Bernie Sanders on Syria

Bernie has described the civil war in Syria as a “quagmire in a quagmire” and his policy on Syria has three facets: address the humanitarian crisis created by the war; end ISIS; and phase-out Assad, the main party responsible for starting and continuing the war.

Syria Is Complicated

This video explains how the war in Syria became so complicated:

In 2011, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used tanks and artillery to crush a peaceful protest movement for democratic reform inspired by the success of similar protest movements that toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

Since then, the battlefield has become incredibly complicated. Peaceful protesters and oppositionists took up arms to defend themselves from government attacks and became rebels, Al-Qaeda infiltrated from neighboring Iraq to become ISIS, Syrian Kurds took up arms to fight for greater autonomy, the U.S. is bombing ISIS targets and arming select rebel factions, and Russia is bombing rebels and ISIS on behalf of the Assad regime. The country is effectively partitioned between the warring parties with foreign governments backing or opposing different sides.

Map showing Russian and U.S. led strikes in Syria between September 30th and October 9th in 2015

Humanitarian Crisis

Since 2011, the war has killed an estimated 250,000 Syrians and displaced almost 50% of the Syrian population — an estimated 6 million people are internally displaced within the country and 4 million people have fled the country to become refugees.

Bernie opposes Republican-led efforts to block Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S. and says the U.S., Europe, and the Persian Gulf states have a moral obligation to welcome Syrian refugees who in many cases are fleeing their country with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.


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

“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.”

Ending ISIS is the one thing that all the warring parties in Syria (aside from ISIS itself) and their respective foreign government backers agree on. As Bernie has said, “What we’ve also got to do — and this is tough stuff — is work with Russia, work with Saudi Arabia, work with Iran, all of whom have common interests in opposition to ISIS.”

Phase Out Assad

Bernie has condemned Assad as a “horrendous dictator who has been at war with his own people” and said “his use of chemical weapons is abhorrent and a violation of international law.” Bernie understands that ending the civil war by means of a negotiated settlement requires Assad’s departure.