Bernie Sanders has a problem. As mayor of Burlington back in the 1980s, he attacked the foreign policy of the Reagan administration in Latin America, and even briefly toured Nicaragua in support of its Sandinista government. He was reportedly present at a rally in Managua where protesters chanted anti-American slogans — which is deeply concerning, writes New York magazine's Jonathan Chait.
Quite right. Americans of all political stripes should be very concerned about Sanders' anti-mass murder record.
Historical context is important here, as it reveals beyond question the saintly motives of Reagan's foreign policy team. From 1936-1979, Nicaragua was benevolently ruled by the Somoza family, who were friendly to the U.S. and the Nicaraguan working class alike. Their government was not at all corrupt, and in no way did the Somozas accumulate a vast dragon hoard of wealth looted out of the country.
But leftist forces, motivated by nothing more than spite, mounted a guerrilla insurgency in the mid-70s. They took up the mantle of Augusto Sandino, who unfortunately died after slipping on a banana peel during earnest peace talks with Anastasio Somoza García in 1934, who had offered free puppies and ice cream to all leftist factions. After years of hard fighting, these Sandinistas finally overthrew the government of Anastasio Somoza Debayle (son of the first Somoza) in 1979.
Conservative forces launched a counter-revolution (thus Contras, for Contrarrevolución), and Reagan naturally supported them with money and weapons, as all right-thinking people would have done. Democrats in Congress were inexplicably wary of foreign intervention, and so after they discovered that the CIA was putting Freedom Mines in Nicaraguan harbors in 1984, they banned military aid to the Contras. The administration was forced to turn to selling arms to Iran to finance them.
Naive American leftists like Sanders were outraged by all this. Lacking an understanding of the Soviet menace and the noble beauty of American power, they argued Nicaragua should be left to its own devices, and that the Contra support was creating a humanitarian catastrophe. Sanders even praised aspects of their dastardly red government, like building hospitals and schools (which cut the illiteracy rate from 50 percent to 13 percent), while criticizing others. Simply appalling. As Chait writes, "his defensive comments about a communist regime would help Republicans paint him in the most extreme light."
To be fair, the Sandinistas were not actually communist. And sure, maybe they won free and fair elections in 1984. And perhaps the Contras were terrible at actually fighting, and on occasion brutally murdered a few thousand civilians. Maybe the CIA told even told them to do this as part of a deliberate strategy of terrorism. And yes, the arms sales to Iran were technically illegal, leading to several administration officials being convicted of crimes. (Luckily, President George H.W. Bush stymied this unpatriotic inquisition — into himself, among others — through his pardon power.)
But all that was no reason to be soft on socialism. After all, as Jeane Kirkpatrick argued in 1979 against President Carter's support for removing Somoza, "there is no instance of a revolutionary 'socialist' or Communist society being democratized." It's literally impossible! What's a few tens of thousands of teachers, doctors, nurses, judges, farmers, American nuns, or the rule of law compared to keeping the reds down?
Chait is also correct to be disturbed by Sanders' cranky response to New York Times reporter Sydney Ember. It's simply outrageous for an interviewee to refuse to accept a questioner's framing of the issue. It's not as if she is a political reporter rather than a specialist in Latin America, or evinced a grotesque misunderstanding of Nicaraguan history. After all, as Chait points out, "she had just written a long New York Times story" about the issue, and therefore must have known what she was talking about. When has the New York Times ever supported imperialist war, or rated insults to American pride over the lives and liberty of poor foreigners?
If anything has plagued United States foreign policy over the last 50 years, it is being overly hesitant with the use of military force. Imagine having a commander-in-chief who says things like: "Does the government of the United States of America have the unilateral right to destroy the government of Nicaragua because the president of the United States and some members of Congress disagree with the Sandinistas?" Is the U.S. supposed to obey international law like some kind of peasant country? The very idea shocks the conscience. Bernie Sanders simply cannot be trusted with presidential power.