Sanders and Trump Are Too Establishment on Syria

Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton both want the U.S. government to set up a “safe zone” in Syria to care for refugees from the raging civil war. You may assess their judgment by noting that Secretary of State Clinton and Sen. Rubio also pushed for bombing and regime change in Libya, which was crucial in spreading bin Ladenite mayhem far and wide, and that Rubio thinks knocking out the Sunni Islamic State would hurt Shi’ite Iran.

Ted Cruz does not call for a safe zone; he merely wants to bomb the Islamic State back to the stone age while arming the Kurds, whom the leadership of NATO member Turkey wants to destroy and the Sunni Arabs distrust. Cruz says the Kurds would be “our ground troops,” yet he does not rule out American troops as a last resort.

Where do the reputed anti-establishment candidates stand on the safe zone? Alas, Donald Trump favors it, and Bernie Sanders is ambiguous.

If this is disestablishmentarianism American-style, we are in bad shape.

“What I like is build a safe zone in Syria,” he said. “Build a big, beautiful safe zone, and you have whatever it is so people can live, and they’ll be happier. You keep ’em in Syria. You build a tremendous safe zone. It’ll cost you tremendously much less, much less, and they’ll be there and the weather’s the same.”

Like Cruz, Trump says he’d send US ground forces “if need be,” but he also promises to “take the oil.” How would he do that without an extended stay for grounds troops.

What about Sanders? He is reported as opposing Clinton’s call for a safe zone, or a no-fly zone, but look at his precise wording from October: “I oppose, at this point, a unilateral American no-fly zone in Syria which could get us more deeply involved in that horrible civil war and lead to a never-ending US entanglement in that region” (emphasis added).

I realize that candidates don’t like to close doors because reopening them later can look awkward. Still, that makes me nervous.

Sanders approves of President Obama’s bombing of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and favors “supporting those in Syria trying to overthrow the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad” – which in reality means supporting bin Ladenites or worse. He has also said the Saudi regime should be pressured to fight the Islamic State: “This war is a battle for the soul of Islam and it’s going to have to be the Muslim countries who are stepping up. These are billionaire families all over that region. They’ve got to get their hands dirty. They’ve got to get their troops on the ground. They’ve got to win that war with our support.”

A Saudi-led effort, however, would be awkward, considering that the Saudis and their Gulf state partners enabled the rise of radical jihadism as part of an effort to make trouble for Iran and its ally Assad, their Shi’ite rivals. And let’s not forget that for a year the Saudis have practically been committing genocide, with Obama’s help, in Yemen. What’s with Sanders anyway?

“Why,” asks blogger Sam Husseini, “should a US progressive be calling for more intervention by the Saudi monarchy? Really, we want Saudi troops in Syria and Iraq and Libya and who knows where else? You’d think that perhaps someone like Sanders would say that we have to break our decades-long backing of the corrupt Saudi regime – but no, he wants to dramatically accelerate it…. If the position of the most prominent ‘progressive’ on the national stage is for more Saudi intervention, what does that do to public understanding of the Mideast and dialogue between people in the US and in Muslim countries?”

At least Sanders and Trump understand that George W. Bush’s Iraq war gave birth to the Islamic State, just as US bombing and regime change in Libya and Obama and Clinton’s declaration of open season on Assad led to its expansion. What Sanders and Trump do not understand is that even the relatively limited involvement they favor would have a dynamic that could well lead a US president to deploy ground troops to the quagmire both men say they want to avoid.

Sheldon Richman, author of the forthcoming book The Constitution Revisited: A Libertarian Look at America’s Counter-Revolution, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.

  • Finally, thank you!

    I am so sick and tired of hearing about the great anti-establishment revolution of 2016. It’s a crock of sh*t.

    Sanders is an LBJ-style social democrat. He’s all for a Scandinavian welfare state but he’s too damn stupid to realize Denmark and Iceland can only afford there free education and health care because they mind there own business on the world stage and maintain only a minuscule standing army. Imperialism and socialism don’t mix.

    As for the Donald, I don’t think he actually believes in anything besides his own bloated ego. He changes his views like he changes his designer pants. He was against Iraq but he wants to steel there oil. He wants to stay out of Syria but he wants a “safe zone”. He’ll say and do anything to get attention and now he wants access to nukes and drones. But f**k it, that’s cool! As long as he’s an “outsider” (with deep connections to the Clinton’s, lest we forget.)

    If this is a “revolution” then count me out. I’m voting third party.

  • Bastiat

    Interventionism in Syria is anything but “anti-establishment”. Syria was one of the countries mentioned by the Project for a New American Century for the U.S. to invade and overthrow the government.

    Any politician who wants to be against the establishment should be opposed to intervening in Syria, and overthrowing Assad.

  • polistra24

    The problem is that serious non-interventionists are ALSO non-interventionist in terms of governance. Ron Paul thinks that a President can count on “democracy” to fix things. Fantastically stupid. The Deep State has its tentacles wrapped around everything, and it knows how to defeat weak reformers.

    Look at Morsi in Egypt. He thought he could reform the Deep State without using force. Now he’s in jail and all his followers are dead.

  • Jens Erik Bech

    No way the Americans could make a “No fly zone” in a country they don’t possess, under the nose of The Syrian Government and their ally Russia.
    Just like Norway could not make a no fly zone in Sweden.

  • Jens Erik Bech

    The plan of the US is to dismantle Syria and replace it with sectarian fragments. They especially want Sunnis north of Israel so Israel can control their borders to the north. Their ally Saudi Arabia wants the same! Shia influence through the secular state Syria destroyed and replaced with a big Sunni state.

  • alance

    The Clinton machine makes a Sanders’ win very unlikely. The most likely scenario is a contest between Clinton and Trump. Clinton is the one who is largely responsible for our going to war with Libya and arming al Qaeda/ISIS. She also got us involved in a coup against Ukraine. Trump appears far less dangerous than Clinton. Trump is not openly hostile to Russia’s involvement in Syria and was against the Iraq war.

  • Luchorpan

    This is why Trump needs a good VP, such as Ron Paul.

    Trump seems correct on the Ukraine and N. Korea. Presumably he’d still work with Putin in Syria.

    Condemn Trump, but he appears to be the best available option. One of you antiwar superheroes needs to swallow his principles and place himself as an adviser to Trump. How that’s done, I dunno. Think like a Neocon.

  • Ventura runs his mouth about running every four years and never does. He’s not going to this time, either. Especially since he seems to think that running would involve walking into the Libertarian Party’s national convention and being handed its nomination, which isn’t going to happen.