A big part of the normalization of endless war in our society is Americans’ tendency to superficially glorify the politicians who’ve carried out wars. Polls show that George W. Bush’s popularity has greatly gone up in the last two years, despite the fact that he’s a war criminal who’s slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The widespread admiration for Barack Obama, the strangely intense adulation for Hillary Clinton among many Democrats, and the continued right-wing support for Donald Trump also show that Americans largely don’t have war on their minds; all of these leaders have been behind war crimes, and in an ideal world they would be prosecuted for violating the international law against aggressive war.
For the same reason a lot of people can forget about Iraq when Bush gives Michelle Obama a piece of candy, imperialism and war usually aren’t the first thing that Americans think of when they’re vetting a candidate. I was guilty of this when I saw Bernie Sanders as a sort of ideal revolutionary during his 2016 campaign, despite Sanders’ lack of stated opposition to imperialism and his support for continuing America’s lethal drone program.
While Sanders was much more pro-peace than Clinton, these things should have told me that foreign policy under a Sanders presidency wouldn’t fundamentally be different from the Obama years. And as Julian Assange has observed, pleasing the military-industrial complex would have been tempting a strategy for Sanders to pursue his social policies: “Sanders as president would not lead to peace. Why? The bigger the domestic agenda the worse the foreign agenda. Political capital balance.”
So when Elizabeth Warren has announced her bid for the presidency in 2020, I’m immediately wary. There are many concerning aspects of Warren’s foreign policy record. Warren’s record on Israel/Palestine is mixed, with Warren stating that she views BDS as “wrong” and Warren having declined to support Betty McCollum’s Palestinian human rights bill from last year. Warren’s willingness to aid imperialism was further shown when, in 2017, she helped introduce a bill which called for the U.S. to take action to “prevent genocide and mass atrocities”-even though the U.S. has used stopping atrocities as a pretense for its aggressions against Iraq, Libya, Syria, and other countries.
And despite Warren’s recent calls for pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan and for getting defense spending to “sustainable levels,” in 2017 Warren joined a bipartisan effort to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Additionally, Warren has repeatedly voted for the recent NDAA bills that have increased annual military spending to over $700 billion.
I’m not saying that these promises from Warren to counter militarism should be totally disregarded. But we should remember that Obama also promised to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a candidate in 2008, after which he continued both the wars, expanded America’s bombing campaign into seven countries, and oversaw an unaccountable drone program that’s been shownto have mostly killed innocent people.
Like Warren, Obama had both a history of capitulating to empire prior to his candidacy and an unwillingness to call himself an anti-imperialist. It’s this lack of opposition to continuing America’s role as the dominant world power that creates the danger for continued war, and for continued violations of the sovereignty of other nations. As Socialist Worker’s Ashley Smith has assessedabout the vision of “good” imperialism that Sanders and Warren both essentially endorse:
Unfortunately, Sanders’ statement of his views, while a clear contrast with the Washington consensus, fell far short of a genuine internationalism that we should expect of a socialist.
Sanders remains very much within a liberal imperialist consensus that presumes the U.S. state has acted, and should act, in his words, “to champion the values of freedom, democracy and justice, values which have been a beacon of hope throughout the world.” The left needs a genuine anti-imperialist alternative that can stand in opposition when the U.S. war machine goes into action — justified by exactly these phrases from liberals, alongside Trump’s xenophobic nationalism.
By pointing to these facts two years before Warren hypothetically becomes president, I aim to remind people of the importance of fighting against war and imperialism. Right now, America’s drone program is killing civilians at higher rates than ever. The U.S./Saudi genocide against the people of Yemen is still going on. U.S. involvement in Iraq has not ended, and there’s no sign that it will end anytime soon. Eight countries have been bombed under Trump, with the military having dropped bombs on an average of every 12 minutes throughout last year. America is effectively occupying 53 out of 54 African countries, and there are up to 1000 U.S. military bases are the world. And Trump’s supposed withdrawal from Syria is essentially meaningless; as Abby Martin has observed, “No, Trump is not ending US wars, he’s simply withdrawing the troops he himself added, while increasing bombing 400% & civilian casualties nearly 300%.”
When this is going on, it’s natural that I my first impulse is to criticize a presidential candidate for the problems with their foreign policy. Imperialism is never an issue that we should ignore for political convenience, as Warren has often done. It’s an evil that we have a moral obligation to fight.