From the Green New Deal to Medicare for All, the progressive movement touts a thoroughly humanitarian agenda. It tends to promote the improvement of the quality of human life. However, these advancements tend to end at the border. The humanism progressives preach tends to fall apart with regards to foreign policy.
Some progressives have good foreign policy on the face, but hold damaging double standards. Jamaal Bowman, 2020 Democratic Congressional nominee, wants to make U.S. aid to Saudi Arabia conditional. Bowman has stated he does not want the aid to reach Saudi Arabia if they are going to continue enacting violence, like bombing Yemen.
While he advocates for a similar approach with Israel—making aid conditional—he frames it the same way non-progressives always frame it. He frames it as a struggle between equal forces—a struggle where the violence is proportional between the two sides. This narrative ignores the historical subjugation of Palestine. In doing so, he condemns future colonization while enabling Israel to avoid facing accountability for past injustices, as well as ongoing occupation.
Other progressives simply promote a continuation of American empire. Marianne Williamson, for example, directly opposed ending the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan due to the treatment of women by the Taliban. This form of progressivism elicits the same paternalism seen in traditional neoliberalism—the desire to police and manipulate global affairs. They house their imperialism within supposed humanitarian intentions. Williamson espouses a message of peace and love. It is a vision she claims to hold for our nation. However, the love and mutual respect she preaches does not extend to nations she views as less ethical.
Bernie Sanders, considered by most the face of the modern progressive movement, is a perfect example of this hypocritical combination. He ran on environmental protection through the Green New Deal. He promoted healthcare reform through Medicare for All. He focused on eliminating financial inequality and serving the working class. However, rarely has his foreign policy ever been progressive.
Bernie gets a lot of credit for voting against the Iraq War, but he has voted in favor of other wars. Despite being apologetic years later, he still voted for the Afghanistan War. In 1998, he voted against a measure meant to withdraw troops from the Bosnia War. In 1999, he voted to authorize a war in Kosovo. He also helped the Air Force house warplanes in Vermont for the sake of job protection. That highlights the problem clearly. Bernie, like many progressives, will help prop up the military-industrial complex if it means protecting American jobs. Despite all of the humanitarianism, even Bernie Sanders falls into “America First” mindset when it comes to the global community.
Domestic policy and foreign policy are inextricably linked. You cannot be progressive on domestic policy without also being progressive on foreign policy. As Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has often stated: “Foreign policy is domestic policy.” The money pumped into forever wars drain our resources. Infrastructure, healthcare, and education are placed on the back-burner indefinitely as our government funnels funds into the industrial military complex.
The horrors wrought by American imperialism stretch across the globe. This imperialism devastates entire cultures. It undermines the entire humanitarian façade of the progressive movement. But even looking at it through a purely domestic lens, there is a price to pay for American imperialism.
A. DeLeon described this violent feedback loop perfectly: “Imperialism is like a boomerang that is used to hurt others, but eventually, that violence comes back to you.” You can feel the echoes of imperialism through our police force. Since 9/11, many U.S. precincts have engaged in joint training programs with Israel, learning military tactics and approaches from the IDF. Many of these training programs are funded by taxpayer dollars. Our police forces still absorb actors and equipment from “the U.S.’s Middle Eastern theaters.” It’s visible through the assimilation of military-grade weaponry and the military aesthetics of riot gear into our domestic police force. Relentless imperialism has taken an already racist institution and militarized it before releasing it back on American citizens.
“Imperialism is like a boomerang that is used to hurt others, but eventually, that violence comes back to you.”
Our government similarly uses its national security regimes to turn its unethical surveillance back onto the American public. The same excuses our government used to justify foreign surveillance were reformatted and used to excuse domestic surveillance, especially after the beginning of the War on Terror. This has led to invasion of privacy, warrantless arrests, increased racial profiling, and illegal detentions.
The progressive movement has brought plenty of social issues front and center. Universal healthcare is widely known. The majority of Americans support some form of Medicare For All. But you cannot be a progressive on domestic concerns while maintaining imperialist foreign policies. They are interconnected at a fundamental level. Progressivism must be holistic.
John Queally. “’I Was Wrong’: Bernie Sanders Admits Barbara Lee Only Member of Congress in 2001 Who Had it Right on Afghan War,” Common Dreams, Published December 20, 2019. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/12/20/i-was-wrong-bernie-sanders-admits-barbara-lee-only-member-congress-2001-who-had-it.
Louis Jacobson, Politifact, Published March 2, 2020. https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2020/mar/02/facebook-posts/no-bernie-sanders-didnt-vote-favor-every-war-durin/.
Jonathan Hall. “’Foreign policy is domestic policy’: Military experience shaped worldview, Gabbard tells 7NEWS,” 7NEWS Boston, Published February 9, 2020.https://whdh.com/news/foreign-policy-is-domestic-policy-military-experience-shaped-worldview-gabbard-tells-7news/
Bill Scher. “What Would Bernie Bomb?,” Politico Magazine, Published June 23, 2019. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/06/23/bernie-sanders-foreign-policy-doctrine-227193.
A. DeLeon. Twitter, Published June 30, 2020. https://twitter.com/AlytaDeLeon/status/1277834137961971713.
“US Police Regularly Trained By Israeli Military: Amnesty Report,” teleSURE English, Published May 31, 2020. https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Human-Rights-Abuser-Israel-Trains-US-Police-Report-20200531-0005.html
Brett Heinz. “How the U.S. Trained Killer Cops Across the Hemisphere,” Current Affairs, Published June 29, 2020. https://www.currentaffairs.org/2020/06/how-the-u-s-trained-killer-cops-across-the-hemisphere