Last month, former presidential candidate and liberal icon Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) traveled to America’s heartland to lay out his vision of a progressive foreign policy. Speaking at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Sanders’ hour-long speech outlining how he views America’s role in the world was the most comprehensive of his career to date.
A Venerable History. On the same stage where Churchill delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech, and where world leaders from President Reagan to Mikhail Gorbachev have stood, Sanders unveiled a foreign policy founded on the idea of “global engagement based on partnership, rather than dominance.”
He touted the Marshall Plan as “an extraordinary foreign policy success that we have every right to be very proud of” – noting that by investing the equivalent of $130 billion today to reconstruct Western Europe, America not only rebuilt Europe’s economy, but fostered some of our strongest democratic allies and trading partners to this day.
Comprehensive Approach. Recognizing that military force is sometimes necessary, Sanders asserted that “an approach that really uses all the tools of our power – political, economic, civil society – to encourage other states to adopt more inclusive governance will ultimately make us safer.”
Speaking in the same vein as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama, Senator Sanders affirmed that, “Development aid is not charity, it advances our national security.” He highlighted the broad support for diplomacy and development from America’s military leaders, and underscored the widespread concern that “Starving diplomacy and aid now will result in greater defense needs later on.”
Sanders also used the speech to tie his central message of economic inequality to international development, calling for U.S. leadership in global health programs: “While the very, very rich become much richer, thousands of children die every week in poor countries around the world from easily prevented diseases…” Although Sanders is right to point out the millions of children still in need, U.S. investments and leadership in addressing global health challenges over the past decades have led to tremendous progress—with scourges such as smallpox and polio nearly wiped out and maternal and child death rates at their lowest ever levels.
“Our Greatest Hope for Future Peace.” Confronting some of the world’s greatest challenges, Sanders sought to answer “how… we move away from a world of war, terrorism, and massive levels of poverty into a world of peace and economic security for all.” He stressed the importance of working through multilateral institutions with our allies to defuse crises, advocating for U.S. leadership and investments in institutions like the United Nations. Sanders highlighted the U.N.’s role in aiding refugees, leading global health efforts, and managing peacekeeping efforts that strive to prevent conflicts, noting that “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.”
But today’s global challenges cannot be solved by America – or any nation – alone. Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, Sanders underscored this point: “Alone we cannot keep the peace of the world, but in cooperation with others we have to achieve this much longed-for security.” Citing his time as Mayor of Burlington and the sister city program he built with the Russian city of Yaroslavl, Sanders’ called for greater grassroots dialogue and student exchange programs with foreigners as a means to defeat ignorance and reduce xenophobic fears.
A Chorus of Voices. Long known for his independence in the Senate, the foreign policy speech that Sanders delivered in Missouri closely aligns him with both Republicans and Democrats who have opposed recent efforts to slash resources for America’s development and diplomacy programs.
Sanders joins a chorus of voices from across the aisle that have spoken out against cuts to foreign aid programs, the U.S. State Department, and other civilian national security agencies—including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and America’s top military commanders. In fact, the Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committee just recently rejected the White House’s proposed budget cuts to foreign aid, funding the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development nearly $11 billion above the Administration’s request.
As today’s global challenges continue to mount, the Marshall Plan should serve as an example of how America’s investments in the International Affairs Budget have a long-term pay off. Fostering peace and stability, economic prosperity, and international cooperation are not easy tasks—but as Sanders stated, they are issues “we cannot afford to ignore.”
photo credit: Screenshot of Sen. Bernie Sanders at the 58th Green Foundation Lecture at Westminster College. (