Many people watching the Democratic presidential debate on Sunday likely considered United States Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) advocacy that the US “move as aggressively as we can to normalize relations with Iran” as an welcome call for replacing decades of US hostility and sanctions toward Iran with peace and trade that would benefit people in both countries. Many viewers may also have noticed that Sanders’ stated opinion shares much in common with former Republican and Libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul’s long-expressed aspiration that US antagonism toward Iran be replaced with peaceful and prosperous relations.
Paul again expressed his aspiration regarding US-Iran relations in his latest weekly editorial that concludes with the following:
Let’s hope that this new opening with Iran will allow many other productive Americans to grow wealthy through trade and business ties. Let’s hope many new productive jobs will be created on both sides. Peace is prosperous!
The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, however, would have none of Sanders’ normalization talk. Two days after the debate, the former senator from New York and US secretary of state’s campaign released a statement from ten high-level US foreign policy crafters taking Sanders to task for, among other things, desiring a quick warming in relations between the US and Iran. Their statement declares:
…Senator Sanders’ call to ‘move aggressively’ to normalize relations with Iran – to develop a ‘warm’ relationship – breaks with President Obama, is out of step with the sober and responsible diplomatic approach that has been working for the United States, and if pursued would fail while causing consternation among our allies and partners.
In other words, do not dare give peace a chance.
Could it be that some of these foreign policy insiders are among the war profiteers that Paul says can be counted on to oppose peace? Paul alludes in his editorial to such advocates of permanent international conflict:
I have often said that the neocons’ greatest fear is for peace to break out. Their well-paid jobs are dependent on conflict, sanctions, and pre-emptive war. They grow wealthy on conflict, which only drains our economy.
Indeed, this may well be at least part of the explanation for the Clinton campaign’s letter. As Lee Fang explains in a new Intercept article, several of the letter signers enjoy significant financial ties with the military-industrial complex.
In addition to pecuniary motivations, high-level US foreign policy crafters would also tend to reflexively swat down Sanders’ comments regarding Iran, like those Paul has vocalized for decades, because those comments are seen as too far outside the narrow Washington, DC politics orthodoxy to tolerate. While it is important to maintain a debate between “conservatives” and “liberals” to present a semblance of choice in elections so people will think their votes make a difference, elites who benefit from the US government’s militaristic foreign policy will try to keep that debate within narrow confines. Otherwise, people might become carried away and start demanding revolutionary changes instead of a tweak here and there of business as usual.
None of this is to say that Sanders shares fully Paul’s noninterventionist views on foreign policy or even Paul’s views regarding Iran. Such is not the case. For example, in April of 2006, then-House of Representatives member Sandersvoted for the Iran Freedom Support Act (HR 282). Paul, who served in the House as a Republican for Texas, voted against the bill. “Let there be no doubt, though the words ‘regime change’ are not found in the bill — that’s precisely what they are talking about,” said Paul regarding the bill in a House floor statement. Paul, who since leaving the House has served as Chairman of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, also warned in the speech that the legislation was part of an attempt by “neo-conservative warriors” to condition “Congress, the media, and the American people for a pre-emptive attack on Iran.” Luckily, that attack has not materialized.
HR 6198, a later version of the Iran Freedom Support Act, passed on the House floor by a voice vote on September 28, 2006 and was signed into law two days later by President George W. Bush. Paul spoke against that bill in the House floor debate, saying the bill was “clearly seeking regime change in Iran.”
Sanders is not a Ron Paul-style noninterventionist. But, when Sanders steps out of the dominant foreign policy paradigm far enough that he sounds even somewhat Paulesque, you can expect the paradigm defenders to rush in and attack him — especially as long as Sanders’ presidential campaign polling numbers stay high.