in May; Corbyn can win back large portions of the 63% who thought Miliband’s campaign did not offer the same relief from austerity as the SNP did in Scotland.

Late in 2002, Margaret Thatcher went to Hampshire to speak at a dinner. Taking her round at the reception one of the guests asked her what was her greatest achievement. She replied, “Tony Blair and New Labour.”

Labour has found its fresh start away from Tony Blair.

Alongside his charm, softness, authenticity, passion for youth, and strong belief in re-galvanizing the third of the population which didn’t vote, Corbyn offers the platform the party was founded on: Investing in people to assure secure futures, education, and healthcare as a right. Individuals do not vote for the iron fist, but they will cast a ballot for the helping hand— Corbyn, a truly decent man, is lending his to the poor, disillusioned, and disenfranchised across all of British society. If that isn’t a reason enough to cheer for Jeremy Corbyn’s election, the Labour Party, the party of Tony Benn, Billy Bragg, and Clement Attlee, has a lot to answer for.

We Aren’t Doing Enough: America and the Migrant Crisis

Why Europe’s migrant crisis is just as much America’s responsibility

Syria and northwestern Iraq have become the geographical crucible of the Middle East’s sectarian bloodshed and tumult in a way that few international observers predicted when the civil war there began as a series of minor protests in the sway of the Arab spring. And yet the toll of the war has reached a staggering 216,060 dead, half of whom were civilians. The Islamic State is in control of 1/3 of Iraq’s territory, much of it of strategic value, and its capital, al-Raqqah, sits comfortably within swaths of land in Syria.

From 2011 on, a mass exodus of Syrians and Iraqis poured into neighboring countries. Lebanon, with an initial population of four million and a constitutional system predicated on a delicate balance of its demographics, has accommodated over one million refugees with limited, strained success. Jordan, population of six million, has established large-scale refugee camps under the auspices of the UN for 650,000 refugees. All the while, a growing number of refugees from Africa and the Middle East trickled into Europe through a dangerous Mediterranean sea-path.

In response to these developments, Europe dithered and America shrugged. As the UN’s humanitarian agencies issued increasingly urgent requests for more funding from member states, underlining the large gap between contributions received and their targets, the world answered limply. Europe had more urgent matters to attend to: the Eurozone crisis, lagging growth rates, and nationalist tensions. The United States was in the very process of disengaging from the Middle East, which promptly left the gaping Iraqi power vacuum that the Islamic State filled and terrorized to superb theatrical effect. Leave the periphery to itself seemed the modus operandi of these past four years.

But now the periphery is leaking. The Syrian Civil War’s destabilizing influence has continued unabated and the Iraqi government’s advances against IS have come to a grounding halt. Lebanon and Jordan are reaching a tipping point as the conditions in which Syrian refugees live daily continue to deteriorate. Hundreds of thousands are now flowing through Europe by way of Turkey. Germany, hailed internationally for allowing all incoming migrants in to be processed for the past two weeks, has just ordered temporary border restrictions. It expects to process a record 800,000 migrants by the end of the year. Europe can no longer dither, but America should no longer shrug.

The Obama administration announced last Thursday that they were increasing the number of refugees for resettlement in the United States to 10,000. This is nowhere near enough. The United States has done more than its fair share to cause the migrant crisis with which the EU is coming to grips. The 2003 invasion of Iraq oversaw the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime, a powerful secular Sunni autocracy, and its replacement with an unstable, highly sectarian, and corrupt government with a failed army that stood by as IS captured its territory with ease in 2014. America has provided military assistance, weapons, and training to moderate rebel forces in Syria, and it has conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. We helped supply the canvas and design the contours of the portrait of sectarian chaos and bloodshed being painted there. By contrast, France and Germany, the two nations leading the EU response to the migrant crisis knocking at their doors, were united against the war in Iraq but now must deal with its fallout more than ten years later.

Almost too obviously, geography is at the crux of the difference in response. We remain an ocean away from conflict, while Europe must deal with the immediate problem of a neighboring region of growing disorder overflowing into its territory. This distance has played a historic role in maintaining a certain isolationist sentiment in our global outlook. But to believe that the United States should do no more or nothing at all to help Europe manage this crisis is to either willfully ignore the US’s responsibility for its policies or the plight of hundreds of thousands travelling hundreds of miles to flee bloodshed and destitution.

Many observers who have decried Hungary and other Eastern European nations’ anti-Islamic and anti-migrant response to the crisis drew parallels to the millions of refugees in Europe following World War II. Similarly, just as the United States acted as the guarantor and architect of European peace and a new international order then, so America today must act to demonstrate its commitment to Europe and to the world. The United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants has called on the Obama administration to allow in 100,000 Syrians in the next year. That should be our minimum.