The Secret Campaign for 2020: Where the Democratic Candidates Stand on Foreign Policy

Image result for bernie sanders and george w. bush

Americans vote their pocketbooks. It’s the economy, stupid. Absent a war or recent terrorist attack, conventional wisdom believes that voters prioritize domestic issues. Right now, conventional wisdom is correct. According to the latest Pew Research poll, the five most important issues for Democrats are healthcare, education, Medicare, poverty and the environment.

So it’s not surprising that the major Democratic presidential contenders’ campaigns are focusing on economic and other America-centric issues. Nor is it shocking that the news media, never more anemic or less willing to question the candidates, is ignoring their stances on foreign policy. You could watch 5 hours and read 50 pages of news every day and never learn where a top Dem stands on issues of war and peace, defense spending, assassination drones, Guantánamo, NSA surveillance of Americans, foreign adventurism or human rights. Trust me, I know.

Still, voters deserve to know the would-be presidents’ positions on issues that extend beyond U.S. borders. Here’s what I found.

The Democrats on Our Crazy Defense Spending

            The military sucks up 54% of discretionary federal spending. Pentagon bloat has a huge effect on domestic priorities; the nearly $1 trillion a year that goes to exploiting, oppressing, torturing, maiming and murdering foreigners could go to building schools, college scholarships, curing diseases, poetry slams, whatever. Anything, even tax cuts for the rich, would be better than bombs. But as then GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said in 2015, “The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.” If you’re like me, you want as little killing and breaking as possible.

Unfortunately, no major Democratic presidential candidate favors substantial cuts to Pentagon appropriations.

Current frontrunner Joe Biden (33% in the polls) doesn’t talk much about defense spending. He reminds us that his son served in Iraq (so he cares about the military) and that we shouldn’t prioritize defense over domestic programs. Vague. Though specific programs might get trimmed, Lockheed Martin could rest easy under a President Biden.

“Since he arrived in Congress, [runner-up] Bernie Sanders [19%] has been a fierce crusader against Pentagon spending, calling for defense cuts that few Democrats have been willing to support,” The Hill reported in 2016. “As late as 2002, he supported a 50 percent cut for the Pentagon.” Bernie is still a Pentagon critic but he won’t commit to a specific amount to cut. He wouldn’t slash and Bern. He’d trim.

Elizabeth Warren (8%) wants “to identify which programs actually benefit American security in the 21st century, and which programs merely line the pockets of defense contractors — then pull out a sharp knife and make some cuts.”

Neither Pete Buttigieg (8%) nor Beto O’Rourke (6%) have articulated any firm foreign policy positions whatsoever. Buttigieg brags about having served in the Navy Reserve. Unlikely that either man would change much.

Kamala Harris (5%) has not weighed in on military spending. She has received substantial campaign contributions from the defense industry, though.

The Democrats on Wars for Fun

            As senator, Biden voted for the optional wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. He lied about his votes so maybe he felt bad about them. He similarly seems to regret his role in destroying Libya.

Sanders voted to invade Afghanistan. His comment at the time reads as hopelessly naïve about the bloodthirsty Bush-Cheney regime: “The use of force is one tool that we have at our disposal to fight against the horror of terrorism and mass murder… it is something that must be used wisely…and with great discretion.” Sanders voted against invading Iraq, favored regime change in Libya (albeit nonviolently) and voted to bomb Syria.

There have been no major new wars since 2013, when Warren joined the Senate so her antiwar bona fides have not been tested. Like many of her colleagues, she wants an end to the “forever war” against Afghanistan. She also wants us out of Syria.

Harris too is new to the Senate (2017). Statements on various conflicts indicate that she is a foreign policy hawk in the Hillary Clinton mold. Harris favors the U.S. bombing campaign against Syria, blank-check approval for Israel and sabre-rattling against North Korea. She buys into the discredited Russiagate narrative.

Warren is the only high-level antiwar candidate but she could be BSing.

Democrats on Drones

            The assassination drone program begun by Bush and expanded upon by presidents Obama and Trump have killed thousands of innocent people in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, almost all innocent. Drone strikes have demolished America’s moral standing. “Just about everywhere else in the world, opposition to drone strikes is sweeping,” The Washington Post reported in 2014. Anti-American terrorists often cite drone strikes as justification for attacking the U.S. It’s only a matter of time before other countries, and non-state actors like Hezbollah and ISIS, use them against us.

Though generally skeptical of large ground invasions like Iraq, Biden is a fan of drone assassinations. Sanders acknowledged in a 2015 interview with me that drones make killing “too easy” but nevertheless said he would continue terror-by-air as president. Warren doesn’t talk about drones. Neither does Harris.

None of the major Democratic candidates would cancel the drone program.

Democrats on Gitmo

Opened shortly after 9/11, the U.S. concentration camp at Guantánamo is a nasty blotch on America’s human rights record that terrorists use to justify killing Americans and put the lie to every pronouncement the government issues about human rights abuses in other countries. Torture, rape and even murder are routine at this notorious facility.

In 2005 Biden said the U.S. “needs to move toward shutting down” Gitmo. In 2016 he said he “hoped” it would close down. He has not called for an immediate shutdown.

Kamala Harris always refuses to comment—a stance that speaks volumes.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the only two who have consistently argued that Gitmo should be closed. “We look like hypocrites and fools to the entire world,” Sanders said in 2016.

Democrats on NSA Spying Against Americans

The mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden continue to scoop up every email, text message, phone call and every other form of communication you can think of within and into the United States. Whether the NSA and other agencies will be allowed to continue will determine whether we can avoid an Orwellian dystopia.

