The most meaningful foreign-policy address delivered by a prominent American political figure in this moment of global turmoil and possibility was not, as should be quite clear by now, Donald Trump’s “Rocket Man” rant at the United Nations.
Rather, it was the speech that Senator Bernie Sanders gave Thursday at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. The long-planned address by the 2016 presidential contender was not presented as a formal response to Trump. And yet, as Sanders outlined a vision for foreign policy that was more nuanced, more complex, and more genuinely internationalist than that of the president, he provided the most necessary and valuable counter to Trump.
Sanders also countered the narrow framework of the contemporary debate about foreign policy that gave rise to the nationalist presidency of a billionaire populist who thinks there is a country in Africa called “Nambia.”
“When we talk about foreign policy it is clear that there are some who believe that the United States would be best served by withdrawing from the global community. I disagree. As the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth, we have got to help lead the struggle to defend and expand a rules-based international order in which law, not might, makes right,” Sanders declared in a critical section of his address. He explained that
We must offer people a vision that one day, maybe not in our lifetimes, but one day in the future, human beings on this planet will live in a world where international conflicts will be resolved peacefully, not by mass murder.
How tragic it is that today, while hundreds of millions of people live in abysmal poverty, the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons of destruction.
I am not naive or unmindful of history. Many of the conflicts that plague our world are longstanding and complex. But we must never lose our vision of a world in which, to quote the Prophet Isaiah, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
While Trump got high marks from his apologists, and even from some of his critics, for delivering a crudely dismissive response to diplomacy and international cooperation in his remarks at the United Nations, Sanders embraced the faith of the American visionaries who helped shape the post–World War II institutions that sought to avoid the next wars.