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Bernie Sanders Just Gave His Best Speech in 2 Years

He established liberal internationalism as a coherent foreign policy.

Just a day after giving a major foreign policy speech in Wisconsin, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) gave a speech on Medicare for All at the annual convention for the CNA/NNOC in San Francisco. (Photo: National Nurses United/flickr/cc)

There’s a lot of tsuris all over the place over the fact that Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar will be putting on a show-pony debate next week on CNN with the Clueless Twins, Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, on the subject of healthcare. Most of said tsuris revolves around the fear that the debate will get framed as Dog’s Breakfast vs. Eeek! Socialism! I’m not wholly convinced that these fears are groundless; the elite political press is hungering to turn the Graham-Cassidy calamity into a Both Sides failure—here’s all the evidence you’ll ever need of that—and this might indeed be the vehicle through which they do that.

But what I do know is that Bernie Sanders is better versed on his position than either Graham or Cassidy are on the bill that bears their name. Also, there are more than a few signs that Sanders—who must always be kept separate from the more febrile of his followers—is more with the Democratic program than he’s ever been. On Thursday, he gave a speech in which he set out a progressive approach to foreign policy that was clear, coherent, and was probably the best speech I’ve seen him give in two years.

He called out regime change for its own sake while, at the same time, defending the role of the United States in championing international human rights. (He did this by shrewdly pairing the catastrophic Iraq War with the Iran nuclear deal.) But the most impressive passage was the one in which Sanders pointed out that American foreign policy must now take into account the ongoing international effort to undermine liberal democracy being undertaken by Russia and other transnational oligarchical operations.


In both Europe and the United States, the international order which the United States helped establish over the past 70 years, one which put great emphasis on democracy and human rights, and promoted greater trade and economic development, is under great strain. Many Europeans are questioning the value of the European Union. Many Americans are questioning the value of the United Nations, of the transatlantic alliance, and other multilateral organizations. We also see a rise in authoritarianism and right wing extremism—both domestic and foreign—which further weakens this order by exploiting and amplifying resentments, stoking intolerance and fanning ethnic and racial hatreds among those in our societies who are struggling.
We saw this anti-democratic effort take place in the 2016 election right here in the United States, where we now know that the Russian government was engaged in a massive effort to undermine one of our greatest strengths: The integrity of our elections, and our faith in our own democracy. I found it incredible, by the way, that when the President of the United States spoke before the United Nations on Monday, he did not even mention that outrage. Well, I will. Today I say to Mr. Putin: we will not allow you to undermine American democracy or democracies around the world. In fact, our goal is to not only strengthen American democracy, but to work in solidarity with supporters of democracy around the globe, including in Russia. In the struggle of democracy versus authoritarianism, we intend to win.


When we talk about foreign policy it is clear that there are some who believe that the United States would be best served by withdrawing from the global community. I disagree. As the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth, we have got to help lead the struggle to defend and expand a rules-based international order in which law, not might, makes right.

He drew a bright line from the dangers of domestic economic inequality, the rise of oligarchy here, the establishment of kleptocratic oligarchy elsewhere, and the danger all of these present to liberal democracies around the world. If anything, he spoke too little about the domestic strength required to carry out the program he has proposed abroad. Bernie Sanders: liberal internationalist. Damn. I think that guy can handle Lindsey Graham.

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Charles P. Pierce

Charles P. Pierce

Charles P. Pierce is a writer-at-large for Esquire and his work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the LA Times Magazine, the Nation, the Atlantic, Sports Illustrated and The Chicago Tribune, among others.

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