Sanders: I worry Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change

Commentary of Lucia Graves in the Guardian

For months Bernie Sanders has tried and failed – and sometimes not even tried – to distinguish himself from Hillary Clinton on foreign policy. On Saturday, he finally found his line in the sand.

The key distinction is this: in Syria, Clinton favors a focus on toppling Bashar al-Assad while simultaneously combating Isis. Sanders says overthrowing Isis must come first, and he also criticized her plans to go after Assad, calling her a “fan of regime change”.

Previously, Sanders had struggled to draw a substantive contrast between Hillary and himself beyond her vote to go to war with Iraq years ago. The monotonous attack made it look like he had no real foreign policy platform to speak of; finally, he has one.

He didn’t back down from his attacks on her vote on Iraq at Saturday night’s debate, but rather drew out its meaning, using it as a lens for the differing ways he and she see foreign policy.

“I worry Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change and too aggressive without knowing what the consequences will be,” he said, his clearest contrast with Clinton to date. “Yeah, regime change is easy, getting rid of regime change is easy, but … what happens the day after?”

Bernie Sanders is not the threat to Hillary Clinton he may appear to be

According to Sanders, Clinton is an interventionist who would have Americans charging into entanglements overseas without enough consideration for what comes next. It’s that very approach, he says, that, when Clinton was Secretary of State, drew the country into a quagmire in Libya; and it’s the same approach, he contends, that currently has the US facing a similar situation in Syria.

“The United States is not the policeman of the world,” Sanders said to applause –adding that the US cannot fight Assad and Isis at the same time. “The first task is to bring countries together to destroy Isis.”

Clinton painted Sanders as presenting a false choice, suggesting the clear dichotomy he described was born of foreign policy naivety. “When we look at these complex questions, I wish it could be either-or,” she said. “If the United States does not lead, there’s not another leader, there’s a vacuum.”

That last line drew considerable applause – and recall that Saturday was the Democratic debate, with a less hawkish audience. If it plays well here, that line will play better later in a general election. That calculation may well be at the heart of Clinton’s strategy: she wants to make the case that she’s tough on foreign policy before the general election, and doesn’t mind coming off a little hawkish during the primary to get there.


Rhetorical devices aside, her foreign policy positions aren’t so different from the more centrist Republican candidates – leaving aside those who have threatened to raze entire countries with nuclear weapons. As The New Republic’s Suzy Khimm observed, Republicans in last week’s Republican debate “failed to articulate a vision for change in the fight against Isis that was fundamentally different than what Clinton is calling for”.

Any noises that Republicans have made about no-fly-zones in Syria or the arming of Kurdish fighters – while they’re to the right of the Obama administration’s current positions – fall nicely in line with Clinton’s.

Finally, though, Democratic voters have a candidate clearly to Republicans’ left on these questions: Bernie Sanders. In one way, Sanders had his strongest debate yet by managing to distinguish himself on an issue important to his progressive base; it’s just absurd that it’s taken him this long to do so.

Until this fall, Sanders didn’t even have a foreign policy on his campaign website. And, after he came under scrutiny for the matter, he resorted to blasting out statements about Clinton’s vote to go to war in Iraq with zero other policy details. At the last debate – the day after the November Paris terror attacks – he missed another opportunity to distinguish himself on straight foreign policy and highlighted instead the global security risks inherent in not taking action on climate change (an issue which, along with immigration and women’s rights, was scarcely mentioned in tonight’s debate).

His climate change comments, of course, were mocked by the right, and while his argument about climate change is valid, it was a missed opportunity to best Clinton during what is considered her worst debate performance to date.

After Saturday’s debate, though, Republican candidates didn’t deign to waste any breath on Sanders, who’s increasingly seen as not a credible threat to Clinton and, by extension, conservatives. But Jeb Bush did go after Clinton for saying that the US is in a good position to tackle Isis (not that anyone onstage at the Democratic debate was interested in talking about Bush).

In Clinton’s opening statement, she explicitly sought to contrast herself and other Democrats on stage with the Republican party, pointing to the general election. Sanders, this time, denied her the opportunity.

But that the Saturday before Christmas was the night Sanders chose to go on the offensive over foreign policy wasn’t a surprise; it just wasn’t the best strategy, as it’s largely expected to be the least-watched debate of them all.

So now that Sanders distinguished himself on foreign policy, the question remains if anyone will care.


9 thoughts on “Sanders: I worry Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change

  1. Clinton would be better than any republican in the race. Unfortunately, given how crazy the right seems in the debates that isn’t saying much.

    Will I end up voting for Hillary in a general election? I’m not sure. But if I do, it will be a very hard pill to swallow.


    • “Better” is subjective.

