In the Democratic presidential primary race, Bernie Sanders is most commonly viewed as the anti-war candidate, but not everyone on the left feels that way. Peace movement activists in Vermont have accused Sanders of supporting the build-up to the 1990 Persian Gulf War, despite his passionate denunciations of the invasion on the House floor.
In a 1999 essay, former U.S. Army Security Agency signal analyst Will Miller wrote, “Bernie became an imperialist to get elected in 1990.” Sanders started speaking out against the intervention on the House floor in January 1991.
Sanders lost to the Republican candidate in the 1988 race to become U.S. representative from Vermont’s at-large district, but beat incumbent Peter Smith in 1990 and Democratic candidate Delores Sandoval.
“In August, 1990 — after the Bush administration enticed Iraq into invading Kuwait — Sanders said he wasn’t ‘going to let some damn war cost him the election,’ according to a staff member who was present at the time,” wrote Miller, who later became a philosophy professor at the University of Vermont. “So Sanders backed the buildup in the Persian Gulf and dumped on the left anti-imperialist peace movement, singling out his former allies like Dave Dellinger for public criticism.”
The essay, called “Bernie the Bomber’s Bad Week,” is hosted at the website for the Liberty Union Party. It bears no date when it was added to the party’s website, but it appears to have been posted in the summer of 2014, since another essay called “Bomber Bernie can’t take the heat”, was published shortly after, as the html addresses reveal.
Miller wrote that Sanders’ opponent Sandoval “opposed the Gulf build-up, Bernie supported it.”
Sanders began his political career in the early 1970s as a member of the Liberty Union Party, but quit the party six years later because he said it was not “a serious political party.”
Instead of military intervention, Sanders backed economic sanctions on Iraq, which writer Paul Street claimed in 2015 helped cause the death of “more than a million Iraqi citizens.”
“Sanders responded by drifting right and cutting a deal with the Vermont Democrats: the party would permit no serious candidate to run against him while he blocked serious third party formation in Vermont and adopted positions in line with the national corporate war Democrats,” Street wrote.
Activist Ashley Smith, wrote in 2006 that, “Despite his own claims, Sanders has not been an antiwar leader. Ever since he won election to the House, he has taken either equivocal positions on U.S. wars or outright supported them.”
She complained about his “hawkish positions — especially his decision to support Bill Clinton’s 1999 Kosovo War”; his “fail[ure] to join the sole Democrat, Barbara Lee, to vote against Congress’ resolution that gave George Bush a blank check to launch war on any country he deemed connected to the September 11 attacks”; “vote[s] for appropriations bills to fund the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan”; and how Sanders “supported pro-war measures – such as a March 21, 2003, resolution stating, ‘Congress expresses the unequivocal support and appreciation of the nation to the President as Commander-in-Chief for his firm leadership and decisive action in the conduct of military operations in Iraq as part of the ongoing Global War on Terrorism.'”
Not long after the arrests, a key Bernie Sanders staffer quit, because of the senator’s reluctant support for NATO’s 1999 bombings in Yugoslavia.
“It was your vote in support of this resolution that precipitated my decision that my conscience required me to resign from your staff,” Sanders staff policy analyst Jeremy Brecher stated in his resignation letter, AlterNet noted last May. Brecher asked, “Is there a moral limit to the military violence you are willing to participate in or support?”
Other activists also staged a sit-in in Sanders’ Vermont office over the Yugoslavia intervention.
In a 2005 tribute to Miller for the independent Socialist magazine Monthly Review, author Ron Jacobs wrote, “Given that all of Vermont’s Congressional delegation supported the killing, we decided to stage protests at each of their offices and stage a sit-in at the last one on our tour. That office happened to be the office of Bernie Sanders. After making it clear to the folks working in Bernie’s office that we fully intended to stay until they threw us out, Will fumbled with his wife’s cell phone (something new to us older folks back then) and called the local media. They showed up soon afterwards and recorded our thoughts and the arrests that followed the office’s closing. There were those on the Left who didn’t understand why we chose Bernie’s office. However, our job wasn’t to support Bernie no matter what — although we agreed with much of what he was doing; it was to point out the imperialist nature of the war.”
In a testimonial, attorney Mike Cassidy — who once “attended Will’s courses in Marxism and then Philosophy of Education at” the University of Vermont (UVM) — stated that he “helped represent Will and other folks arrested in 1999 at Bernie Sanders’ office, over Bernie’s support for the U.S./NATO war and bombing in the Balkans.”
Another former student, Sarah Snider wrote, “I remember a day when I was in college after class coming home and turning on the news and seeing Will and several others, including my roommate in Congressman Sanders office protesting the bombing of Serbia. I remember how affected my roommate was by her experience being arrested for trespassing and how this forever changed the way she talked about the State.”
Last July, Patrick Howley reported for The Daily Caller, “Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders ‘shunned’ some of his closest personal friends as he moved away from Vermont socialist circles and into big-time Democratic Party politics, and the resentment still lingers today.”
“Peter Diamondstone, socialist co-founder of the Vermont-based Liberty Union Party that gave Bernie Sanders his first exposure to politics in the 1970s, said that he is now persona non grata in Sanders-world,” Howley wrote. Diamondstone told Howley, “In Liberty Union there are revolutionary socialists and I don’t know one who supports him.”
The alleged Bernie Sanders quote about not letting “some damn war cost him the elections” doesn’t appear to have a source, other than Miller’s essay.
“Don’t be bamboozled by ‘Bernie the Bomber’ bombast,” warned a blogger in January. It “appears to be a muckracking exposé but a closer inspection reveals that it is riddled with embarrassing contradictions and is written with as much respect for the facts as the average Fox News story on President Barack Obama.”
The blog blasted “Miller’s gripe about being arrested at Sanders’ office.”
“Isn’t the whole point of civil disobedience to get arrested and thereby draw attention to a cause?” the blog wrote. “Miller himself even admitted the arrests took place ‘at 6:30 PM, one half hour after closing time’ of the office. So the proof that Sanders ‘lurched to the right,’ joined the political establishment, and betrayed the peace movement is that his staff wanted to go home instead of camping out at their workplace all night long to serve as unpaid babysitters for protesters too unreasonable to come back the next day?”
But Miller didn’t use the “Bernie for Bomber” headline when he issued his press release in 1999, nor did he use that term at all. One line — “The response to our occupation of Bernie’s office was, unfortunately, consistent with his lurch to the mainstream” — also wasn’t in Miller’s piece, who actually wrote, “Bernie got where he is now by a lurch to the right.”