As Democrats prepare for their second round of presidential-primary debates this week, many of the contenders for the nomination are rolling out their foreign-policy platforms to try to pass the commander-in-chief test. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are competing to emerge as the standard-bearer of the party’s progressives, are at the head of that pack and have already given major speeches about global affairs. Unfortunately, their Middle East policies would be disastrous for the United States and would empower the very autocracies they claim to oppose.
Sanders and Warren have landed on strikingly similar foreign-policy stances. Both candidates would reorient American foreign policy toward defending embattled democracies against autocracies that are meddling in elections worldwide and are harnessing social media to turbocharge their traditional propaganda and misinformation activities. Both also believe that it is vitally important to ensure that American foreign and domestic policies work in greater harmony to benefit the American people.
Sanders, who in the 2016 primary was completely untroubled by the similarity of his and Donald Trump’s NATO policies, has this time around chosen Saudi Arabia as his foreign-policy test case and as the issue on which he intends to draw a contrast with Trump. Accordingly, he’s gone after the House of Saud hammer and tongs, cosponsoring legislation to pare back U.S. support for the Saudi intervention in Yemen and announcing that “it is time for us to thoroughly re-evaluate that relationship” with Riyadh. Warren has followed suit.
That this stance is politically popular is not surprising. The American desire to embrace democratic ideals in their foreign policy and to oppose autocracy dates back at least as far as Thomas Jefferson’s sympathy for the French Revolution. Moreover, the Saudis have never been ideologically comfortable partners: Their regime’s principles are alien to most Americans, their support for Wahhabism is dangerous, and their human-rights record is gruesome. Even relatively moderate Democratic candidates such as former vice president Joe Biden have proclaimed their distaste for the Saudis.