After Bernie Sanders appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press last Sunday, the program’s Twitter account announced that “Bernie Sanders said he won’t apologize for supporting anti-Vietnam War efforts and voting against the war in Iraq.”
Good. Because Sanders should never apologize for the anti-war stances he took in the past, just as he should never apologize for the anti-war stances he is taking today as a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.
He was right to oppose the Vietnam War.
He was right to oppose the Iraq War.
He is right to now oppose the maneuvers that might lead to war with Iran.
Sanders used his Meet the Press appearance to present himself as a candidate whose inclination is to prevent rather than initiate wars. That does not make Sanders a pacifist; he has not opposed every call to arms. But he has generally been on the side of diplomacy as opposed to armed conflict. And his willingness to defend an anti-war stance on a Sunday-morning talk show was a refreshing rejoinder to the casually militaristic approach that characterizes so many media discussions of foreign policy.
In the key exchange on Meet the Press, moderator Chuck Todd began by mentioning recent New York Times coverage that imagined there was something controversial about the presidential contender’s record of opposing the wrongheaded policies of past presidents—including the Reagan administration’s support of murderous right-wing groups that operated in Latin America during the 1980s. “The New York Times spent a lot of time talking about your trips to Central America. I know you got pretty worked up about those things,” said Todd. “I think the larger question, and let me just frame the question this way: The larger question’s going to be, if you’re the nominee, whether you like it or not, the right’s going to basically hammer-and-sickle you to death. How do you prevent it?”
Todd pointed to an issue that the Times report, with its rehashing of Cold War dogma, had raised. It’s no secret that President Trump and his allies are hell-bent on conflating the mainstream democratic socialism that Sanders embraces with Stalinism.
The response that Sanders gave was, indeed, defiant. The senator rejected the constraints that too many Democrats have accepted when it comes to foreign-policy discussions.
To Todd’s core question about being “hammered and sickled” by Trump and his allies, the senator offered, “I don’t mind the right wing doing it. But I understand they will do it. I don’t want the media to do it.”
Then he got to the heart of the matter.
“Look, when I was a young man, I plead guilty. I voted—I worked hard, as a young man, against the war in Vietnam. I don’t apologize for that. As a member of the United States House, I helped lead the effort against the war in Iraq, which turns out to have been the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of the United States,” said Sanders. “As a United States senator, I led the effort to pass a bipartisan resolution to get America out of the war in Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia. And I’ve got to tell you something, Chuck. I hope you guys pay attention to Yemen. What’s going on in Yemen now is the worst humanitarian disaster in the world. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people, children, dying. And I’m doing my best to get the US out of that war. And if Trump wants to go to war in Iran, that will make the war in Iraq look like a cakewalk.… so we’ve got to do everything we can to stop that.”
The appropriately unapologetic senator concluded with a line that’s likely to resonate with war-weary Americans.
“If people want to attack me, because I think that war should be the last resort, you can attack me. But I’ve seen too much horror. I was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. I talked to too many veterans whose lives were destroyed by the war in Iraq,” said Sanders, who promised that “I will do everything I can to see problems solved diplomatically, rather than through war.”