Bernie Sanders has been tagging Hillary Clinton for her 2002 vote in support of George W. Bush’s war against Saddam Hussein. Here Sanders is closely following Obama’s 2008 playbook, where Obama used the Iraq war vote to repeatedly knock Clinton off balance.
But Sanders’s shots at Clinton haven’t inflicted much damage this time around, largely because there’s so little breathing space between the two candidates on foreign policy. Both Clinton and Sanders are seasoned interventionists, often advancing their hawkish policies under the ragged banner of “humanitarianism.” (See: Queen of Chaos by Diana Johnstone.)
Sanders supported Bill Clinton’s war on Serbia, voted for the 2001 Authorization Unilateral Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), which pretty much allowed Bush to wage war wherever he wanted, backed Obama’s Libyan debacle and supports an expanded US role in the Syrian Civil War.
More problematic for the Senator in Birkenstocks is the little-known fact that Bernie Sanders himself voted twice in support of regime change in Iraq. In 1998 Sanders voted in favor of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which said: “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.”
Later that same year, Sanders also backed a resolution that stated: “Congress reaffirms that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” These measures gave congressional backing for the CIA’s covert plan to overthrow the Hussein regime in Baghdad, as well as the tightening of an economic sanctions regime that may have killed as many as 500,000 Iraqi children. The resolution also gave the green light to Operation Desert Fox, a four-day long bombing campaign striking 100 targets throughout Iraq. The operation featured more than 300 bombing sorties and 350 ground-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, several targeting Saddam Hussein himself.
Even Hillary belatedly admitted that her Iraq war vote was a mistake. Bernie, however, has never apologized for his two votes endorsing the overthrow of Saddam. On the rare occasions when Sanders has been confronted about these votes, he has casually dismissed them as being “almost unanimous.” I went back and checked the record. In fact, many members of the progressive caucus in the House, as well as a few libertarian anti-war Members of Congress, vote against the Iraq regime change measures. Here’s a list of the “no” votes on the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998:
So what changed? Only the party in power. In 1998, Bill Clinton was president, pursuing his own effort to takedown Saddam’s government. In Clinton’s State of the Union address of that year he laid the political groundwork for Bush’s war:
“Saddam Hussein has spent the better part of this decade, and much of his nation’s wealth, not on providing for the Iraqi people, but on developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them. The United Nations weapons inspectors have done a truly remarkable job, finding and destroying more of Iraq’s arsenal than was destroyed during the entire gulf war. Now, Saddam Hussein wants to stop them from completing their mission. I know I speak for everyone in this chamber, Republicans and Democrats, when I say to Saddam Hussein, “You cannot defy the will of the world”, and when I say to him, “You have used weapons of mass destruction before; we are determined to deny you the capacity to use them again.””
Recall that over the 8 years of Clinton Time, Iraq was bombed an average of once every four days.
Even though Sanders markets himself as an “independent socialist,” in fact, he has rarely dissented against the Democratic Party orthodoxy, especially when it comes to military intervention. That should permanently settle the notion of whether Bernie is a realDemocrat. With the blood of 500,000 Iraqi children on his hands, surely Sanders has already won the “Humanitarian Warrior Seal of Approval,” which leaves us with only one haunting question: Was it worth it, Senator Sanders?
Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: email@example.com.