Tonight, on a CNN Town Hall with Wolf Blitzer, 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was asked a question about whether he’d support a U.S. military intervention into a country like Venezuela, whose citizens are suffering from a humanitarian crisis. His answer did a great job addressing the complexities at play in U.S. foreign policy without bowing down to the status quo.
“There are a lot of awful things happening in the world,” Sanders began. “What’s happening in Venezuela is terrible, their economy is a disaster. People are living in hunger and in fear. I strongly believe there has to be an international humanitarian effort to improve lives for the people.”
He again repeated his belief that the Nicolas Maduro’s 2017 election was “not a free and fair election” and that he want to see a new election take place “under international supervision.”
Then, Sanders got to the heart of the question. It’s worth quoting his entire response:
I am old enough to remember the war in Vietnam. And I was as active as a I could, trying to keep the United States from going to war in Iraq, I was in the Congress at that point. And I am very fearful of the United States continuing to do what it has done in the past. As you know, or as you may know, the United States overthrew a democratically elected government in Chile, and in Brazil, and in Guatemala, and in other countries around the world. So as someone who fervently believes in human right and democracy, we have got to do everything we can. But I think sometimes you have unintended consequences when a powerful nation goes in and tells people who their government will be.
My view is that whether it is Saudi Arabia, which is a despotic regime, or Venezuela, I think we have got to do everything we can to create a democratic climate. But I do not believe in U.S. military intervention in those countries.
This simple, moral argument is a powerful rebuke to the U.S. foreign policy establishment, a group that encompasses almost every major U.S. politician, both Democrat and Republican.
Sanders’ references here to past blunders in Vietnam and Iraq, America’s intentional subversions of democracy in countries like Chile, and our current cozy relationship with dictatorial governments like the Saudi monarchy exposes the reality hidden under that narrative that our foreign policy is directed by concern for “human rights.” The U.S., like everyone else, generally does what we believe serves our best interests, not the best interests of the people in the countries we invade. Sanders shouldn’t be seen as a radical for stating this obvious truth.
And as for Venezuela—a country with a repressive leader who just tonight detained a group of journalists including Jorge Ramos of Univision, the company that owns this website—it makes no more sense for us to invade there, undoubtedly creating even more suffering and death, than it does for us to continue to support the Saudi war with Yemen, which the UN says is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
Perhaps before we swoop in to “fix” any more countries, the U.S. should do our best to pick up the pieces in a few of those we have already destroyed.