In a wide-ranging speech viewed by more than 11,000 people from over 30 countries, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Sunday commemorated the 15th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq by highlighting its devastating consequences and issuing an urgent call for a global agenda that pursues "peace, not war" and "development, not destruction."
"Inequality, corruption, oligarchy, and authoritarianism are inseparable. They must be understood as part of the same system, and fought and opposed in the same way."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
"We need to invest in our children, in our elderly, and in healthcare and education and environmental protection. We do not want more and more war," Sanders said. "People in my country, the United States, and all over the world are sick and tired of spending billions and billions of dollars on nuclear weapons, war planes, missiles, bombs, and tanks."
Sanders—who was joined on Sunday at the #CallForPeace event by Korea expert and peace activist Christine Ahn, Raed Jarrar of Amnesty International, and Jenny Town of the U.S.-Korea institute—also used his speech to highlight global crises ranging from human-caused climate change to the rise of oligarchy.
"Increasingly, in the United States and around the world, we see an economic and political system in which a small number of multi-billionaires and corporate interests have increased control over the world's economic life, our political life, and our media," Sanders said. "Inequality, corruption, oligarchy, and authoritarianism are inseparable. They must be understood as part of the same system, and fought and opposed in the same way."
These are crises that can only be solved through international cooperation, not unilateral action by powerful nations, Sanders argues.
"The threat of climate change is a very clear example of why we all need to pull together, we are in this together. The United States can't do it alone, Europe can't do it alone, China can't do it alone, no one country can do this alone," Sanders concluded. "This is a crisis that calls out for strong international cooperation if we are to leave our children and our grandchildren a planet that is healthy and habitable."
A video of Sanders' speech can be viewed below (Sanders' address begins at around the 36-minute mark). A full transcript of the speech follows the embedded video.
Let me thank you very much, and let me thank MoveOn for helping to organize this event and thank all of the people throughout the world for coming together. I think we all understand that the great global crises are not going to be solved country by country. They're only going to be solved when millions and hundreds of millions of people come together to demand a fundamental change in global priorities, and certainly at the top of that list is the need to end war and destruction, and work toward a global peace.
So again, I want to thank everybody for the work they are doing, we're all in this together.
Today, we are here to mark a very somber anniversary, and that is the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. Fifteen years ago this week, the bombs started falling on Baghdad; "shock and awe" was what the Bush administration called it, and the news media repeated it, creating the expectation that U.S. military power would make the war quick and easy. We all remember that.
The theory was that Saddam Hussein would be overthrown in a few weeks, democracy in Iraq would be established, American troops would return home in a few months, and everything would be wonderful from then on out.
Well, it didn't quite happen like that.
Later we would all be shocked and awed at the disaster they had created, because war is never quick, and it is never easy.
I remember vividly—I was in Congress at the time—all of the rhetoric that came from the Bush administration, that came from my Republican colleagues and some Democrats as well, about why going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do.
Well, it wasn't.
In fact, it is one of the great tragedies in modern history. It is very easy to give speeches in the safety of the floor of the Senate or in the House; it is a little bit harder to experience war and live through the devastation of war, and to deal with the aftermath, the consequences.
I was one of those that opposed the war at the beginning. Today, it is now broadly acknowledged that the war in Iraq was a foreign policy blunder of enormous magnitude.
The war created a cascade of instability around the region that we are still dealing with today in Syria and elsewhere, and will be for many years to come.
Indeed, had it not been for the Iraq War, ISIS would almost certainly not exist.
The war deepened hostilities between Sunni and Shia communities in Iraq and elsewhere; it exacerbated a regional struggle for power between Saudi Arabia and Iran and their proxies in places like Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen; and it undermined American diplomatic efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The devastation experienced by Iraq's civilians was unbelievable. A recent academic study by U.S., Canadian, and Iraqi researchers found that over 400,000 Iraqi civilians—nearly half a million people—were killed directly or indirectly as a consequence of the war [note: other researchers have estimated that the total number of deaths from the war exceeds one million].
The war led to the deaths of some 4,400 U.S. troops and the wounding, physical and emotional, of tens of thousands of others.
The war led to the displacement of nearly five million people both inside and outside of Iraq, putting great stress on the ability of surrounding countries to deal with these refugee flows.
We've also seen this more recently in Europe, as the large numbers of people fleeing the Syrian war has generated a backlash in European countries, giving rise to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments that have been exploited by right-wing politicians.
And, by the way, that war in Iraq cost trillions of dollars—money that could have been spent on addressing the massive levels of poverty and hopelessness that exists all over the developing world, where hundreds of millions of people today live in extreme poverty and where many children around the world die as a result of easily prevented diseases.
