Once and possibly future presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders said Thursday that President Donald Trump accentuates the worst aspects of generations of U.S. foreign policy, arguing that diplomacy and human rights must drive the U.S. approach to the world.
The Vermont independent chided Trump on everything from his rhetoric and proposed foreign aid cuts to his handling of North Korea, Iran and terrorism. But Sanders also made clear at Missouri's Westminster College that an undue focus on American military might began long before Trump's election.
"The goal is not for the United States to dominate the world. Nor on the other hand is our goal to withdraw from the international community and shirk our responsibilities under the banner of 'America First,'" Sanders said, invoking a phrase Trump has used to explain his approach to military and economic affairs on the global stage.
Rather, Sanders called for "global engagement based on partnership," an attitude he said is "better for security" and "better for facilitating the international cooperation necessary to meet shared challenges."
The senator delivered his remarks as Trump concluded a four-day visit to the United Nations, where he offered an unapologetically aggressive stance that divides the world into friends and foes, with promises to meet America's enemies, particularly North Korea, with catastrophic force.
Sanders has been mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, although he would be 79 that year. The venue for his speech in Fulton, Missouri, served as the site for major addresses from Winston Churchill and former President Ronald Reagan.
Sanders defended the United Nations and NATO — both targets of Trump's ire — as fundamental to international stability. "Dialogue and debate are far preferable to bombs, poison gas and war," Sanders said.
Sanders blasted Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord and said the president would make a similarly irresponsible mistake should he walk away from the multination Iran nuclear deal. He casts both moves as isolationist actions that would make the world less stable and more dangerous.
And he bemoaned proposals for increased defense spending and cuts in foreign aid, saying the latter will only yield conflicts that will require more military spending in the future.
As during his 2016 presidential primary fight with Hillary Clinton, Sanders outlined a world order that defies the simple ideological paradigm that pits hawks against doves and interventionists against isolationists. In the campaign, he criticized Clinton's support for the Iraq invasion, but he's previously backed U.S. and NATO military actions, including some spending bills that supported U.S. activity in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Yes, military force is sometime necessary," Sanders said at one point Thursday.
Sanders' larger argument is that the U.S. has forgotten former President Dwight Eisenhower's warnings about the perils of "the military-industrial complex" while allowing widening economic gaps across the globe to exacerbate tensions and create conditions for despots to seize power.
A wiser foreign policy, Sanders argued, would place "stronger emphasis on helping people gain economic and civil rights."