Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) used a foreign policy speech to knock President Trump’s handling of the Iran nuclear deal, Russia and his rhetoric on the violence in Charlottesville, Va.
“I call on my colleagues in the Congress, and all Americans: We must protect this agreement. President Trump has signaled his intention to walk away from it, as he did the Paris agreement, regardless of the evidence that it is working. This would be a serious mistake,” Sanders said during an address at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo.
The speech comes ahead of the next deadline for Trump to recertify the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, on Oct. 15. Under the terms of the pact, Iran agreed to limits to its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
NBC News reported that Trump is inclined to decertify the agreement, kicking the issue to Congress. He would then push for Europe to agree to negotiate a tougher deal.
Sanders argued that backing away from the agreement could hurt America’s ability to cut deals in the future, asking why another country would want to make a deal with a “reckless president and an irresponsible Congress.”
Sanders, instead, argued that the country should base its foreign policy on partnerships with other countries, contrasting with Trump’s “America First” policy outlined during his campaign last year.
“Here is the bottom line: In my view the United States must seek partnerships not just between governments, but between peoples. A sensible and effective foreign policy recognizes that our safety and welfare is bound up with the safety and welfare of others around the world,” he said.
That, according to Sanders, includes staying in the Paris climate agreement, participating in the United Nations and a “grassroots” dialogue between individuals from different countries.
Sanders specifically targeted Trump’s recent U.N. address, saying it was “incredible” that he didn’t mention the Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election.
“Today I say to Mr. Putin: We will not allow you to undermine American democracy or democracies around the world. … In the struggle of democracy versus authoritarianism, we intend to win,” he said.
The foreign policy speech, billed as a major address, marks a major shift for Sanders, who centered his 2016 presidential bid around health care and improving economic inequality.
Many of Sanders’s potential competitors for the party’s 2020 nomination have branched out to bolster their foreign policy credentials — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) joined the Foreign Relations Committee and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is part of the panel investigating Russia’s election interference.
Sanders seized on the symbolism of Westminster College, where Winston Churchill gave his famous “Iron Curtain Speech,” quoting the former British prime minister that the world “must be shielded from the two giant marauders, war and tyranny.”
He also referenced former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s involvement at the United Nations and President Harry Truman’s Marshall Plan.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign frequently knocked Sanders over his foreign policy stances, including a vote he missed in 2016 placing tougher penalties on North Korea. Sanders, in return, knocked Clinton over her vote in favor of the Iraq War.
Sanders reiterated his criticism of the Iraq War on Thursday, calling it a “disastrous” conflict that brought “instability and destruction” to the region.
“Far too often, American intervention and the use of American military power has produced unintended consequences which have caused incalculable harm,” he said.
And while pledging that he understood the importance of combating terrorism and extremism, he added that the “war on terror has been a disaster for the American people and for American leadership.”
“A heavy-handed military approach, with little transparency or accountability, doesn’t enhance our security. It makes the problem worse. … One of the key misapprehensions of this mindset is the idea that military force is decisive in a way that diplomacy is not,” he said.
Sanders also used the speech to turn his fire toward domestic issues, including taking shots at Trump over his comments on the violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and the “rise in authoritarianism and right-wing extremism.”
“That means continuing the struggle to end racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia here in the United States and making it clear that when people in America march on our streets as neo-Nazis or white supremacists, we have no ambiguity in condemning everything they stand for,” Sanders said.
He added, “There are no two sides on that issue.”
Trump faced widespread backlash for his handling of the violence around the white supremacist rally, where one counterprotester was killed.
And his address detoured into familiar territory for the Independent senator: economic inequality.
Sanders tied the country’s military strategy to a shift toward “an oligarchic form of society where a small number of extraordinarily powerful special interests exert enormous influence.”
“In the United States and other countries, a majority of people are working longer hours for lower wages than they used to. They see big money buying elections, and they see a political and economic elite growing wealthier, even as their own children’s future grows dimmer,” he said.