Belgians continue to grapple with the aftermath of a deadly terror attack in Brussels, less than a week after authorities had captured Paris terror attack suspect Salah Abdeslam. In the United States, matters of foreign policy, which often take second place to domestic and economic issues, have skyrocketed into the forefront of the American presidential election. The attacks by the Islamic State in Paris and now Brussels have reshaped the narrative of the 2016 election as more and more American voters become concerned about issues of security, counterterrorism, and defeating ISIS. Knowing many voters will undoubtedly go to the polls looking for a president capable of stamping out terrorism, candidates have become more outspoken about their plans to eradicate the threat of ISIS. So, what is Sen. Bernie Sanders' ISIS strategy?
Sanders hasn't been shy about his dislike for the Islamic State. Time and time again, he describes the terrorist group as "a barbaric organization." In an interview with PBS' Judy Woodruff on Wednesday, Sanders reiterated his belief the Islamic State must be destroyed. "This is a barbaric organization that is a threat not only to the people in the Middle East, to the people in Europe, but obviously to the people in the United States as well that has to be destroyed," Sanders said.
But while other presidential candidates advocated for increased surveillance of U.S. Muslim neighborhoods, using torture to interrogate suspected terrorists, and pushing Europe to better protect its borders in the immediate aftermath of the Brussels attacks, Sanders hasn't wavered from his initial proposal for combating the threat of the Islamic State: support, but don't lead the charge.
For years, Sanders has said he doesn't feel the United States should or could lead efforts in the Middle East to defeat the Islamic State. Citing his interpretation of the lessons gleaned from the Iraq War, Sanders has instead called for a strong coalition of Muslim nations to lead military efforts on the ground, pointing specifically to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, and the UAE. The Democratic presidential candidate has also called for pressure to be put on neighboring Gulf region countries like Qatar to help financially support the war against the Islamic State.
Despite an unwillingness to send U.S. troops (or taxpayers' money) to the front lines, the Vermont senator isn't against U.S. involvement. In fact, Sanders has said he supports the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and other major powers aiding Middle Eastern troops on the ground through training and airstrikes. The keyword here then in Sanders' Islamic State strategy is led.
Sanders outlined his reasoning for rejecting a U.S.-led effort to combat the Islamic State in response to President Barack Obama's formal request for Congressional authorization to launch a military campaign against the Islamic State in February of last year:
I have supported U.S. airstrikes against ISIS and believe they are authorized under current law, and I support targeted U.S. military efforts to protect U.S. citizens. It is my firm belief, however, that the war against ISIS will never be won unless nations in the Middle East step up their military efforts and take more responsibility for the security and stability of their region. The United States and other western powers should support our Middle East allies, but this war will never be won unless Muslim nations in the region lead that fight. It is worth remembering that Saudi Arabia, for example, is a nation controlled by one of the wealthiest families in the world and has the fourth largest military budget of any nation. This is a war for the soul of Islam and the Muslim nations must become more heavily engaged.
The Vermont senator came under a lot of criticism earlier in the election for continuing to sidestep questions regarding his plan to combat the Islamic State. As discussions of terrorism and matters of foreign security continue to remain dominant themes in this election, Sanders has had to face the issue head on. His plan to destroy the Islamic State is a two-pronged approach with many similarities to the one put forth by his rival Hillary Clinton, including greater monitoring and international sharing of intel regarding suspected terrorists. Sanders' aversion to the drawn-out military conflict the United States saw in Afghanistan and Iraq, however, would see the country stepping back from its habit of leading the pack to play a more supporting role in the war against the Islamic State.