Many people want to know more about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy agenda. Yes, they say, we like what Sanders is saying about reducing extreme inequality, about reducing the political power of the billionaire class. But what about U.S. foreign policy? Yes, they say, Bernie voted no on the Iraq war; yes, they acknowledge, Sanders supports the Iran deal. But we’re spending more than half of our federal income tax dollars on the Pentagon’s empire, money we should be spending on rebuilding our nation’s domestic infrastructure. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,” Dr. King said. What’s Bernie going to do about that?
I’m all for pushing Bernie to talk more about downsizing the Pentagon to be an institution focused on actually defending the United States, as opposed to running around the world overthrowing other people’s governments — a Pentagon that “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” as President John Quincy Adams put it.
But we should also take advantage of the new opportunity that now presents itself; it’s not only with bombs that U.S. foreign policy kills and injures innocent civilians.
We should recognize and publicize the fact that Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate who is talking about what the IMF is doing to Greece, the only presidential candidate who has a track record of opposing the IMF, the only presidential candidate who, if elected, is likely to do anything to end the economic violence of the IMF.
In his historic campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988, Jesse Jackson often invoked the theme of “economic violence”:
Economic violence is the critical issue of our day. When plants close on workers without notice, and leave them without jobs or training for new jobs — that’s economic violence. When three to five million Americans are on the streets and homeless — that’s economic violence. When merger maniacs make windfall profits and top management is given excessive bonuses, golden parachutes to aid a soft landing, while workers are asked to take a wage cut, a benefit cut and a job loss, a crash landing — that’s economic violence. When our children are victimized with poor health care, poor education, poor housing, poor diets and more — that’s economic violence against our children.
Jesse Jackson was talking about U.S. domestic policy. But others have used the idea to talk about the IMF:
Hundreds of campaigners are marching in Prague as the main policy-making body of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) begins a meeting to discuss debt relief.
They want the IMF and its sister organisation, the World Bank, to cancel altogether debts owed to them by the poorest countries.
The protesters are staging a “funeral” procession through Czech capital to highlight their view that 7 million children a year die because of the debt crisis.
Jubliee 2000, which is organising the march, says it will be totally non-violent and that it is committed to peaceful protest.
“We condemn violence, both the violence which ends in broken windows, and the violence that kills 19,000 children a day,” the group’s UK director Ann Pettifor told the BBC.
The IMF is not “over there.” The IMF is headquartered in Washington, physically, politically and financially. A progressive economist once reported that he was at a seminar at the IMF, where a senior IMF official was indignant that people were saying that IMF is unaccountable. The IMF official demanded to know: why do people always accuse us of being unaccountable? We never do anything without checking with the U.S. Treasury Department!
Until now, unfortunately, Congressional Democrats have been largely content to let Treasury to run the show at the IMF without the input of real Democrats.
The IMF is now doing to Greece what the IMF has been doing to Africa since the 1980s and what the IMF did to South America until the progressive governments there kicked the IMF out. The IMF is a member of the “troika” of official creditors that have been making extreme austerity demands on the Greek government and are now openly demanding “regime change” in Greece before there can be any deal that ends the crisis in Greece that the troika has imposed.
(Some people complain that we shouldn’t blame the IMF for what is being done to Greece; they say that some other institution or actor is more responsible. These people want us to play “accountability whack-a-mole” with the institutions. We need to hold the institutions “jointly and severally liable”; and the IMF is the bad actor in the troika for whom Americans have the most responsibility.)
Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate who is speaking out about this. In Congress, it’s the progressive Democrats – including Sanders – who are speaking out about this.
U.S. support for the IMF is more politically fragile than many people realize. Many Congressional Republicans hate the IMF, in significant measure because they see the IMF as a Democrat-supported taxpayer-financed slush fund to bail out big private banks when their international bets go bad (which assessment is quite correct.) Without the support of Congressional Democrats, the IMF is dead meat in Washington. Whenever the IMF wants more money from Washington, there’s a campaign to trick low-information Democrats into believing that the IMF is “foreign aid,” so that Democrats will support it.
When more Democrats own the fact that the IMF agenda is the NAFTA-WTO-TPP agenda with a European internationalist smiley face mask pasted on, the IMF will be on a fast train to the dustbin of history. And this is not necessarily a remote prospect – the fact that this is the fundamental identity of the IMF is well known among labor activists, for example.
AFL-CIO chief economist William Spriggs recently wrote:
In the U.S. we must take the side of Greece in this fight. It is in our interest, as the immediate problem of the instability this is causing is a rising dollar that will hurt U.S. exports and jobs. And, we can never be sure of the interrelated nature of financial collapses since so much of the banking sector remains in the shadows; with global derivatives trading at values greater than global output.
More importantly, we must also revolt against this economic order. It is the same order that saved JP Morgan Chase, but let Detroit and now Puerto Rico fail. It is the same religion that would sacrifice the earnings of American students with rising student debt and de-invest in public higher education. It is the same religion that would sacrifice American jobs and labor standards and back the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We must see these as the same struggle to restore sanity and purpose to role of government and its servant, the economy.
Follow Robert Naiman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/naiman
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