A Strange Love or: How Bernie Sanders Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Military-Industrial Complex

What would your younger self think of you now?  

It's a question many of us ask as we age. Through life's many twists and turns we become different, sometimes drastically so, from what we had envisioned. Our views change on anything from religion to values to ethics all the way to our politics. We make decisions based on the best information available at the time, even if that decision would have been something we never would have even considered as a youth or even something that we never would have considered even a few months ago. Life comes at you fast and human beings have a remarkable ability to adapt to whatever challenges we may endure throughout the course of our lives.  

However, despite all this, most of us see ourselves and having remained fairly consistent throughout our lives. Certain things will change, obviously, but many of us take pride in the fact that, for the most part, we have remained true to the values and principles instilled upon us as children. We might come to disagree with our parents on things like politics and religion but these disagreements are for the most part, more of an evolution over time rather than a blanketed rejection of our parents' dogma. As we age, we try achieve a balance that matches how we were raised with the reality that life has presented to us throughout the different milestones in our lives. For most of us, our younger selves would tell us that through it all, we've done a pretty good job in staying true to who we hoped to become.  

For Bernie Sanders, his younger self would not even recognize the person he has become.  

Because Sanders, like many career politicians, has made a series of choices based on political gain. It has not been an evolution but rather a devolution to sacrifice his own beliefs for those that would help him achieve personal success. The Bernie Sanders of his formative years at the University of Chicago in the early 1960s was one who did not focus on academics but rather one who was wrapped up in the political climate of the time. It was here where Sanders found socialism and became active on campus fighting racial inequalities. He led sit-ins protesting the university's segregated housing policies and was arrested in a now-famous video being used to showcase Sanders' lifelong fight for equality. He controversially wrote in support of sexual freedom for the school newspaper. He attended Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous March on Washington further showcasing his commitment to the cause. Bernie Sanders was well on his way to becoming a leader in the progressive field. 

And like most progressives of the late 1960's, Sanders was against the war in Vietnam and viewed himself as a pacifist. He applied as a conscientious objector to serving in the war and even though his application was rejected, Sanders was by that time too old to be drafted. But the seed has been planted and Sanders began to pride himself on his anti-war stance as this would seemingly be one of those traits that would stick with him for the duration of his life. No matter where Bernie Sanders ended up over the next fifty years, he would be certain to remain true the person that roamed the halls of the University of Chicago and that later became an anti-war protestor. All it would take would be a determined effort to remain true to his core values. 

When Sanders emerged on the national stage in April of 2015, he had over forty years of political experience in his back pocket. Yet, despite that experience, Sanders was a relative unknown outside of tiny, homogenous Vermont so he had an opportunity to introduce himself to the nation for the very first time. In doing so, Sanders would be able to create the type of persona he felt could best compete against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president. He was a blank slate, capable of choosing the narrative he wanted to create for the American people. In running against a seasoned politician like Clinton, Sanders and his campaign team had to try to identify what the public saw as her weaknesses and how Sanders could use those weaknesses against her. As a candidate with a wealth of foreign policy experience, Sanders only had one option to try and bring her down: her support for failed American military interventions. 

In order to sell this narrative, Sanders focused on his own record in Congress. He was against the first Gulf War and gave a fiery speech against it on the House floor stating his case. He was against the war in Iraq and has used this particular talking point time and time again to demonstrate how he has the judgment and leadership necessary to be commander-in-chief. Most recently, Sanders has painted himself as the candidate who has always been against regime change, while Hillary Clinton has supported it. In fact, even during the Univision debate when Jorge Ramos played a clip of Sanders speaking favorably of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, Sanders attempted to explain the clip by saying that it shows just how he has always been against American military intervention rather than explaining how and why he was supporting Castro in the first place.

Unfortunately for Bernie Sanders, those votes are cherry picked in a way to showcase him to be the anti-war candidate when his record tells a very different story. For example, Sanders supported NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, a stance so dramatic that staffer Jeremy Belcher resigned with a scathing letter that attacked Sanders' views on the military action. This same support led to 25 protesters occupying Sanders' Burlington office for a peaceful protest in which the participants involved asked for the opportunity to speak to then Congressman Sanders to voice their concerns. One can't help but see the parallel between this and Sanders' 1962 sit-in and so the expectation was that Sanders, although in Washington, D.C., would at least allow the protesters an opportunity to be heard. However, Sanders refused to have his staff meet with the protesters and even gave the green light to have 15 of them arrested.

