The best political TV of this week will not spin out of the crowded Democratic presidential debates on Wednesday and Thursday.
How do we know? Because this week’s best political TV came Sunday morning, when one of the contenders, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation.
Midway through the interview, Margaret Brennan turned to matters of war and peace:
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about Iran. Was President Trump’s decision this week to call off that strike the right one?
SEN. SANDERS: See, it’s like somebody setting a fire to a basket full of paper and then putting it out. He helped create the crisis and then he stopped the attacks. The idea that we’re looking at the president of the United States who, number one, thinks that a war with Iran is something that might be good for this country…
MARGARET BRENNAN: He was just doing a limited strike.
SEN. SANDERS: Oh, just a limited strike; oh, well, I’m sorry. I just didn’t know that it’s okay to simply attack another country with bombs. ‘Just a limited strike’—that’s an act of warfare. So two points. That will set off a conflagration all over the Middle East… The war in Iraq, Margaret was a disaster I believe from the bottom of my heart that (a war) with Iran would be even worse, more loss of life never ending war in that region, massive instability. We’re talking about, we have been in Afghanistan now for eighteen years. This thing will never end. So I will do everything I can number one to stop a war with Iran. And number two here’s an important point. Let’s remember what we learned in civics when we were kids. It is the United States Congress, under our Constitution, that has warmaking authority not the president of the United States. If he attacks Iran in my view that would be unconstitutional.
That was the right response, not just to a particular line of questioning in an otherwise thoughtful interview but to all the major media outlets that employ euphemisms to diminish the significance—and the consequences—of acts of war by presidents who disregard the Constitution.
Sanders discusses the subject at considerably more length in an important new article for Foreign Affairs—“Ending America’s Endless War”—in which he argues, “Terrorism is a very real threat, which requires robust diplomatic efforts, intelligence cooperation with allies and partners, and yes, sometimes military action. But as an organizing framework, the global war on terror has been a disaster for our country. Orienting U.S. national-security strategy around terrorism essentially allowed a few thousand violent extremists to dictate the foreign policy of the most powerful nation on earth. We responded to terrorists by giving them exactly what they wanted.” The article concludes:
The American people don’t want endless war. Neither do we want a foreign policy that is based on the logic that led to those wars and corroded our democracy: a logic that privileges military tools over diplomatic ones, aggressive unilateralism over multilateral engagement, and acquiescence to our undemocratic partners over the pursuit of core interests alongside democratic allies who truly share our values. We have to view the terrorism threat through the proper scope, rather than allowing it to dominate our view of the world. The time has come to envision a new form of American engagement: one in which the United States leads not in war-making but in bringing people together to find shared solutions to our shared concerns. American power should be measured not by our ability to blow things up, but by our ability to build on our common humanity, harnessing our technology and enormous wealth to create a better life for all people.
For the bottom line, however, go back to the video, where Sanders rejects the empty language of political and media elites and clearly explains that “The United States does not want to continue to lose men and women and trillions of dollars in never-ending wars in the Middle East.”