In Open Letter, Scholars and Activists Call on Bernie Sanders to Embrace Foreign Policy That Rejects US Militarism, Bloated Pentagon Budget

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), seen here on April 21, 2017, must "more often mention the existence of the military and its price tag," a new open letter urges. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

In Open Letter, Scholars and Activists Call on Bernie Sanders to Embrace Foreign Policy That Rejects US Militarism, Bloated Pentagon Budget

"We believe that Dr. King was correct to assert that racism, extreme materialism, and militarism needed to be challenged together rather than separately, and that this remains true," the group of over 100 scholars and activists write

Offering their "advice in a spirit of friendship" in an open letter issued on Wednesday, over 100 noted intellectuals, left-wing academics, and progressive activists have urged Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to lay out clear proposals for a foreign policy that rejects U.S. militarism, overseas misadventures, and the outrageous Pentagon budget that continues to cripple funding for many of the progressive programs and policy solutions the senator advocates.

Given the $1 trillion annually in so-called "national security spending" as well as the military industrial complex's impact on the environment and "the erosion of liberties," Sanders's public comments and policy proposals should address head-on the military and its spending, the group writes in the open letter.

They write that they have "great respect for [his] domestic policies," but in terms of foreign policy, Sanders has come up quite short. His recently laid-out "bold agenda" for Democrats, for example, has no mention of foreign policy, the group notes. And while the progressive lawmaker has pushed for a Senate vote on ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition's war on Yemen, the letter urges Sanders to go further by being laser-focused on "the existence of the military and its price tag" to show how easily the nation could fund his proposals like Medicare-for-All and tuition-free public colleges.

The full letter, including signatories, follows:

We write to you as U.S. residents with great respect for your domestic policies.

We support the position of more than 25,000 people who signed a petition during your presidential campaign urging you to take on militarism.

We believe that Dr. King was correct to assert that racism, extreme materialism, and militarism needed to be challenged together rather than separately, and that this remains true.

We believe this is not only practical advice, but a moral imperative, and -- not coincidentally -- good electoral politics.

During your presidential campaign, you were asked repeatedly how you would pay for human and environmental needs that could be paid for with small fractions of military spending. Your answer was consistently complicated and involved raising taxes. We believe it would be more effective to more often mention the existence of the military and its price tag. "I would cut 4% of spending on the never-audited Pentagon" is a superior answer in every way to any explanation of any tax plan.

Much of the case that we believe ought to be made is made in a video posted on your Facebook page in early 2018. But it is generally absent from your public comments and policy proposals. Your recent 10-point plan omits any mention of foreign policy whatsoever.

We believe this omission is not just a shortcoming. We believe it renders what does get included incoherent. Military spending is well over 60% of discretionary spending. A public policy that avoids mentioning its existence is not a public policy at all. Should military spending go up or down or remain unchanged? This is the very first question. We are dealing here with an amount of money at least comparable to what could be obtained by taxing the wealthy and corporations (something we are certainly in favor of as well).

A tiny fraction of U.S. military spending could end starvation, the lack of clean water, and various diseases worldwide. No humanitarian policy can avoid the existence of the military. No discussion of free college or clean energy or public transit should omit mention of the place where a trillion dollars a year is going.

War and preparations for war are among the top destroyers, if not the top destroyer, of our natural environment. No environmental policy can ignore them.

Militarism is the top source of the erosion of liberties, and top justification for government secrecy, top creator of refugees, top saboteur of the rule of law, top facilitator of xenophobia and bigotry, and top reason we are at risk of nuclear apocalypse. There is no area of our social life that is untouched by what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex.

The U.S. public favors cutting military spending.

Even candidate Trump declared the wars since 2001 to have been counterproductive, a statement that appears not to have hurt him on election day.

A December 2014 Gallup poll of 65 nations found the United States to be far and away the country considered the largest threat to peace in the world, and a Pew poll in 2017 found majorities in most countries polled viewing the United States as a threat. A United States responsible for providing clean drinking water, schools, medicine, and solar panels to others would be more secure and face far less hostility around the world; that result would cost a fraction of what is invested in making the United States resented and disliked.

Economists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have documented that military spending is an economic drain rather than a jobs program.

We compliment you on your domestic policies. We recognize that the presidential primaries were rigged against you, and we do not wish to advance the baseless idea that you were fairly defeated. We offer our advice in a spirit of friendship. Some of us worked in support of your presidential campaign. Others of us would have worked, and worked hard, for your nomination had you been a candidate for peace.


Elliott Adams, Chair, Meta Peace Team, Training Team, and former President, Veterans For Peace

Christine Ahn, International Coordinator, Women Cross DMZ

Shireen Al-Adeimi, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University

Hisham Ashur, Amnesty International of Charlottesville, VA

Medea Benjamin, Cofounder, CODEPINK for Peace

Karen Bernal, Chair, Progressive Caucus, California Democratic Party

Leah Bolger, Chair of Coordinating Committee, World BEYOND War; former President, Veterans For Peace

Philip Brenner, Professor, American University

Jacqueline Cabasso, Executive Director, Western States Legal Foundation; National Co-convener, United for Peace and Justice