The Iraq War, like so many other military conflicts, had unintended consequences. It ended up making us less safe, not more safe.
The Iraq War also set a precedent—a very dangerous precedent—that large countries like the United States could attack small countries with impunity. Instead of moving us forward to a world without war, where international conflicts are settled through negotiations and diplomacy, we now see wars all over the world and a significant increase in global military spending.
For example, right here in the United States, Congress just voted to increase the Defense Department budget by $165 billion over a two-year period.
No one disagrees that Saddam Hussein was a brutal, murderous dictator. But it's now known that he had nothing to do with 9/11. The American people were misled by the Bush administration into believing that the Iraq War was necessary to prevent another 9/11.
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Forty years before that, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson cited an attack on a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Tonkin as a pretext for escalating U.S. intervention in Vietnam. We now know that his administration misled both Congress and the American people into that war, just as the Bush administration did in Iraq.
Time and time again, we see disasters when leaders refuse to tell their people the truth. And let's remember that the people of the world were not silent about the Iraq War.
In the months leading up to the invasion, there were huge and unprecedented demonstrations in the United States, and in fact all over the world, opposing that war.
The truth is that in country after country, what people were saying is that we need to invest in our children, in our elderly, and in healthcare and education and environmental protection. We do not want more and more war.
People in my country, the United States, and all over the world are sick and tired of spending billions and billions of dollars on nuclear weapons, war planes, missiles, bombs, and tanks.
Our job together, in each of our countries, is to bring our people together around an agenda that calls for peace, not war; development, not destruction.
Let me say a brief word about some of the shared global challenges that we face today.
The growth of oligarchy and income and wealth inequality is not just an American issue; it is a global issue.
Globally, the top one percent now owns more wealth than the bottom 99 percent of the world's population.
Increasingly, in the United States and around the world, we see an economic and political system in which a small number of multi-billionaires and corporate interests have increased control over the world's economic life, our political life, and our media.
And these people are working night and day just to make themselves even richer.
Just a few years ago, it was estimated that the wealthiest people and the most profitable corporations in the world have stashed at least $21 trillion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
The situation has become so absurd that one five-story building in the Cayman Islands, which has a zero percent corporate tax rate, is now the home of nearly 20,000 companies.
In other words, while the very, very rich become much richer, governments around the world institute austerity programs, because they lack the funds to provide decently for their constituents.
Inequality, corruption, oligarchy, and authoritarianism are inseparable. They must be understood as part of the same system, and fought and opposed in the same way.
Around the world, we have witnessed the rise of demagogues, who once in power use their positions to loot the state of its resources. These kleptocrats like Putin in Russia and many others use divisiveness and abuse as a tool for enriching themselves and those loyal to them.
The last years have obviously seen very troubling political developments in many countries around the world, particularly in Europe and also here in the United States.
The rise of intolerant, authoritarian political movements is something that should concern each and every one of us.
These movements have drawn strength from the fact that more and more people have lost faith in their systems of government and are desperate for alternatives.
They see their governments as corrupt, ineffective, and not delivering for them or providing opportunities for a better future for their children.
The problem is, when you see leaders that tell the people, "I, only I, can deliver you security, opportunity, and a future. It's those people over there that are taking it away from you."
They point to politically unpopular groups, ethnic and religious minorities, immigrants, refugees, and blame these groups for all the trouble, and then propose to strip these groups of their rights.
That is how demagogues work. They gain power by claiming to speak to people's legitimate desires, but always end up using that power to oppress them. They claim to speak for the many, but really represent the very few.
We have seen this played out before many times in history.
Further, we cannot forget, when we talk about global crises, the crisis of climate change.
My friends, it is time for us to get serious about this issue. The scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and it is already causing devastating harm throughout the world.
Further, what the scientists tell us is that if we do not act boldly, together, to address this crisis of climate change, this planet will see more drought, more floods, and more types of devastation.
Furthermore, what we will see is a level of migration, of people moving away from areas where they cannot grow foods or drinkable water, which will cause all kinds of other threats to global stability and security.
The threat of climate change is a very clear example of why we all need to pull together, we are in this together. The United States can't do it alone, Europe can't do it alone, China can't do it alone, and no one country can do this alone.
This is a crisis that calls out for strong international cooperation if we are to leave our children and our grandchildren a planet that is healthy and habitable.
So let me just conclude by again thanking all of you who are watching this program, who understand that we need to stand together, to rally the people for social, economic, political, and racial justice, and that the only way we are going to solve international problems is when people throughout the world come together.