Bernie's World

A Foreign Policy for Sanders

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens at the Democratic debate in Charleston, South Carolina, January 2016. Randall Hill / Reuters

Hillary Clinton’s narrow victory over Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses made clear that the race for the Democratic Party nomination is far from over. Even if Sanders fails to secure the nomination, he can claim to have substantively changed the dynamic of the race. On domestic policy, Sanders has pushed Clinton to the left, bringing discussions of economic inequality and financial regulation to the forefront of the campaign. But when it comes to foreign policy, Sanders has been much less influential. Many assume that he just can’t compete on foreign policy with Clinton, who served as secretary of state for four years. In the last two televised debates, Sanders offered glimpses of his views on U.S. engagement with Iran and the need for multilateral coalitions to fight the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), but he has yet to offer a comprehensive foreign policy vision.

He would not have to look far for one. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the inspiration for the “democratic socialism” that underpins Sanders’ domestic policy, can also provide the inspiration for how Sanders might engage in foreign policy. By embracing Roosevelt’s pursuit of great power cooperation within international institutions and international law, Sanders can articulate what the Princeton University professor John Ikenberry has described as a post-hegemonic foreign affairs strategy: the United States would relinquish its dominant role in maintaining a liberal world order and instead share power with rising hegemons in a system that treats all states as equals. Under this framework, the United States would promote multilateral cooperation through international organizations such as the United Nations and by encouraging collective compliance with international law.

This approach would build upon U.S. President Barack Obama’s liberal internationalism while rejecting Clinton’s embrace of American exceptionalism, encapsulated in her remark in the first debate: “We’re not Denmark!” Sanders could thus turn Hillary Clinton’s supposed leadership and experience against her and define her as being allied with neoconservative views and out

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