Being the most beloved candidate by Europeans (because he wants the United States’ social security, education and healthcare systems to resemble more those of European countries) doesn’t imply he will be the most beloved POTUS by those very same Europeans.
If you had told us in 2008 that Obama would have expanded George W. Bush’s electronic surveillance program, multiplied the use of drone attacks (with the obvious increase in civilian casualties) and that Guantanamo would still be up and running in 2016, most Europeans wouldn’t have believed it (and after eight years of W., I think we were ready to accept virtually anyone). As Bernie Sanders has mostly focused on domestic economic concerns, his foreign policy views are not as pronounced or as prominent as those of other candidates – in fact, he has only recently began to take this issue more seriously. But this doesn’t mean we cannot look at how afraid we should be if we start feeling the Bern on this side of the Atlantic.
First of all, let’s breathe a sigh of relief, as he doesn’t want to bring down the Iran agreement and thus does not express a will to scrap what was one of Europe’s most significant collaborative efforts of foreign policy in the last few years. Well done, Bernie.
And be shocked, oh self-righteous European, Bernie Sanders thinks the US spends too much money on national defence, is in favour of scaling down its nuclear weapons, voted against the 2003 invasion of Iraq and even thinks that the Middle East will get rid of ISIS in an effort led by those countries themselves. One of Sanders’ foreign security advisors even went so far as saying that an overly broad authorisation of force against ISIS could be instrumentalised in the future to commit the US into a ground offensive against Assad. Hey, what if he thinks the US spends too much money in defending Europe and decided to get rid of the American nuclear weapons deployed here?
Distancing himself from Obama’s extensive use of electronic surveillance, Sanders considers that this practice violates the constitutional rights of US citizens and that it undermines the US as a free country. He has also declared himself against the use of torture when interrogating suspects of terrorism and expressed his intention to close Guantanamo, as it severely harms the image of the US abroad. Scoring points on the European public opinion scale, Bernie! While he doesn’t intend to scrap Obama’s use of armed drones in counter-terrorism operations, he does defend that they have to be used more selectively and with a more careful target assessment - again, nothing fear-inducing for us, Europeans, as long as we remain in the field of intentions and statements.
Bernie Sanders even goes so far as saying that not only is global warming created by human activity (doesn’t diverge from Hillary Clinton here) but also wants to ban fracking altogether (a position which he has held since before the launch of the 2016 campaign) and is not afraid of calling for an accelerated transition to the use of renewable energies and to significantly drop dependency on fossil fuels.
All these issues alone are enough to make Sanders Europe’s new platonic crush, whether at the level of public opinion or at the level of Europe’s elites. Add to that Sanders’ support for sanctions against Russia following its annexation of Crimea and its supported secession of part of eastern Ukraine, and it adds up nicely to Bernie from the EU’s perspective. But on a more unexpected turn, Bernie also defends that a new NATO, or rather a new international defence organization, should be created and that Russia should be a part of it.
It’s on trade issues that Bernie risks a big clash with Europe, namely with its elites (less so with its people). Sanders has expressed his opposition to major international trade agreements – such as NAFTA and the TPP, as well as any trade agreement with China on the basis that trade relations with China as they are harm the standard of living in the US and have disastrous environmental consequences. Finally, and this is where Sanders as POTUS could bring a clash with European leadership: he’s completely opposed to TTIP, which as we know is very dear to the EU establishment, namely the EPP. Obviously, it’s much more difficult for the Brussels elite to be against a POTUS whose main point of contention is a policy in which he is supported by a large segment of the European public opinion – it was so much easier to be against George W. Bush. Bernie Sanders doesn’t fear being labelled a protectionist because in his view, free trade agreements like NAFTA, TPP and TTIP aren’t about free trade but about maximizing the gains of the larger corporations at the expense of the salaries of their employees and benefiting from more flexible environmental regulations.
It’s safe to say that with Bernie in the White House and even if his proposals would be somewhat diluted by the Congress (I won’t say destroyed because that’s not the purpose of this piece of writing), he would make a pretty difficult case for Europeans who need to see someone in Washington that they can bash and fear. The most realistic assumption is that with his mostly non-interventionist foreign policy views, he would be decried by some in the European establishment for not being more assertive and not extending NATO’s protection further – as if saying that we want a US president who is willing to keep spending billions in Europe’s defence but who will not start a case for new armed conflicts. Yeah, it would be much better if Europe could also vote in the US presidential election…
Applying some imagination to this, I’ll say that what we, Europeans, should fear the most from Bernie Sanders is that his potential presidency compels European governments into doubling or tripling their defence budgets at the expense of their social welfare, education and healthcare budgets. So in this regard, Bernie gets a 2.5 in the Fear Scale and he is branded a moderate concern for Europe. What, you expected something else from a prejudiced European?
Did you last all the way to the end? Well done, and thank you for going through the whole thing, even though I promised nothing but fear and frights. Either you fear nothing or you think that scaring yourself a bit more cannot harm you, either way I hope that by now you’ll find yourself ready to accept the next President of the United States and all the terrifying aspects that come with the next occupant of the White House.