An entire generation of Americans are excited for Bernie Sanders’ platform based heavily on economic justice, and I am too. However, as a Syrian American and supporter of human rights and social justice in the Middle East, his vision for America’s role in Syria terrifies me. The Senator uses recycled Iraq war talking points to present an isolationist platform for the Middle East. In essence, his foreign policy is a mashup of all the misconceptions about the Middle East, Syria, and what it means to fight terrorism. So far, the Senator hasn’t responded to requests from Syrian Americans to meet with him. It’s ill-fated to believe a good domestic policy is more important than a good foreign policy: we need both.
When discussing these issues, the Senator consistently uses his vote against the illegal US invasion of Iraq to segue into his views on Syria, implying that we should take the lessons learned in Iraq and apply them to Syria despite the fact that 2003 Iraq and 2011 Syria represent two different eras in the Middle East. In 2003, America was still reeling from Al Qaeda’s attack on the twin towers and the Middle East region was still living under stable dictatorships; we invaded Iraq under two main false pretenses: Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that we need to establish a democracy based on our terms. Contrast this with 2011 Syria, when a popular movement led by all members of Syrian society called for reforms under their own image of democracy. Soon after the Assad regime began its crackdown, it began using weapons of mass destruction in the form of barrel bombs and chemical weapons against civilians.
According to Human Rights Watch, the three criteria to justify humanitarian intervention are:
1) If the people experience imminent threat of harm or genocide by their government.
2) If diplomatic options have been exhausted.
3) If the people ask for assistance from the international community.
Syria meets all these criteria: There are hundreds of reports detailing the systemic and ongoing violence against Syrians by the Assad regime. After multiple failed UNSC resolutions and a clear call from Syrians for a No Fly Zone, it follows that we need a Syria policy which addresses the Assad regime and ISIS with consent from Syrian civil society, who are the natural peace builders in the country.
Consent from Syrian civil society cannot be underscored enough for a truly progressive and just American foreign policy. The best way Americans can practice social justice on an international scale is to get consent from civil society for our military actions. Historically, nation-states never get consent from local populations when performing military actions; this is because most military actions are not based on moral grounds. It’s entirely possible for the United States to proceed with Syria policy that has consent fromSyrian civil society because the Syrian actors have worked hard to organize this call and take it to Western governments.
Currently, Senator Sanders wants to work with Bashar al Assad to stabilize Syria and fight ISIS. He shows he is not listening to Syrian civil society when he says that America will not send boots on the ground to Syria — this is irrelevant, because Syrians have never requested foreign boots on the ground from the international community.
Bernie Sanders strength comes from listening to the average American and fighting for the working class. He should follow the same strategy with Syria and listen to Syrian civil society when it comes to creating our foreign policy because it is the most consistent way to remain true to our values and keep up with a changing political landscape in the Middle East.