Sanders' defeat is no great loss for progressive politics

Sanders' defeat is no great loss for progressive politics
Comment: Bernie Sanders positioned himself as a radical leftist, but his hidden conservatism was uncloaked by his support for military intervention against the Islamic State group, writes Sam Hamad.
6 min read
10 Jun, 2016
Bernie Sanders' approach to foreign policy is far from progressive, writes Sam Hamad [Getty]

After a fierce battle with Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton has essentially won the nomination to be the Democratic Party's presidential candidate. While one section of the broadly liberal-left forces in the US whoop with joy at this news, another section find themselves in a state of invariable despair and, perhaps most worryingly, defiance. 

Sanders supporters have never taken defeat well. Indeed, the mendacious reaction of Sanders' supporters during the primaries portrayed his wins as evidence of a great democratic uprising against Wall Street, while seeing Clinton's successes as rigged

The fact that Clinton now has enough delegates to claim the nomination will no doubt be contested. In normal circumstances, given how little in common politically I have with Clinton, I'd have nothing to say about this, but in the age of Trump, splitting the broadly "progressive" vote could spell ultimate disaster for the US and, by default, the rest of the world. 

And, as a non-American, the rest of the world is my only direct concern. Like Sanders supporters, I too am in mourning, but the difference is that this began for me long before Clinton won. It was with a sense of despair that I listened to Sanders lay out his views on foreign policy - not only are they not much different to Clinton's, but the case could even be made that his are actively worse. 

This is almost definitely the case concerning what I consider the defining political moment of our area - the Arab Spring and, in particular, Syria. This is a crisis so brutal that its size and scope require something more than a new mode of international support. For it also threatens - through its multifarious consequences - to have cataclysmic effects not just on Syrians, but the entire world, should the counter-revolutionary forces triumph in Damascus and elsewhere.

Splitting the broadly 'progressive' vote could spell ultimate disaster for the US and, by default, the rest of the world

It's up to us, those who live now, especially those who actually hold power, to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the forces of progress, namely the Syrian opposition, triumph. In this area, Sanders falls catastrophically short.

Sanders' rhetoric is one of the liberal "anti-militarism" that became a common part of the political discourse due to the Bush regime's mass criminality - supported with gusto at the time by Clinton. The Vermont senator's official campaign site states that "while we must be relentless in combating terrorists who would do us harm, we cannot and should not be policeman of the world". 

Nothing much to disagree with there, one might think, but the world often has that annoying habit of moving on - the dynamics of conflict and struggle changing and altering previous assumptions and necessities. 

But Sanders represents something uniquely repugnant in foreign policy terms. 

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party and Official Opposition in the UK, could be said to reflect the current zeitgeist of the hard left when it comes to foreign policy. This could be described as an "anti-war" stance that singularly focuses on opposing western military intervention, regardless of the actual threat of such intervention, and thus often translates into outright support for "enemy" regimes.

This comes at the expense of both the brutal realities of these regimes and, in the case of Syria and Libya, the revolutionary forces actively fighting these regimes.

Far from being a 'non-interventionist', Sanders supports the Obama regime's brutally counterproductive airstrikes against IS

Sanders, however, is something quite different. His supporters cast him as a drastic contrast to Clinton when it comes to war, often citing her support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq in contrast to his opposition - though they conveniently forget that Sanders voted for Bush's war in Afghanistan.

The reality, however, is that he supports every active US war, as well as supporting the methodology of such wars, such as the US' brutal drone programme. In fact, Sanders, the great anti-militarist, praised this particularly vicious and craven form of warfare as "pretty impressive".

Far from being a "non-interventionist", Sanders supports the Obama regime's brutally counterproductive airstrikes against IS, and the IS-centric worldview that underlies it. In fact, in a TV debate with Clinton in April of this year, he laid this bare. 

Referencing Clinton's support for a no-fly zone in Syria to protect civilians from Assad, Sanders responded: "You [Clinton] in Syria talked about a no-fly zone, which the president certainly doesn't support, nor do I… because… it will cost enormous sums of money."

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Sanders concedes that while Assad is brutal, "right now our fight is to destroy ISIS". He then effectively calls Clinton a warmonger for attempting to focus on Assad. This demonstrates not only that Sanders isn't "anti-interventionist", but that his entire logic is perhaps unintentionally, cruel and dangerous. 

Assad, along with his allies in Iran and Russia, is responsible for at least 450,000 Syrians killed - thousands of whom are thought to have been industrially murdered in detention - more than 13 million displaced, over a million living under siege, and the destruction of an entire country. 

Without Assad, both directly and generally, there would be no IS in its current form. If the world, or even just the ever-diminishing regional allies of the Syrian rebels, were to fully support the effort to overthrow Assad, to counter Russian and Iranian terror with a matching level of support for the Syrian rebel forces, IS would be ripe for defeat by Syrians seeking to salvage their country.

Clinton, as terrible as she is in other areas, understands and has paid lip service to this, not only by supporting a no-fly zone, but also by talking about the necessity of, unlike Obama, concretely supporting a non-sectarian approach to the current anti-IS assault led by the Iraqi regime and its sectarian militias. 

While it's wise to remain sceptical that Clinton will provide recompense for Obama's disastrous betrayals of progressive forces in Syria, the fact that she talks about it is at least better than Sanders' bizarre mixture of isolationism, IS-centrism and ignorance. 

The worldview behind this is one that objectively endorses the order of brutal tyrants over the 'instability' that occurs when forces inevitably rise up against it

And this gets to perhaps the most controversial point.  Sanders has consistently attacked Clinton for her support for the no-fly zone in Libya, saying most recently: "I think that her willingness to kind of push Obama to overthrow Gaddafi… [led] to the kind of instability that we're seeing now in Libya - not inconsistent with her views on Syria, where she wants a NFZ, which I think can suck us into never-ending conflict."

The worldview behind this objectively endorses the order of brutal tyrants over the "instability" that occurs when forces inevitably rise up against it. Clinton no more overthrew Gaddafi than I did - the Libyan people, defenceless against Gaddafi's air force, overthrew his regime with the aid of NATO. Sanders' view is as vacuous as it is mendacious. The Libyan revolution could no more be halted than an avalanche. Tyranny provides its own gravediggers. 

Sanders' hidden conservative worldview is underlined by his support for intervention against IS. He prioritises an entity that every so often kills white people in Europe over one which continues to kill and displace millions of Syrians. 

I mourn not because Sanders lost to Clinton, but because yet again a leftist candidate has made a right-wing candidate seem progressive when it comes to their approach to the revolutions and the vicious counter-revolutions in the Arab world. 

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.