By world standards, a U.S. government led by President Bernie Sanders would be exceptionally militarized and very much an outlier in terms of its disregard for the standards of international law and its lack of respect for the sovereignty of other nations.
By comparison to a U.S. government led by a hyper-militarist President Hillary Clinton, a Sanders government would be the peaceful, law-abiding, and humanitarian Age of Aquarius.
Senator Sanders has been unwilling to propose any significant and concrete reduction in military spending, despite the boon it would be to his campaign, which faces criticism over planned taxes to pay for desired domestic programs. Just stating "I would cut aggressive and counterproductive military weapons and operations" would eliminate the need to ever raise taxes on a non-billionaire to pay for anything ever again, but Sanders won't state that. I've communicated with his campaign, which has declined thus far to tell me what level of military spending Sanders favors, but it seems clear it would not be dramatically different from the world-record levels of spending now current.
Candidate Sanders tells us he would also continue to kill people with drones, and that he would continue the wars but seek more partners and funders abroad. He rather grotesquely wants Saudi Arabia to "get its hands dirty." He also has a long history of justifying military spending as a jobs program, and of merging his support for the needs of veterans with glorification of war making. While he eventually opposed the Gulf War and then the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Sanders supported wars in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
Sanders lacks any transformative vision of peace, international cooperation, the rule of law, or transition to a peaceful economy. He does not propose to eliminate nuclear weapons or join the International Criminal Court or ban weapons in space or stop antagonizing Russia. He's offered no proposal for a cease-fire, humanitarian aid, or other diplomatic initiatives in Syria or Iraq. There's reason to hope only that a Sanders White House would be a bit less bellicose than Obama's - and the chief reason to hope that is that Sanders would almost certainly not include Hillary Clinton in his cabinet.
Clinton lost the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 largely because she'd been in the Senate in time to vote for the Iraq invasion, while Barack Obama had not. That they'd both later voted repeatedly to fund that war seemed lost both on those defending Clinton's vote and those claiming Obama for the peace movement.
Prior to 2008, we already knew Clinton's history. She had pushed her husband in a militaristic direction throughout his presidency, including on Yugoslavia and Iraq. The 1998 Iraq Liberation Act had laid the groundwork for the war to come. She's urged Bill Clinton to bomb Kosovo in violation of the U.N. Charter and against the will of Congress. She not only voted for the war on Iraq, and against an amendment to pursue inspections first, but she promoted all of Bush-Cheney's lies as her own, despite having been well informed of the facts. She then continued to defend her actions for years, and to argue for continuing and escalating the war.
In 2006, Democrats had won Congressional victories principally on the public demand to end the war on Iraq. Clinton protégé and future mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel openly told the Washington Post that the Democrats would keep the war on Iraq going in order to run against it again in 2008. And that's what Hillary Clinton did. In time for the 2008 primaries, she turned against the Iraq war and began lying that she'd never supported it and only ever wanted inspections pursued, a lie she has articulated in recent weeks as well.
None of this has changed in the past 8 years. On top of it we can add the following. Hillary Clinton turned the U.S. State Department into an arm of the military, redefined "diplomacy" to mean the communication of threats of violence, made diplomats work as marketing staff for weapons companies, waived restrictions on arms sales to brutal governments that donated to her personal foundation, led the advocacy for escalation in Afghanistan, led the lobbying for a war to overthrow the government of Libya creating the disaster now found there, backed a military coup in Honduras, defended dictators and torturers in Tunisia and Egypt until the last possible moment, and in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia until the present moment, threatened assault on Iran and lied about Iranian nukes even after finally being compelled to support the nuclear agreement with Iran, supported the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, opposed opportunities for peace in Syria at every turn, and much much more. Clinton had in fact joined Republicans in pushing for the disarmament of Syria as early as 2004. On Afghanistan, Libya, and the attack on Osama bin Laden, Secretary of State Clinton was more hawkish than Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Much of the additional information we know comes from WikiLeaks, which exposed the Clinton State Department as a cynical Machiavellian club for contemptuous rogues out to dominate the world for the sake of corporate profits. The fault here lies not with Chelsea Manning for exposing these outrages, but with Clinton for leading them. But her attitude toward whistleblowers like Manning and Edward Snowden has exposed another difference with Sanders, to Sanders' advantage. A Hillary Clinton administration promises to be as secretive and vindictive as Obama's.
A Sanders White House would not cut off the free weaponry and legal immunity for Israel, but a Clinton White House would expand on those policies, offer unlimited support to openly racist Israeli assaults on and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Sanders has proposed normalizing relations with Iran, while Clinton has denounced that idea and demanded that all (meaning nuclear) options be "on the table." If peace should come to Syria with Assad still in power, Clinton can be expected to continue the line she has already promoted, namely that Obama should have overthrown Assad with massive force long ago. Sanders, in contrast, could be expected to breathe a sigh of relief and focus on domestic matters until the next crisis develops.
While Clinton has accused Sanders of heresy for disagreeing with Obama's disastrous domestic policies, she herself has frequently criticized Obama's foreign policies for being insufficiently militaristic. Clinton does not hide who she is. She fear mongered 9/11 in a recent debate. She giggled jubilantly while bragging about the murder of Moammar Gadhafi. She's suggested the possibility of "obliterating" Iran. She talks up her dedication to the Israeli right wing in public as well as behind closed doors with donors. Donors like Boeing have successfully hired her, while Secretary of State, to personally market their products to foreign governments.
I've asked the Clinton campaign what her military budget proposal would be, and have thus far heard nothing back, but it's hard to imagine how she could do what she would do without raising it, and it's easy to imagine that her election would boost the campaign to add young women to the selective service draft registry.
Pollsters imagine that Donald Trump's negatives make him easily defeatable, but they imagined that in the primaries as well. Polls also suggest that Hillary would be weaker than Bernie in a general election and that many Bernie supporters might not support Hillary. Imagine an election in which the mad militarist with a comb-over fear mongers Muslims but accurately accuses Clinton of lying about Iraq and helping to create the Islamic State group. Would she counter with the promise of another bigger, better war? Would such a situation create a new opportunity to move public opinion against war? What would peace advocates do? How many would hold their nose and flee the country? What would Henry Kissinger advise?
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson's books include War Is A Lie. He is a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.