      Objectively, either way, people are worried now and shall continue to be worried after the next presidential fraud is elected.


  2. Look at what regime change has bought us so far………….
    No way I’m voting for Clinton in the primary.


  3. When you open a debate with an apology to your opponent, you dig a pretty deep hole for building any momentum. And hillary says we are in the “right position now” to take on ISIS. I assume that’s because we now have a climate control accord.


  4. California will elect the Clinton Dynasty just as it has elected all the democratic presidents for decades.

    So, go ahead and vote for Sanders, or, you can check the polls a week before the election if you are worried.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hilliary’s explanation of the situation in the middle east.
    President Assad (who is bad) is a nasty guy who got so nasty his people rebelled and the Rebels (who are good) started winning (hurrah!).
    But then some of the rebels turned a bit nasty and are now called Islamic State ( who are definitely bad!) and some continued to support democracy (who are still good.)

    So the Americans ( who are good ) started bombing Islamic State (who are bad) and giving arms to the Syrian Rebels (who are good) so they could fight Assad (who is still bad) which was good.

    By the way, there is a breakaway state in the north run by the Kurds who want to fight IS (which is a good thing) but the Turkish authorities think they are bad, so we have to say they are bad whilst secretly thinking they’re good and giving them guns to fight IS (which is good) but that is another matter.

    Getting to Syria.

    So President Putin (who is bad, cos he invaded Crimea and the Ukraine and killed lots of folks including that nice Russian man in London with polonium ((poisoned
    sushi) has decided to back Assad (who is still bad) by attacking ISIS (who are also bad) which is sort of a good thing?

    But Putin (still bad) thinks the Syrian Rebels (who are good) are also bad, and so he bombs them too, much to the annoyance of the Americans (who are
    good) who are busy backing and arming the rebels (who are also good).

    Now Iran (who used to be bad, but now they have agreed not to build any nuclear weapons and bomb Israel are now good) are going to provide ground troops to support Assad (still bad) as are the Russians (bad) who now have ground troops and aircraft in Syria.

    So a Coalition of Assad (still bad) Putin (extra bad) and the Iranians (good, but in a bad sort of way) are going to attack IS (who are bad) which is a good thing, but also the Syrian Rebels (who are good) which is bad.

    Now the British (obviously good, except that nice Mr Corbyn in the corduroy jacket, who is probably bad ) and the Americans (also good) cannot attack Assad (still bad) for fear of upsetting Putin (bad) and Iran (good/bad) and now they have to accept that Assad might not be that bad after all compared to IS (who are super bad).

    So Assad (bad) is now probably good, being better than IS (but let’s face it, drinking your own wee is better than IS so no real choice there) and since Putin and Iran are also fighting IS that may now make them Good. America ( still Good ) will find it hard to arm a group of rebels being attacked by the Russians for fear of upsetting Mr Putin (now good) and that nice mad Ayatollah in Iran (also Good) and so they may be forced to say that the Rebels are now Bad, or at the very least abandon them to their fate. This will lead most of them to flee to Turkey and on to Europe or join IS (still the only constantly bad group).

    To Sunni Muslims, an attack by Shia Muslims (Assad and Iran) backed by Russians will be seen as something of a Holy War, and the ranks of IS will now be seen by the Sunnis as the only Jihadis fighting in the Holy War and hence many Muslims will now see IS as Good (Doh!.)

    Sunni Muslims will also see the lack of action by Britain and America in support of their Sunni rebel brothers as something of a betrayal (mmm.might have a point.) and hence we will be seen as Bad.

    So now we have America (now bad) and Britain (also bad) providing limited support to Sunni Rebels ( bad ) many of whom are looking to IS (Good/bad ) for support against Assad (now good) who, along with Iran (also Good) and Putin (also, now, unbelievably, Good) are attempting to retake the country Assad used to run before all this started?


    • Too funny.

      IOW, pappy was right.

      No country outside of the middle east will ever be able to control what occurs within the middle East.

      In short, get the fuck out and stay the fuck out. Let em deal with it internally.


    • Maybe Iraq will toughen up and beat ISIS back to Damascus and then Just hold them there until they defeat Assad. One can always dream. But then what do you do with them? The current state of the middle east was born at the end of WW1. France, Turkey, and Britain drew arbitrary lines in the sand and made the countries of today’s middle east. The fighting now is tribal and is based in tribal boundaries, and will not come to an end until the west lets them figure it out for themselves. What do you think the chances of that are? Happy solstice or what ever you celebrate this time of year.
      If you really want to understand the dilemma, I highly recommend the book “Lawrence in Arabia”, by Scott Anderson. It’s a real page turner and an eye opener as well.


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