Bernie Sanders Criticizes U.S. Relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel at Democratic Debate

NPP Pressroom

Democracy Now!
Phyllis Bennis

Ten Democratic candidates took the stage in Atlanta, Georgia, Wednesday for the party’s fifth presidential debate, co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post. Toward the end of the evening, Senator Bernie Sanders criticized former Vice President Joe Biden’s support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and laid out his foreign policy vision, including strong criticism of traditional U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Israel. [...] We speak with Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She says the Democratic Party is undergoing a major shift on foreign policy. “There’s a growing recognition among the candidates that … the discourse has changed dramatically across the board on the Middle East,” she says.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis is with us, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, has written a number of books, including Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Phyllis, your response to the foreign policy section of the debate? It wasn’t that long, but it took in a lot of issues. And it looks like Bernie Sanders dared to talk about Israel-Palestine.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Bernie Sanders was indeed the only one who talked directly about Israel-Palestine. What I think was interesting, there was some good news and bad news, in a sense, if we look at the foreign policy debate overall. The good news is other that there’s starting to be — other than Bernie Sanders and, to some degree, Elizabeth Warren, there is not a lot yet, but there’s a growing recognition among the candidates that the base of the Democratic Party, the discourse has changed, dramatically, across the board on the Middle East, so that questions of recognizing that Saudi Arabia is not our trusted ally against terrorism or something, but is a brutal dictatorship, is now a widespread view, even from the centrist sector of the Democratic Party. People like Klobuchar and Biden both said that.

What’s missing — and this is where we get into the problematic part — what’s missing from this shift is that there’s not a lot of discussion about what would that mean. Bernie Sanders’ comments about Saudi Arabia and the need for diplomacy between — bringing together, as he put it — Saudi Arabia and Iran was the one very specific and very innovative notion of replacing war and threat of war with diplomacy. But there’s not a lot of that kind of discussion about how would this happen.

In the past, Elizabeth Warren has, very importantly, given a number on the question of how much money would you cut from the military budget. In her proposal around Medicare for All, she proposed cutting $80 billion from the military budget, which is huge. No other candidate, and virtually no one else in Congress, has given those kinds of specific numbers yet about what they would be willing to cut to pay for big, bold new proposals like the Green New Deal, like Medicare for All. In this debate, when there was discussion about the Green New Deal, discussion about healthcare, it didn’t come up in connection. We didn’t see that intersectional relationship between one of the places we can get money is from the military budget. There was a very extensive discussion from Elizabeth Warren about the $800 billion, which is a very important figure that she has put forward on a number of occasions, in terms of the wealth tax and how that could be used for healthcare.

The same thing is true, across the board, for other candidates on the question of cutting the military budget. In fact, in June, when the Poor People’s Campaign convened a candidates’ forum, there were nine members of the pool of candidates who were there, including all the major candidates, and seven of the nine were asked, “Would you cut the military budget?” Every single one said yes. The other two were not — were not asked, just by chance. One of those two, ironically, was Bernie Sanders, who has perhaps most consistently talked about cutting the military budget.

But the problem was the questions. The questions from the journalists asking the questions didn’t include, “You’ve all said you would cut the military budget. Now the question has to be: How much?” My colleagues at the National Priorities Project have put together the numbers, where these cuts can come from. We could cut $66 billion just by ending the Pentagon’s war slush fund. We could cut $112 billion by cutting just 75% of the 800 overseas military bases. So there’s a way to do this. There’s a way to do this and to make it real. And that’s what we’re not hearing yet from the candidates. They’re recognizing that the discourse is changing and they have to catch up, but they haven’t caught up sufficiently. They’re not listening to the movements. They’re not listening even to the polls, in which people in the Democratic Party and more broadly are all calling for cutting the military budget.

Watch the clip and read the transcript at Democracy Now!