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Sanders’ Consistent Foreign Policy

Max Boot faults Bernie Sanders for being too principled:

Sanders would be more credible and convincing if he would recant his earlier illusions. He should then rethink his more recent support for the toppled leftist leader Evo Morales in Bolivia and his opposition to President Trump’s attempts, in cooperation with U.S. allies, to topple the repressive Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela.

Sanders criticized the way that Morales was removed from power and argued that it was a coup, but it is quite a stretch to say that he “supported” the Bolivian leader. Whatever one thinks about Morales, it is reasonable to characterize his removal from office as a kind of coup, and as a general rule we should expect American politicians to disapprove of coups against elected leaders regardless of their politics. Trump’s regime change policy in Venezuela has not only failed, but the administration’s economic war has also added to the suffering of the Venezuelan people. Why would Sanders rethink his opposition to an ill-conceived regime change policy that hurts innocent people?

If Boot is still in favor of this policy, that suggests that he hasn’t learned very much at all from his previous blunders. Boot’s column mostly amounts to pointing at things Sanders said in the past and then asserting that he should agree with Boot about contemporary foreign policy issues. Needless to say, that’s not likely to happen, and it is to Sanders’ credit that it won’t. Boot talks about how he has changed his mind and learned from past mistakes, but on foreign policy he doesn’t seem to have changed much at all. Boot has been consistently in favor of U.S. interference and intervention all around the world for decades, and judging from this column that remains his default setting. Instead of concern trolling Sanders, perhaps Boot should rethink some of his assumptions.

He brings up Sanders’ opposition to the invasion of Grenada, as if this were something that would embarrass the senator. The invasion was a rushed and illegal attack on a neighboring country that couldn’t possibly have threatened U.S. security. The U.S. gave Britain almost no notice that it was about to attack a Commonwealth member, and Thatcher disagreed with the decision to invade. Why exactly should Sanders recant this position? Boot mentions that Sanders opposed U.S. support for the government of El Salvador in the 1980s. This would be the same government that carried out a particularly gruesome massacre of civilians in 1981, which was recently confirmed by a retired general:

Juan Rafael Bustillo, a former commander of the Air Force, told a court the elite Atlacatl Battalion carried out the El Mozote massacre in eastern El Salvador in which unarmed villagers, most of them women and children, were slaughtered.

According to a U.N. report, soldiers tortured and executed over 1,000 residents of El Mozote and surrounding hamlets in the Morazan department, 180 km (110 miles) northeast of San Salvador, as they searched for guerrillas in December 1981.

There hasn’t been any doubt for a long time that government forces were responsible for the massacre, but this latest testimony backs up what others have reported. Boot doesn’t mention this new report or the massacre, which is quite the omission in a column that seeks to paint Sanders’ opposition to U.S. policy in the 1980s as nothing more than an ideological reflex. Do hawks really want to relitigate their support for U.S. meddling and intervention in Central America in the Cold War? It is fair and appropriate to scrutinize Sanders’ record, but if this attack is the best that hawks can do the senator from Vermont doesn’t have much to worry about on this front.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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