Sanders’s foreign policy weakness: the democratic debate takeaway

The world has come together to mourn the loss of over 120 people in the devastating terrorist attacks in France. These attacks have reignited the discussion about radical Islam and have forced world leaders to address concerned citizens’ worries about the complicated nature of Middle East relations.

In America, this discussion comes in the midst of the presidential primaries. On the Democratic side, establishment front-runner Hillary Clinton boasts exceptional foreign policy experience as former Secretary of State. Conversely, her rivals lack foreign policy experience. Both Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have never held a position in which foreign policy played a significant role.

Sanders, the senator from Vermont, a former socialist independent, has used his campaign to address key domestic issues, including: healthcare, infrastructure, and campaign finance. These issues are not new to the Senator. As a ranking member of the Senate budget committee, Sanders has drafted numerous bills to drastically increase spending in the hopes of rebuilding the nation’s highways, bridges, and tunnels. In 2014, Sanders was a key negotiator in drafting legislation to reform the formerly crippled Veterans Administration.

In addition, Sanders enjoys an indisputable track record as a proud advocate for social justice. Support for gay marriage and legalized abortion has now become mainstream amongst Democrats and independent voters. Much of Sanders’s appeal is derived from the fact that he supported these positions long before it was politically expedient to do so. Bernie’s consistent track record on social issues has allowed him to become the moral leader of the Democratic field. Since April, his poll numbers have risen from 12% to 32%. Certainly, Democrats are “Feeling the Bern”.

Yet, Sanders has much to learn in the arena of foreign policy. In the first Democratic debate, the moderators encouraged the senator to detail the extent of his pacifism. Instead of responding in the affirmative by providing examples of when he would intervene in foreign conflicts, Sanders shifted the conversation to detail his voting record against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the time of the debate, his answer was sufficient given the spotlight on domestic issues. However, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in France, Sanders’ lack of knowledge became apparent as foreign policy became the focus of the second debate. This played to the strengths of Secretary Clinton as she called out specific nations that needed to do more in the fight against the Islamic State. Unlike Clinton, Sanders gave a vague response about the need for an international coalition to combat terror.

It is clear that, at the very least, Sanders will need to study up on foreign policy before the next debate. Perhaps he should follow the lead of rising Republican star Carly Fiorina, who, despite previously lacking foreign policy experience, has now become a force on the matter. Still, even that may not be enough. As long as the news cycle continues to focus on foreign conflicts, voters will look to Republicans and hawkish Democrats to assuage their concerns. In this environment, Bernie Sanders has little chance of becoming the Democratic nominee.

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