Bernie Sanders's Ill-Defined Foreign Policy

Bernie Sanders's foreign policy is unclear, lacks clarity, and is ill-defined.

He virtually tied Hillary Clinton in Iowa on a platform of left-wing economic populism that derails Wall Street and obscene inequality. However, the extent of Sanders's heavily concentrated focus on social, economic and political justice, has resulted in a profound neglect in effectively clarifying and articulating his foreign policy.

Sanders's lack of foreign policy clarity doesn't appear to affect his polling, however, with a recent NBC poll showing that only 16% of Democratic voters call foreign policy and terrorism the most important issue. Conversely, whereas the top issue among Republicans is counter-terrorism, the top issue for Democrats are the economy and healthcare.

While an unclear foreign policy may not detrimentally affect Sanders for now, if he does become the nominee, which isn't highly likely, he can't afford to be so vague.

It is vagueness heavily rested on his opposition to the Iraq war that Hillary Clinton has picked apart recently: "Senator Sanders doesn't talk very much about foreign policy. And when he does, it raises concerns because sometimes it can sound like he hasn't really thought it through."

This suspicion of Sanders's foreign policy credentials extend to a public letter released by 10 pro-Clinton foreign policy experts that states, "We are concerned that Senator Sanders has not thought through these crucial national security issues that can have profound consequences for our security."

On ambiguity, it's not entirely certain, for example, what direction Sanders would want to take military spending as president, due to his seeming contradictions.

His campaign website loosely states, 'Our defence budget must represent our national security interests and the needs of our military, not the reelection of members of Congress or the profits of defence contractors', and ends with an endorsement of President Eisenhower's fears of military industrial complex largesse.

At the same time, Sanders seemingly contradicts himself by happening to defend the immensely expensive f-35 stealth fighter program.

While offering phrases such as 'moving away from unilateralism' towards multilateralism may offer some helpful indication, it spells very little indication of where Sanders would set military spending, what he would do with troop numbers in Germany, for example, or even the fate under a Sanders presidency of the estimated 800 bases around the world.

Looking at the War and Peace section on Bernie Sanders's website, when you remove his vote against Iraqi intervention in 2003, one finds little beyond support for the Iran deal and supporting a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Indeed, Senator McCaskill correctly notes, "Most Americans are going to want a foreign policy that has more depth to it than, 'I was right about the Iraq war vote' and that seems to be the only thing that Bernie has shown a mastery of."

That doesn't diminish the weighting of the Iraq war vote even to this day, nor the importance of fighting ISIS in Iraq. It's that there are clearly other non-Iraq associated big issues and hard choices, hard choices that Clinton confronted and can drawn upon during her time as Secretary of State.

Beyond ambiguity, Sanders has proven his foreign policy illiteracy by defending a strategy against ISIS that is detached from the reality of Middle East geopolitics. He has called on Iran and Saudi Arabia to work together and build a coalition to defeat ISIS, omitting to acknowledge that contempt and animosity towards both countries couldn't be any higher.

Michael Pregent, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, notes that, "Sanders does not understand that Sunni nations are as concerned - if not more - about Iranian hegemonic goals as they are with the threat of ISIS."

The Sanders doctrine would be easier to define by judging which foreign policy experts Sanders has called upon for advice. Unlike Clinton, Sanders has called on the advice of very few experts and that adds to questions about what sort of foreign policy he would have. Phyllis Bennis, director of the Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies points out, "I have no idea who Bernie is listening to on security and foreign affairs."

Sanders is ambiguous because as a populist, he wants to challenge the status quo, but he largely embraces the Obama administration's decisions. He can't afford to embrace Obama's foreign policy, however, as Obama's foreign policy decisions are associated with Hillary Clinton. Herein lies the issue with Sanders, as Ali Gharib of The Nation precisely highlights that Sanders "is trying to position himself as challenging the status quo while in fact upholding it."

Bernie Sanders has built a campaign primarily on a single-minded focus of economic inequality. It may be able to sustain him for now, but if Sanders does become the eventual Democratic nominee, he won't attract independent voters with evident foreign policy ambiguity.