U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Saturday rejected his rival Hillary Clinton’s call for a no-fly zone in Syria, while at the same time endorsing the Obama administration’s year-long bombing campaign in the country.
“We do not want to make a very complex situation in Syria even worse,” Sanders said in a statement posted on his campaign website. “I oppose, at this point, a unilateral American no-fly zone in Syria which could get us more deeply involved in that horrible civil war and lead to a never-ending U.S. entanglement in that region.”
Sanders does not oppose U.S. involvement in Syria, however. “I support President Obama’s effort to combat the Islamic State in Syria,” he said, “while at the same time supporting those in Syria trying to overthrow the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad.” The United States has been bombing targets in Syria, including the Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, since September 2014. Those strikes have reportedly killed at least 240 civilians.
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Sanders’ comments came after Clinton, the former secretary of state, said on Friday that if she were in charge of U.S. policy on Syria she “would be advocating now for a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors to try to stop the carnage on the ground and from the air.” The White House has rejected calls for a no-fly zone, with President Obama dismissing Clinton’s comments as campaign rhetoric.
A self-described “democratic socialist,” Sanders has received some criticism from the left over his positions on U.S. foreign policy. Though he opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Sanders has largely been quiet about foreign affairs, his campaign largely focused on domestic issues, particularly economic inequality.
“I’m among millions of supporters who are enthusiastic about the clarity of his positions in taking on Wall Street, corporate power and economic inequality,” Norman Solomon, a Democratic activist and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, said in a recent article for Al Jazeera America. “But we also need Sanders to be clear about what he would do as commander in chief of the world’s leading military power.”
What he has said has largely disappointed peace activists like Solomon. In August, he said he would not end U.S. drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen, arguing such strikes must be deployed “selectively and effectively.”
Sanders has also called for U.S. ally Saudi Arabia to do more to fight Islamic extremists. “Saudi Arabia has the third-largest military budget in the entire world,” he noted during an interview on ABC. “They’re going to have to get in and take on ISIS,” he said, adding that the “the United States cannot always be the only country involved in these wars.”