But for those protesters, it was the first in a series of votes that showed how far Bernie Sanders had plunged from his anti-war days. Sanders may have voted against the war in Iraq, but he had previously voted for the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF), a vote which Sanders described as "symbolic." However, the AUMF was more than purely symbolic as it gave then President Bush the authority to use force against any persons or groups that either participated in the September 11th attacks, or who harbored those associated with the acts. The AUMF became the legal justification for the War on Terror and has been cited time and time again by the Department of Defense as a justification for military intervention over the past 14 years. Any time a drone strike kills innocent civilians overseas, that drone strike was made possible by the congressional approval of the AUMF.  

Sanders has even gone on record for openly supporting regime change. Despite calling out Hillary Clinton for what has transpired in Libya since the 2011 military intervention in that country, Sanders himself voted in favor of regime change in Libya and was even one of ten co-sponsors for a Senate-approved resolution that called for peaceful regime change. In an interview with Fox News, Sanders expressed concern about the potential intervention but acknowledged that Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was a "thug and a murderer." Sanders hoped to see a brief military intervention but he did not openly state that he disapproved of the mission and its goals, a far cry from the candidate who has stated that he has always been against regime change, no matter what.  

When looking at Sanders' contradictory voting record on military intervention, you have to ask yourself why? Why did Bernie Sanders devolve into someone who claims to be anti-war yet has supported it time and time again? Why has a noted pacifist voted against the closing of Guantanamo Bay? Why has he criticized Hillary Clinton's votes on something that he himself voted for? What is it, exactly that caused Bernie Sanders to remain invested in American military interventions while running on a platform of being the anti-war candidate? 

The answer: money. 

Paying for war is expensive, yet there is money to be made from it. There are those who say you cannot put a price tag on human life, but those people have never held stock in Halliburton. Despite the moral and ethical concerns about sending our young men and women to war, the fact is our elected officials will never be sending their sons and daughters to war. There's money to be made in the killing game and the more military interventions we have, the more money can be made. It's the ultimate Catch-22 situation: Vote your conscience and lose out on money or vote against everything you believe in and cash in.  

Bernie Sanders has chosen to cash in and has become a part of the system that 60s Bernie absolutely despised. He is now fully entrenched within the military-industrial complex and his votes reflect just how entrenched he has become. From Kosovo to the AUMF to Libya to Guantanamo, Sanders has openly supported American military intervention. He has struggled to justify his votes as being "symbolic" where in fact they have created a system that gave the United States a blank check to intervene anywhere in the world at any time in the name of fighting terrorism. Even if the war is just a "quickie" Sanders will now support it even if he does so quietly. At this point, even supporting a short war provides an opportunity for Sanders to cash in.

That specific opportunity rests with a nice little $1.5 trillion dollar prize known as the F-35 fighter jet, widely regarded as the biggest boondoggle in American military history. It is a project deemed "too big to fail" (where have we heard that before?) and is already 14 years into the 55 years that is expected to be needed to complete a program that has seen a flock of failures and an absence of advances. The F-35 was supposed to usher in a new generation of stealth fighters that would replace 90% of America's tactical aviation fleet but the program has been riddled with problems from the very beginning. Along with rising costs, there have been engine seat malfunctions, documented engine failures, as well as a whole slew of other issues. Even a function F-35 can't seem to be successful as the plane lost a dogfight to an F-16, a plane 40 years its elder. The program is a classic example of wasteful military spending and right in Bernie Sanders' wheelhouse for being something that should be eliminated. 

Yet Sanders supports it wholeheartedly.  

The reason? Sanders' hometown of Burlington, Vermont just happens to have a military base there where the F-35 is being built. Sure, it may be a horrendous project wasting over a trillion dollars, but it helps Bernie get re-elected time and time again. Because even though the project is an unmitigated disaster, Sanders stated his support for the project because, as he said:

Well you may think it doesn’t work, the Department of Defense does think it works. It employs hundreds of people. It provides a college education for hundreds of people. So for me the question is not whether we have the F-35 or not. It is here. The question for me is whether it is located in Burlington, VT or whether it is located in Florida.
Bernie Sanders

And that, my friends, is the epitome of what Bernie Sanders has become. He has gone from an anti-war pacifist to a presidential candidate firmly aware, and in support of, the military-industrial complex for the sole reason that it helps get people jobs in his home district. He is campaigning to be the anti-war candidate but is fully supportive of the most costly and most ineffective military project in our nation's history. Because it's one thing to say you're anti-war and to point to a couple votes that support this perception but it's another thing entirely to be against all wars. Because without any military intervention, you'll lose the fighter jets placed in your home district that provide enough jobs to keep you in office. Quite simply, Bernie Sanders chose to sacrifice his long-standing values in order to help keep his job. 

Something that Sanders of the 1960s would never have done.



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