Bernie Sanders Loves the “War Machine”
So just as with campaign fundraising, Bernie Sanders looks like a rather conventional politician, doing the things that conventional politicians do.
The socialist trumpets his antiwar record. But he doesn’t mind expensive war machines—if they’re based in his home state.MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — Sen. Bernie Sanders has railed against big defense corporations at rallies, but he has a more complex history with the military-industrial complex. Most notably, he’s supported a $1.2 trillion stealth fighter that’s considered by many to be one of the bigger boondoggles in Pentagon history.
Sanders has made his opposition to Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness a cornerstone of his campaign. But he hasn’t exactly been antiwar all his career. When it has come time to choose between defense jobs and a dovish defense policy, Sanders has consistently chosen to stand with the arms-makers rather than the peaceniks—leading to tension with some of the most adamant adherents of progressive ideology.
When it comes time to make speeches, Sanders has slammed defense corporations for political gain.
“We know that there is massive fraud going on in the defense industry. Virtually every major defense contractor has either been convicted of fraud or reached a settlement with the government,” Sanders said in Iowa City last year at a town hall. “We need a strong military, it is a dangerous world. But I think we can make judicious cuts.”
But when those defense corporations come to his own backyard, he quietly welcomes them in.
The Vermont senator persuaded Lockheed Martin to place a research center in Burlington, according to Newsweek, and managed to get 18 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets stationed at the city’s airport for the Vermont National Guard.
“In very clever ways, the military-industrial complex puts plants all over the country, so that if people try to cut back on our weapons system what they’re saying is you’re going to be losing jobs in that area,” Sanders said at a Q&A in New Hampshire back in 2014. “[W]e’ve got to have the courage to understand that we cannot afford a lot of wasteful, unnecessary weapons systems, and I hope we can do that.”
History has shown that Sanders has not had the courage to do that.
Immediately after he made those comments, an audience member pointed out that the F-35 fighter jet project had a lifetime cost of $1.2 trillion: “When you talk about cutting wasteful military spending, does that include the F-35 program?” the questioner asked.
The F-35 stealth fighter is untold billions over budget, years behind schedule, and plagued with embarrassing problems. There have been problems with its software, its sensors, and its gun (which won’t be able to fire until 2019). A few months ago a military spokesman said that the fighter jet “wasn’t optimized for dogfighting.” In fact, in a test battle with the 40-year-old F-16, the brand new F-35 jet lost.
“The F-35 will, in my opinion, be 10 years behind legacy fighters,” one Air Force official affiliated with the F-35 program told The Daily Beast about a year ago.
Sanders countered that the plane was “essentially built.” He acknowledged in his 2014 Q&A that while the F-35 was “incredibly wasteful,” it is now the “plane of record… and it is not going to be discarded.”
During his 2012 reelection campaign, Sanders ran against a Republican who opposed the F-35 as a waste of resources. Sanders was all for it. In a 2012 statement, Sanders made the point that the F-35 would have to be located somewhere, whether in Florida or South Carolina or Vermont. “I would rather it be here,” he said.
Much of the criticism of Sanders’s foreign policy stances have come from his left flank. The World Socialist Web Site called Sanders a “silent partner of American militarism.” And Counterpunch, a left-wing magazine, has criticized Sanders on more than one occasion for being insufficiently pacifist.
“He behaves more like a technofascist disguised as a liberal, who backs all of President Obama’s nasty little wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen,” wrote Thomas Naylor in the magazine. “Since he always ‘supports the troops,’ Sanders never opposes any defense spending bill. He stands behind all military contractors who bring much-needed jobs to Vermont.”
Sanders’s support of the Kosovo War led to the resignation of an adviser; when antiwar activists occupied his office, he had them arrested; and Sanders voted to authorize the war in Afghanistan, Howard Lisnoff wrote in the same publication.
Can we blame him for that?
Since he attacks conventional politics, and claims to somehow be above the things that conventional politicians do, most certainly. People generally (and with some justification) prefer a conventional conformist to a hypocritical prude.
But do his naïve, starry-eyed supporters know he’s a hypocritical prude? Not yet.