After Paris: How Bernie Can Win on Foreign Policy With Democratic Socialism


The horrific terrorist attacks in Paris have shocked the world.  Not surprisingly, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which involved explosives and Kalashnikov-wielding assailants.  As authorities in Europe search desperately for suspects, early reports indicate that some of the terrorists entered the continent by posing as refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war.  And it is likely that future ISIS-related attacks in Europe may soon occur, with the terrorist organization having threatened Russia following that nation’s entry into the Syrian civil war on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s controversial regime.

ISIS, which now controls vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, has been condemned across the globe for atrocities committed against military foe and innocent civilian alike, including torture, rape, and indiscriminate massacre.  In 2015, such barbarity seems unthinkable, something that should have been left to the annals of history like the Holocaust or the Nanking massacre.  Yet, as horrors like Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge (1970s) and the genocide in Rwanda (1990s) have taught us, mindless brutality knows no era.  After World War II and the Holocaust, the West swore that genocide would never again be tolerated…but our track record is shameful.  And few can argue that what is occurring in ISIS-controlled territory is anything less than genocide against non-Muslims or moderate Muslims who do not adhere to ISIS’ extremist views.

The attacks in Paris have forced us to take a second look at ISIS.  Despite its horrific ways, many considered ISIS to be isolated to the Middle East.  Now, we worry that our own cities are vulnerable, either to organized ISIS cells or ISIS-linked “lone wolf” terrorists.  Suicide bombers are difficult to spot and neutralize before they commit carnage, and those using assault rifles to attack crowded areas can kill many before being neutralized or taking their own lives to avoid capture.

As expected, the second Democratic debate focused heavily on Paris, foreign policy, and the struggle against terrorism.  Frontrunner Hillary Clinton, as a former Secretary of State, had the advantage as a foreign policy guru who was in the White House with the president the night Navy SEALs finally caught up with Osama bin Laden.  Though Clinton’s neocon-like hawkishness has long been criticized by many liberals, including some mainstream Democrats, it may play better now in the aftermath of Paris.  Indeed, Clinton has gone a step further than her former boss, president Obama, and declared that ISIS must be “defeated” rather than merely contained.

Though all supporters of Bernie Sanders know that he is undeniably superior on domestic policy, pushing for economic reforms that our nation desperately needs, he does need to brush up on foreign policy.  This is the one area where his primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, has an undeniably lengthier resume.  She will try to get political mileage off of Paris and ISIS, and Sanders’ team must be ready for that.

Fortunately, Bernie Sanders’ Democratic Socialism advocates something that America’s foreign policy needs, though it would be considered controversial:  A return to military conscription.

Clinton must be asked how she, as president, would defeat ISIS.  Would she continue to use air strikes, which result in almost zero American casualties but is very expensive and of questionable effectiveness against our foe?  Would she run a new version of the infamous Iraq War, going in with “shock and awe” but leaving far too few troops on the ground to maintain a safe occupation?  Clinton, who voted in favor of the Iraq War in 2002, must be pressed to answer how a defeat of ISIS will occur.  I feel that she will stumble, wanting to appear bold and aggressive…but unwilling to commit ground troops.  She will struggle to answer how ISIS will be definitively defeated without the use of U.S. and NATO ground troops.

Bernie Sanders can win support from both progressives and defense hawks by asserting that the U.S. should use ground troops if it feels that a foe is a genuine threat to our domestic security…but only if those troops come from our entire society, as occurs with an unbiased military draft.  If ISIS is a genuine threat, which it may well be, then every American should share in the responsibility of maintaining our nation’s safety.  The burden of fighting our foes in foreign lands should not fall disproportionately on the poor and disenfranchised, who may join the military because they lack the resources to pursue higher education or compete in the civilian job market.

Though advocating a military draft may be controversial, even among Sanders’ supporters, it is a winning position that would force Clinton to explain how she would not engage in an unethical “backdoor draft,” the policy of stop-loss, to keep enough U.S. forces in the Middle East.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. tried to fight a war “on the cheap” and with an all-volunteer force, resulting in a horrendously expensive, drawn-out conflict that sapped the military’s morale.  We went in with too few troops, could not patrol and maintain our zones of occupation, and allowed a deadly insurgency to fester.

It may not always be popular, but Democratic Socialism and military conscription is the only way to win a foreign conflict the right way:  Quickly and with the ability to “win the peace.”  This is how we did it in World War I and World War II.  Additionally, the conscription from those eras allowed for greater social cohesion and economic mobility during and after the war, with millions of young men receiving pay and job training that was invaluable during peacetime.  If we really want to defeat ISIS and improve our international brand, we must avoid the mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan.  We must win the peace and prevent our service personnel from feeling ignored by the rest of our society.  This is only doable by utilizing a large ground force that is drawn from our entire population, which is what we did during World War I and II.

Any draft should not allow young people to be exempt due to attending college, which is what occurred during Vietnam.  It increased social stratification and reinforced the trend of military service being a predominantly working-class endeavor.  If we want to rid the world of ISIS and its threats to our cities, everyone must be available to play a role.  The responsibility should not be expected to fall most heavily on the working classes.

Bernie Sanders should assert that his foreign policy and use of force would involve Congressional approval and/or public referendum prior to any military action, and a return of conscription to ensure that such military action involves the efforts of all of America, not just a subset.  America will not be hasty to use force, but when it does use force it will act swiftly and with great resolve, backed by the will of the people and with forces drawn from all segments of society.  This is how it should be, and woe to any politician who tries to argue that it should not be.  Their arguments will be losing ones.





Calvin Wolf

By day, Calvin Wolf is a high school social studies teacher. By night, he is a freelance writer and novelist, penning political thrillers and commentary on politics, education, economics, foreign policy, and culture. In the past, he's worked as a professional cartoonist and as a backpacking guide. He once stood between a mother bear and her cub and emerged unscathed!

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