Faced with the foreign policy vision of a potential Bernie Sanders-like president, U.S. allies would have every reason to miss Donald Trump.
From the stage of this year’s Munich Security Conference, former Vice President Joe Biden assured Europeans that “we will be back.” In other words, he suggested that, after a period with Donald Trump in the White House, dominated by tense trans-Atlantic relations, things will return to normal. If Biden runs, he will be the Democratic Party’s best candidate to beat Trump. There are certainly good reasons to believe that his promise will be at least partially met. Although many people believe that among the many Democratic candidates who have already announced their candidacies, he would have the best chance of defeating Trump, it is not at all certain that this will be enough to be nominated. There is now a strong left-wing radical movement with a decisive role in establishing the final winner. Thus, the socialist activists will really matter in the primary elections. And beyond that, trans-Atlantic relations are influenced not only by the blunt rhetoric of the president, but by concrete decisions, such as that of Germany, to promote, together with Russia, the Nord Stream 2 project, ignoring the security interests of the whole Eastern flank of the EU and NATO.
America’s allies in Europe and Asia have enough reasons to resent Trump’s aggressive statements, his unilateral manner of making decisions that greatly affect their interests without even thinking of consulting with them, and especially the lack of strategic consistency within the administration. For example, although he sees in Iran a major source of instability for the Middle East, Trump impulsively decides to leave Syria. But, paradoxically, they might regret Trump’s departure if one of the Democratic Socialist candidates becomes president in the future. In general, Democratic Socialist candidates do not seem very preoccupied with foreign policy issues; they prioritize how they would make Americans happy by promoting radical domestic policies, except for some predictable calls warning against military intervention in Venezuela. In contrast, Bernie Sanders, who initiated the current socialist movement of the Democratic Party, seems to be interested in making his ideas about a “progressive foreign policy” an important way of distinguishing himself from his fellow candidates, following a radical approach beyond the overall isolationist vision and one calling for significant reduction in military spending. Like Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K., Sanders is part of the category of those who have always praised the Soviet Union and openly sympathized with the dictatorial regimes of the left, from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, to Cuba, to Daniel Ortega’s Sandinistas in Nicaragua. In general, he has a favorable opinion of any regime that is against “American imperialism.”
In October 2018, at Johns Hopkins University, Sanders synthesized his vision in this direction, claiming it is a moral imperative to embrace progressive policies globally. “We need to counter oligarchic authoritarianism with a strong global progressive movement that speaks to the needs of working people, that recognizes that many of the problems we are faced with are products of a failed status quo. We need a movement that unites people all over the world who don’t just seek to return to a romanticized past, a past that did not work for so many, but who strive for something better,” he said.*
The problem is that such ambitious goals, which remind us of the struggle for peace in the Communist era or, most recently, the slogans of Occupy-type movements, which have produced some positive reaction in both The New York Times and The Atlantic, offer too few valid solutions to the crises of the moment. For example, in Venezuela, the people stood up to the Nicolas Maduro regime, which conducted fraudulent elections and turned a country with enormous oil resources into an indescribable mess. But for now, that seems to matter very little, as long as the army chiefs, involved in drug trafficking and vastly supported by a consistent detachment of Cuban security troops, support Maduro. And of course, things would not change at all if a future President Sanders provided some moral support of the type described above from Washington. In some respects, his outlook on foreign policy is a radical version of Obama’s and does not seem to take into account the failures that led to the Arab Spring and especially the precipitous withdrawal of troops from Iraq, which created conditions which gave rise to the Islamic State.
At a time when the Security Council is completely blocked on all resolutions aimed at Syria, Venezuela, Iran, and Ukraine, and the mutual vetoes that Russia and China invoke, on the one hand, and the Western powers on the other, Sanders wants to put the U.N. at the center of U.S. foreign policy. And his supporters admit that the focus on international cooperation, a view shared by Federica Mogherini, is unlikely to provide realistic solutions in a world that has returned to the logic of geopolitical competition. It is more likely that such a philosophy would escalate the crises, encouraging Beijing to finally transform the South China Sea into a Chinese lake and Russia to expand its destabilization in Eastern Europe.
It is not clear whether such an external policy is the expression of an ideological fixation or just a test of political opportunism. If, in Sanders’ case, the first assertion seems valid, in the case of other Democratic Socialists it is harder to say. But such an orientation is certainly applauded in Moscow and Beijing.