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Debating foreign policy contrasts of Clinton and Sanders

Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton walks away after speaking about Iran at the Brookings Institute September 9, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton walks away after speaking about Iran at the Brookings Institute September 9, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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The foreign policies of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders offer Democrat voters contrasting worldviews and different voting records.

Sanders has underlined he was on the right side of history when, unlike then-Senator Clinton, he voted against the Iraq War authorization in 2002. Clinton has defended that vote, as it was qualified support to back up U.S. demands for weapons inspections. Still, that is just one of many foreign policy decisions that portray Clinton as an interventionist compared to Sanders.

Last month when Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D - HI) endorsed Sanders she explained why: “There is a clear contrast between our two candidates with regard to my strong belief that we must end the interventionist, regime change policies that have cost us so much."

Clinton's foreign policy advisors argue Sanders lacks a strategy to defeat ISIS in Syria. In a letter written by Clinton advisors they state: “We are concerned that Senator Sanders has not thought through these crucial national security issues that can have profound consequences for our security."

How would the two candidates differ in their handling of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? What are their respective views of the United Nations? How do foreign policy views differ among voting Democrats? And how much do they prioritize it?

Interview Highlights

The critics of Bernie Sanders say that he doesn’t seem particularly engaged –intellectually or his interest level – when it comes to foreign policy. [They say] the themes he’s most comfortable with -- and cares the most about-- are the domestic ones. Do you have any concerns that if he were elected president he would shunt aside foreign policy matters to focus almost exclusively on domestic ones?

Katrina vanden Heuvel: What I regret is that there has not been a foreign policy debate in the democratic primaries. The last debates have essentially been foreign policy by bumper sticker, [but] we haven’t fully heard from the candidates. 

So you see him as highly engaged, you think he’d put a lot of time and energy into foreign affairs?

Katrina vanden Heuvel: I think there’s this mantra out there that Secretary Clinton has the experience, but I have to say, you’ve got to wonder sometimes, what’s more important judgment or experience? We don’t want to relitigate the past, but Senator Kennedy once said the most important vote he ever cast was [a vote] opposing the Iraq War authorization.

Brian Katulis' response to Katrina vanden Heuvel's comments about Hillary Clinton 

It’s easy to critique in hindsight, but you also have to look at the full picture. You have to look at the alternatives that people are proposing and [you have to look at] how we [can] move forward. I think it’s fair, but I think there’s more room for criticism for somebody who has much more experience on foreign policy than Senator Sanders has demonstrated.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

This story has been updated.


Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor and Publisher of “The Nation;” Tweets from @KatrinaNation; wrote "Bernie Sanders, Foreign Policy Realist" in today's Washington Post

Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; penned "Against Disengagement" in Democracy journal