Bernie Sanders on ISIS

According to a February 2015 Gallup poll, Americans consider the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — abbreviated as ISIS or ISIL‎ — and the international terrorism they support to be the greatest threat to the United States’ vital interests. These are the main planks of Bernie’s position on ISIS:

A Global Threat That Must Be Stopped

Bernie has spoken many times about the very real threat that ISIS poses, and fully supports the notion that they need to be stopped:

What is ISIS and why does everyone keep talking about it?

ISIS is a major terrorist group currently attempting to establish an Islamic Caliphate—a group of countries under strict sharia, or Islamic, law—in the Levant region of the Middle East. They are led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and are comprised mostly by militant Sunnis. ISIS has a large standing army, powerful weaponry, and a strong foothold in many key cities and regions in Iraq and Syria, making them a serious threat to the stability and well-being of the Middle East.

Why is ISIS such a large threat?

There are conflicting reports on ISIS’ size, but estimates put their numbers anywhere between 50,000 and 200,000 soldiers. They are well-trained, religiously devoted to the cause, control large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory, and have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from captured Iraqi banks. This makes them the wealthiest terror organization on Earth to date. Even worse, because much of the land they’ve been conquering once belonged to the Iraqi Government — a government which had received $25 billion in military funding from the United States — ISIS now possesses vast arsenals of weapons and resources.

What makes ISIS so particularly awful?

They are leading a violent, bloody conquest to take over several countries in the middle east, and it’s all being fueled by unwavering religious extremism. A United Nations report states that the group “seeks to subjugate civilians under its control and dominate every aspect of their lives through terror, indoctrination, and the provision of services to those who obey.”

[Warning: The following links contain graphic and disturbing content.] More specifically, ISIS has been accused of doing countless suicide bombings, committing multiple civilian-massacres, sexually abusing and enslaving women and children, and executing soldiers. They also carry out many forms of public execution, including but not limited to: stoning to death, crucifixions, beheadings, burning people alive, and throwing people from tall buildings. Moreover, civilians that don’t follow Sunni Islam are exiled from their homes, if they are not first killed or taken hostage.

Many of these war-crimes have been broadcast live by ISIS themselves or used in recruitment videos. The New York Times described the propaganda arm of ISIS as “one of the slickest and most aggressive media operations in the Islamic world, according to experts who track jihadist materials.”

We Must Learn from the War in Iraq

According to Bernie, “the war in Iraq was, from our perspective, a disaster in terms of lost lives — 500,000 people coming home with various types of injuries and wounds, and huge [monetary] cost.”

Did Bernie support the invasion of Iraq like most other politicians at the time?

No. In 2002, as a congressman, Bernie spoke extensively about the dangers of going to war in Iraq, and warned about the destabilizing impact that a war would cause and how it might lead to a counter-insurgency like we’ve seen, first with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and now ISIS:

“I have not heard any estimates of how many young American men and women might die in such a war, or how many tens of thousands of women and children in Iraq might also be killed. As a caring nation, we should do everything we can to prevent the horrible suffering war will cause. War must be the last recourse…..[And] who will govern Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed? And what role will the US play in an ensuing civil war that will develop in that country? Will moderate governments in the region who have large Islamic fundamentalist populations be overthrown and replaced by extremists? Will the bloody conflict between Israel and the PA be exacerbated?”

He voted against the resolution that gave President George W. Bush permission to invade Iraq.

How has the Iraq war impacted Bernie’s position on dealing with ISIS?

In February 2015, in response to a war powers resolution — a formal request by President Barack Obama to authorize a military campaign against ISIS — Bernie released this statement:

“I voted against the war in Iraq because I feared very much the destabilizing impact it would have on the region. Today, after 13 years in Afghanistan and 12 years in Iraq, after the loss of almost 7,000 troops and the expenditure of trillions of dollars, I very much fear U.S. involvement in an expanding and never-ending quagmire in that region of the world.”

Learn more about Bernie’s record on this at the Iraq issue page.

A Coalition is Required

Bernie believes the United States cannot and should not lead the effort to defeat ISIS on its own, and believes a coalition effort with nations in the Middle East leading the effort is the best way to combat ISIS.

Who does Bernie believe should be leading the front against ISIS?

In a September 2014 interview, Bernie said:

“Now if this is such a crisis to the region—Saudis have a big air force, you know. They have a lot of F-16s, why aren’t they involved? Why isn’t Kuwait involved?… We went to war to put the Kuwaiti government back. Where are they? Where are the billionaires in Qatar? If these guys in the region think that ISIS is such a great threat, they gotta put some skin in the game.

In February 2015, Bernie expounded on the point that Middle Eastern powers should lead the coalition to defeat ISIS:

“I have supported U.S. airstrikes against ISIS and believe they are authorized under current law, and I support targeted U.S. military efforts to protect U.S. citizens. It is my firm belief, however, that the war against ISIS will never be won unless nations in the Middle East step up their military efforts and take more responsibility for the security and stability of their region. The United States and other western powers should support our Middle East allies, but this war will never be won unless Muslim nations in the region lead that fight. It is worth remembering that Saudi Arabia, for example, is a nation controlled by one of the wealthiest families in the world and has the fourth largest military budget of any nation. This is a war for the soul of Islam and the Muslim nations must become more heavily engaged.”