Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, speaks at the California Democrats State Convention in Sacramento, April 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
In an age of deep partisan divisions, the broadest opposition to United States military intervention in Syria is not coming from Republicans. Or Democrats.
Independent voters are the most determined foes of President Obama’s proposal to launch missile strikes in response to reports that the Syrian government employed chemical weapons in that country’s brutal civil war. While Republicans and Democrats surveyed for the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll expressed strong opposition to the president’s proposal—by margins of 55-43 and 54-42, respectively—independents were against the plan 66-30.
So what does the independent senator from Vermont say?
Bernie Sanders shares the skepticism.
The Vermonter, who caucuses with the Democrats but has a history of breaking with presidents of both parties on matters of principle, is asking questions that are more likely to be heard on Main Street than in the cloistered conference rooms where administration aides are asking members of Congress to authorize the use of force against Syria.
“We’ve cut back on education, we’ve cut back on nutrition programs, we’ve thrown kids off Head Start,” says Sanders. “We have billions to spend on a war but no money to take care of the very pressing needs of the American people. That bothers me a lot.”
Like most senators, Sanders has not made a formal declaration on how he will vote when the chamber takes up the authorization measure that was approved Wednesday on a ten (seven Democrats, three Republicans) to seven (five Republicans, two Democrats) vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Senator Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, voted “present.”)
Sanders says he will keep listening to the arguments made by the White House. “But,” he said on MSNBC’s The Ed Show Wednesday night, “I would be less than honest with you if didn’t say I had very, very deep concerns about this proposal. And, by the way, I can tell you that in my office the phones are bopping off the hook and almost unanimously people are opposed to what the president is talking about.”
The senator, who has a track record of engagement with international human rights issues, expresses deep concern about reports of the deployment of chemical weapons, and about the humanitarian issues raised by developments in Syria.
But the Vermonter worries, as well, about the prospect that “a third Middle East war in 12 years may make a very bad situation even worse.”