Joe Biden, though to the right on other foreign-policy issues, was a critic of NSA spying for years, going back at least to 2006. Under Obama, however, he backtracked. Even worse, Biden called the president of Ecuador in 2013 to request that he deny asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Bernie Sanders alone would end warrantless mass surveillance and said Snowden “did this country a great service.” Warren doesn’t discuss it much except to say it would be nice to have “an informed discussion.” Harris favors some limits but generally keeps quiet.

Except for Biden, the Democratic presidential field is dominated by progressives and progressives-come-lately—on domestic issues. When it comes to foreign policy, there isn’t as much difference as progressive voters would like between the Democratic and Republican parties.

(Ted Rall, the cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


14 thoughts on “The Secret Campaign for 2020: Where the Democratic Candidates Stand on Foreign Policy

  1. > As senator, Biden voted for the optional wars against Afghanistan and Iraq.

    As a Representative, Bernie did voted for Iraq as well. ‘cuz it was the earlier blank check Bush used to justify his invasion of Iraq. There wasn’t actually anything wrong with the resolution – it specifically called for military use “as necessary and appropriate.” So did the Iraq resolution for that matter, so unless you are willing to stipulate that the rape of Fallujah was necessary and appropriate then there ain’t nobody who actually voted *for* the atrocity that followed.

    Nor can we put all the blame at the feet of politicians – they were being egged on by a populace who’d been scared spitless. Many of us were champing at the bit, ready to go kill us some Mooslims. I consider myself a pacifist, but I wanted to go into Afghanistan and dig out AQ and UBL. I did return to my senses at some point before we rolled into Iraq, but it took a while to cool off.

    > discredited Russiagate narrative

    Say what now? How is proving every single assertion except one “discredited’? The VLWC theory is a dead horse, it’s time to stop beating it. He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-CONSPIRACY THEORY!!

    • CH, you remain a laughable right wing Democratic Party loon by choice.

      Even you recognize, at some level, that you are crazy through the use of your pseudonym.

      You refuse to believe that the letter agencies would lie to the Exceptional Americans, probably because you can’t name a single instance of when they did, where a reasonably informed American of your age should be able to name many.

      The fact that Americans get most of their propagandized information exclusively from the corporatist state agencies (like ABC, CBS, MSNBC, WTTW, FOX, etc.) leaves many Americans in the confused state of mind that you are in now.

      You may recover one day, if you can escape from the rigid ideological mindset that now results in your obsessive compulsive thought.

      Have a nice day.

    • Two questions, Glenn:

      1) What are you smoking?
      2) Did you bring enough to share?

      As always, I stand ready to discuss anything I’ve actually said – but I have no obligation to defend the random nonsense you pull out of your ass.

      Let’s take this wet, stinking turd:

      “You refuse to believe that the letter agencies would lie to the Exceptional Americans”

      That is the exact opposite of what I’ve said. YOU refuse to believe that they might actually tell the truth sometimes. I’m perfectly willing to believe they sometimes lie and sometimes tell the truth. Sometimes they know what they’re talking about, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they are pushing an agenda and sometimes they aren’t.


      You’re the one who insists they always lie, and therefore 9/11 didn’t happen.

      So … how’s the weather on flat earth?

      • To Hurricane Crazy,

        Just for clarification, the “letter agencies” could have lied about THE ACTUAL CAUSE of 9/11 … as opposed to, simply, whether or not it happened.

        Note, also, that the OFFICIAL explanation of of 9/11 IS a conspiracy theory.

      • @falco – yes, I agree.

        And thank you for the repeated compliment.

        SFX: whish swish THWACK!

  2. it’s a sad commentary, Ted, on the state of US journalism that voters in that country would have to repair to sites like your to learn where the candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for presidential candidate in the election of 2020 stand on foreign (= military) policy. Land of the free, home of the brave….


  3. Where’s Alex and his favorite picture of HRC with her dear mentor, mass murderer, Henry “the eliminator” Kissinger.

  4. Right now none of the major candidates are really anti-war, really strong on opposing all regime change, really strong on bringing the troops home and cutting War spending, or resisting the meddling in Venezuela.

    But two minor candidates are and one of them will become a major candidate once people get to hear her, Tulsi Gabbard, in the debates.

  5. It probably won’t matter. The Democratic Party has been running on the concept of Not Trump. Their mid-term election platform was the removal of Trump, and they failed. They have done nothing to address the issues that brought voters to Trump. They should be trying to take the issues fight to the Republics. Bring forth multiple bills that seriously address immigration. They should be addressing companies that move their HQ’s offshore, outsource to foreign countries, and move their factories out of the country. But they are not. Instead they are attacking some nobody named Barr, and whining about Trump not losing graciously at the next election.

    All election, we are going to hear how the Democrats resisted all attempts at addressing immigration. We will hear how the Democrats blocked all attempts at reforming Obamacare. We will hear about the economy growth, and the jobs that were saved/returned. We will hear about the failed investigation on Trump. They will have numerous talking points before they even begin to attack the Democratic candidate.

    • And if, which is not unlikely, Mr Trump’s predilection for «easy-to-win» trade and technology wars on, not least, China, do things to the US economy which lead to suffering among Mr Trump’s voters, perhaps someone will be unkind enough to point to big D Democrats’ support for just these disastrous policies : «“Hang tough on China, President @realDonaldTrump,” the Democratic Senate leader, Chuck Schumer, tweeted on Sunday. “Don’t back down. Strength is the only way to win with China.”» …


  6. Pingback: The Secret Campaign for 2020: Where the Democratic Candidates Stand on Foreign Policy - LA Progressive

    • So it seems. Which should give her zero chance of being chosen as the candidate for either of the two war parties which constitute permissable politics in the United States….