Leslie Cagan, peace and justice organizer

James Carroll, author of House of War

Noam Chomsky, Professor, University of Arizona; Professor (emeritus), MIT

Helena Cobban, President, Just World Educational

Jeff Cohen, Founder of FAIR and co-founder of

Marjorie Cohn, activist scholar; former President, National Lawyers Guild

Gerry Condon, President, Veterans For Peace

Nicolas J.S. Davies, author, journalist

John Dear, author, Campaign Nonviolence

Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, author

Mel Duncan, Founding Director, Nonviolent Peaceforce

Carolyn Eisenberg, Professor of History and American Foreign Policy, Hofstra University

Michael Eisenscher, National Coordinator Emeritus, U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW)

Pat Elder, Member of Coordinating Committee, World BEYOND War

Daniel Ellsberg, author, whistleblower

Jodie Evans, co-founder CODEPINK

Rory Fanning, author

Robert Fantina, Member of Coordinating Committee, World BEYOND War

Mike Ferner, Former President, Veterans For Peace

Margaret Flowers, Co-Director, Popular Resistance

Carolyn Forche, University Professor, Georgetown University

Bruce K. Gagnon, Coordinator, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space

Pia Gallegos, Former Chair, Adelante Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party of New Mexico

Joseph Gerson (PhD), President, Campaign for Peace Disarmament and Common Security

Chip Gibbons, Journalist; Policy & Legislative Counsel, Defending Rights & Dissent

Charles Glass, author of They Fought Alone: The True Story of the Starr Brothers, British Secret Agents in Nazi-Occupied France

Van Gosse, Professor, Franklin & Marshall College

Arun Gupta, Independent Journalist

Hugh Gusterson, Professor of anthropology and international affairs, George Washington University

David Hartsough, Co-Founder, World BEYOND War

Matthew Hoh, Senior Fellow, Center for International Policy

Odile Hugonot Haber, Member of Coordinating Committee, World BEYOND War

Sam Husseini, Senior Analyst, Institute for Public Accuracy

Helen Jaccard, member, Veterans For Peace

Dahr Jamail, author, journalist

Tony Jenkins, Education Director, World BEYOND War

Jeff Johnson, President, Washington State Labor Council

Steven Jonas, M.D., M.P.H., columnist, author of The 15% Solution

Rob Kall, host, Bottom-Up Radio; publisher,

Tarak Kauff, member, Veterans For Peace; Managing Editor, Peace in Our Times

Kathy Kelly, Co-Coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence

John Kiriakou, CIA torture whistleblower and former senior investigator, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Michael D. Knox, PhD, Chair, U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation

David Krieger, President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Jeremy Kuzmarov, lecturer, Tulsa Community College; author of The Russians Are Coming Again

Peter Kuznick, Professor, American University

George Lakey, author; Co-Founder, Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT)

Sarah Lanzman, activist

Joe Lauria, Editor-in-Chief, Consortium News

Hyun Lee, U.S. National Organizer, Women Cross DMZ

Bruce E. Levine, psychologist; author of Resisting Illegitimate Authority

Nelson Lichtenstein, Professor, UC Santa Barbara

Dave Lindorff, journalist

John Lindsay-Poland, Coordinator, Project to Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico

David Lotto, Psychoanalyst, Editor of the Journal of Psychohistory

Chase Madar, author and journalist

Eli McCarthy, Professor of Justice and Peace Studies, Georgetown University

Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and presidential briefer

Myra MacPherson, author and journalist

Bill Moyer, Executive Director, Backbone Campaign

Elizabeth Murray, member, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

Michael Nagler, Founder and President, the Metta Center for Nonviolence

Dave Norris, Former Mayor, Charlottesville, VA

Carol A. Paris, MD, Immediate Past President, Physicians for a National Health Program

Miko Peled, author of The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine

Gareth Porter, author, journalist, historian

Margaret Power, Professor, Illinois Tech

Steve Rabson, Professor Emeritus, Brown University; Veteran, United States Army

Ted Rall, cartoonist, author of Bernie

Betty Reardon, Founder, International Institute on Peace Education

John Reuwer, Member of Coordinating Committee, World BEYOND War

Mark Selden, Senior Researcher, Cornell University

Martin J. Sherwin, University Professor of History, George Mason University

Tim Shorrock, author and journalist

Alice Slater, Member of Coordinating Committee, World BEYOND War; UN NGO Rep., Nuclear Age Peace Fdn

Donna Smith, National Advisory Board Chair, Progressive Democrats of America

Gar Smith, Director, Environmentalists Against War

Norman Solomon, National Coordinator,; Executive Director, Institute for Public Accuracy

Jeffrey St. Clair, Co-author, The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink

Rick Sterling, activist and journalist

Oliver Stone, filmmaker

Rivera Sun, Author and Nonviolence Strategy Trainer

David Swanson, Director, World BEYOND War; Advisory Board Member, Veterans For Peace; author of War Is A Lie

Brian Terrell, Co-Coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Brian Trautman, National Board Member, Veterans For Peace

Sue Udry, Executive Director, Defending Rights & Dissent

David Vine, Professor, Department of Anthropology, American University

Donnal Walter, Member of Coordinating Committee, World BEYOND War

Rick Wayman, Deputy Director, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Barbara Wien, Professor, American University

Ann Wright, Retired U.S. Army Colonel and former U.S. diplomat who resigned in opposition to U.S. war on Iraq

Greta Zarro, Organizing Director, World BEYOND War

Kevin Zeese, Co-Director, Popular Resistance

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics, University of San Francisco

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