Why We Must Transcend the Clinton-Sanders Debate: The Middle East in US Foreign Policy
12 March 2016
By Ramzy Baroud
As US liberals and some leftists are pulling up their sleeves in anticipation
of a prolonged battle for the Democratic Party Presidential nomination, the
tussle becomes particularly ugly whenever the candidates' foreign policy
agendas are evoked.
Of the two main contenders, Hilary Clinton is the obvious target. She is an
interventionist, uncompromisingly, and her term as Secretary of State
(2009-2013) is a testament to her role in sustaining the country's foreign
policy agenda under George W. Bush (as a Senator, she had voted for the Iraq
war in 2002) and advocating regime change in her own right. Her aggressive
foreign policy hit rock bottom in her infamous statement upon learning of the
news that Libyan leader, Muammer Gaddafi, was captured and killed in a most
''We came; we saw; he died,'' Clinton rejoiced during a TV interview, once the
news of Gaddafi's grisly murder was announced on October 20, 2011. True to
form, Clinton used intervention in the now broken-up and warring country for
her own personal gains, as her email records which were later released,
In one email, her personal advisor, Sidney Blumenthal congratulated her on her
effort that led to the ‘realizing' of ‘a historic moment,'' – overthrowing
Gaddafi – urging her to ''make a public statement before the cameras (and to)
establish yourself as in the historical record at this moment.'' She agreed,
but suggested that she needed to wait until ''Qaddafi goes, which will make it
Her rival for the Democratic Party nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders and his
supporters, of course, pounce on the opportunity to discredit Clinton, which
is not entirely difficult. But many have argued that, although Sanders is
promoted as the more amiable and trustworthy, if compared to Clinton, his
voting record is hardly encouraging.
''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 (and) backed Obama's
Libyan debacle,'' wrote Jeffery St. Clair. Aside from supporting the US'
current position on Syria, Sanders has ''voted twice in support of regime
change in Iraq,'' including in 1998.
''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,'' the Iraq
Liberation Act of 1998 read.
On Israel, Sander's legacy is very similar to that of current President,
Barack Obama. He seemed to be relatively balanced (as ‘balanced' as Americans
officials can be) during his earlier days in various official capacities, a
position that became more hawkish with time. It behooves those who argue that
Sanders is the lesser of two evils to examine the legacy of President Obama,
whose sympathy with the Palestinians was underscored by his friendship with
the late Palestinian Professor Edward Said, and Professor Rashid al-Khalidi.
The trappings and balances of power, however, led Obama to repeatedly grovel
before the Israeli Lobby in Washington DC, and he has stalwartly backed
Israel's wars against Gaza. More Palestinians died at the hand of Israel
during Obama's terms than those killed during the administration of W. Bush,
who was an adamant supporter of Israel. Still, the current administration is
negotiating an increase in US funding of Israel to exceed, and by far, the
current 3.7 billion dollar a year.
As odd as this may actually sound, as First Lady, Clinton, too, was criticized
for not being firm enough in her support for Israel, before shifting her
position in supporting Israel, right or wrong, just before she eyed a Senator
position representing the State of New York.
Not that many are ignorant of Sanders' less-than-perfect past records, but
some are rushing to Sanders' side because they are compelled largely by fear
that a Clinton White House would spell disaster for the future of the country,
not just in the area of foreign policy, but domestic policies as well.
It is this train of thought that has compelled leading Leftist professor, Noam
Chomsky, to display support for Sanders, and, if necessary, even Clinton in
swing states to block Republican candidates from winning the presidency.
Chomsky, of course, has no illusions that Sanders' self-proclaimed socialist
title is even close to the truth. He is not a socialist, said Chomsky in a
recent interview with Al Jazeera, but a ''decent, honest New Dealer.'' Thanks to
the massive repositioning of the American political system to the Right, if
one is a New Dealer, one is mistaken for a ‘raving leftist.''
To a degree, one can sympathize with Chomsky's position considering the
madness of the political rhetoric from the Right, where Donald Trump wants to
ban Muslims from entering the country, and Ted Cruz is advocating ‘carpet
bombing' Middle Eastern countries to fight terrorism. But, on the other hand,
one is expected to question the long-term benefit of the lesser of two evils
approach to permanent, serious change in society. Chomsky had, in fact, made
similar statements in previous presidential elections, yet America's foreign
and domestic policies seems to be in constant decline.
If seen within the larger historical context, US foreign policy, at least
since the end of the Second World War, has been that of ‘rolling back' and
‘containing' perceived enemies, ‘regime change' and outright military
intervention. The tools used to achieve US foreign policy interest have rarely
ever changed as a result of the type of administration (the lesser of two
evils, Democrat, or a raging Republican) but varied, largely based on
The rise of the Soviet Union as a global contender after WWII, made it
difficult for the US to always resort to war as a first choice, fearing an
open confrontation with the pro-Soviet bloc and possibly a nuclear war. It was
Henry Kissinger that helped navigate America's imperial interests at the time,
resorting to most underhanded and, often, criminal tactics to achieve his
But the demise of the USSR has opened up US appetite for global hegemony like
never before. The US's interventionist strategy became most dominant
throughout the 1990s, to the present time. If Republican or Democratic
administrations differed in any way, it was largely in rhetoric, not action.
Whereas Republicans justified their interventions based on pre-emptive
doctrines, Democrats referenced humanitarian interventionism. Both were
equally deadly and, combined, destabilized the Middle East beyond repair.
The Presidency of Obama is hardly a significant departure from the norm,
although his doctrine – ‘leading from behind', at times and aerial bombardment
as opposed to ‘boots on the ground' and so on – is mostly compelled by
circumstances and not in the least a departure from the policies of his
While US administrations change their tactics, infuse their doctrines and
adapt to various political conditions, wherever they intervene in the world,
massive, complex disasters follow.
Clinton might have come, saw and Gaddafi was brutally murdered, but the
country has also descended into a ‘state of nature' type of chaos, where
extreme violence meted out by militant brutes and managed by western-backed
politicians, have taken reign.
Similar fates have been suffered by Iraq, Yemen and Syria – one sanctioned,
invaded and occupied, another served as a war front for the US war on al-Qaeda,
the third was groomed for intervention many years ago, in publicly available
documents prepared by pro-Israel American neoconservative organizations.
Thus, it is essential that we understand such historical contexts before, once
more, delving into impractical political feuds that, ultimately, validate the
very US political establishment which, whether led by Republicans or
Democrats, have wrought unmitigated harm to the Middle East, instability and
– Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20
years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an
author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books
include ‘Searching Jenin', ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada' and his latest
‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story'. His website is: