Sen. Bernie Sanders presented his view of the role of the United States in the world in a foreign policy speech Thursday.
In the course of the hour-long speech, the Vermont independent heralded the United Nations and the Iran nuclear deal, while warning against widening global economic inequality and heavy-handed military intervention.
Sanders spoke at the Green Foundation Lectureship at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, the same campus where Winston Churchill delivered his famed “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946.
During his 2016 presidential bid, Sanders rallied supporters around his domestic-focused calls for initiatives like universal health care and raising the minimum wage. But he took criticism from some for failing to outline a clear foreign policy agenda.
In the Missouri speech, Sanders endeavored to lay out his vision of “progressive American foreign policy,” according to his staff. In the at-times lofty address, he touted diplomacy and international collaboration, offering a contrasting platform to the security-focused vision offered by President Donald Trump.
“The goal is not for the United States to dominate the world. Nor, on the other hand, is our goal to withdraw from the international community and shirk our responsibilities under the banner of ‘America First,’” Sanders said.
“Our goal should be global engagement based on partnership, rather than dominance,” he argued.
Sanders said there is a crisis of confidence in democracy within the United States and across the globe. But he reaffirmed his belief in the power of representative government, citing the “town meetings and grassroots democracy” of his home state.
In order to be an effective global leader, he argued, the United States must focus on domestic issues, mentioning the recent neo-Nazi demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“We cannot convincingly promote democracy abroad if we do not live it vigorously here at home,” Sanders said.
Sanders offered sharp criticism of past instances of U.S. military intervention that, he said, “produced unintended consequences which have caused incalculable harm.” He cited U.S. interventions dating back to the 1950s in Iran, in Vietnam, and, most recently, in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Sanders emphasized solutions to international issues through development and diplomacy. He praised the deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, brokered in part by President Barack Obama, as “real leadership.”
Trump has indicated that he is contemplating abandoning the 2015 agreement. Sanders called on the public and his fellow lawmakers in Congress to urge the president to keep the deal with Iran in place.
Addressing tensions with North Korea, which have flared in recent months, Sanders said the international community should seek to replicate the process followed in negotiating the Iran deal.
Sanders identified climate change as a prime global challenge and slammed Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord as “incredibly foolish and short-sighted.”
Echoing a major theme of his presidential campaign and domestic platform, Sanders repeatedly named global economic inequality as a major foreign policy issue.
The six richest people in the world collectively own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population, he said. He warned that there are political consequences of such concentration of wealth.
“Inequality, corruption, oligarchy and authoritarianism are inseparable,” he said.
Will Moreland, an associate fellow in the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institute, said that the vision Sanders offered was an “incomplete vision in many ways.”
Sanders focused his speech on threats that are shared across the international community that many countries have an interest in addressing collaboratively — issues like climate change, economic inequality and terrorism.
“I think that misses a good chunk of the picture,” Moreland said.
Sanders did not address instances where countries have different interests that clash with each other, Moreland said, noting that he found it “very telling” that there were few mentions of China.
The foreign policy vision that Sanders presented breaks with the approach that has been predominant within the Democratic Party since the 1980s, as the party has favored a more bipartisan, centrist approach on the international stage, according to Moreland.
Following Trump’s first address to the United Nations, Sanders’ speech could be seen as something of a response to the president’s foreign policy agenda. However, Moreland said that the speech is part of the effort of the Democratic Party to find footing on foreign policy issues.
While some may criticize Sanders for raising his familiar theme of economic inequity in the foreign policy speech, Moreland said that he sees value in considering both security and economic issues together.
“I really do think there is something there,” Moreland said.