The world is burning up and we’re going to keep pouring money down the gullets of the armaments industries, without even suggesting an alternative?

By Tom Gallagher

First – Join the call for a Gaza ceasefire.

This one actually should be easy; you’ve got the wording down already. On May 16, 2021, in response to an earlier outbreak of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, you posted this on what was then called Twitter:

“The devastation in Gaza is unconscionable. We must urge an immediate ceasefire. The killing of Palestinians and Israelis must end. We must also take a hard look at nearly $4 billion a year in military aid to Israel. It is illegal for U.S. aid to support human rights violations.” 

Senator Bernie Sanders drew a crowd of over 13,000 people to his rally at the Boston Common on leap day.

I’m not the first one asking and I’m not asking for the first time. I’ve already signed a petition of your past convention delegates asking you to do so, and I see that 400 of your former campaign staffers have drawn up one of their own. Speaking for myself, I’m puzzled. In your November 1, 2023 Guardian opinion piece, “Gaza needs a humanitarian pause. Then we need a vision of where we go from here,” you wrote that “A stop to the bombing is critical to save innocent lives and secure the safe return of the hostages.” This seemed an important statement on the war at that time, so it was a bit surprising to some of us when you distinguished your position from those calling for a ceasefire today. Further, four days later you told CNN that while Israel has the right to defend itself, “What Israel does not, in my view, have a right to do is to kill thousands of thousands of innocent men, women and children who had nothing to do with that attack.”

So it’s not clear to me what the hang-up is. The atrocities involved in Hamas’s attacks on civilians that precipitated Israel’s current devastating bombing campaign have understandably hardened attitudes of many Israelis as well as those who support Israel in various ways and to varying degrees. Yet your recent statements show that they haven’t blinded you to the need to find a long term solution that ends the ongoing conflict, nor caused you to lose hope that one will be found.

You’ve said that “I don’t know how you can have a ceasefire, a permanent ceasefire, with an organization like Hamas, which is dedicated to turmoil and chaos and destroying the State of Israel.” At the same time, you surely know as well as anyone that even if Israel should actually succeed in extirpating Hamas, each day of continued bombing of Gaza increases the numbers of Palestinians who will join whatever organization inevitably succeeds Hamas in taking up the fight against Israel. In fact, you also told CNN that in regard to a proposed aid package to Israel, “It’s terribly important that, as we debate that, to say to Israel, ‘You want this money, you got to change your military strategy.”

Nothing lasts forever, including ceasefires. Perhaps one will stick, perhaps it won’t. You have been a supporter of an independent Palestine for some time. It seems to me that you’re getting hung on wording at the expense of conveying the continuity and importance of your position. I’m suggesting that you need to find a way past this because we very much need your voice at this time.

Second – Speak out for seeking an alternative to endless war in Ukraine.

One of the major roadblocks to mustering a Ukraine peace effort in Congress is the argument that it’s not “our war.” So while the U.S. is the major funder and supplier of Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s attack, it is up to Ukraine, and Ukraine only, to suggest any possibility of negotiations. And this argument is not necessarily just a dodge. In the end, there will be negotiations only if and when Ukraine (and Russia) agrees to them. But it is indeed a fact that the Ukrainian war effort is significantly and expensively dependent on American assistance, hence is ultimately dependent upon the support of the American people.

For better or worse, it has been obvious for some time now that both sides’ maximal goals are probably out of reach: Russia will not likely overrun Ukraine, and Ukraine will not likely regain Crimea by military means. And when Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, Commander-in Chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, states that “Just like in the First World War we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate,” and that there “will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough,” the American public will eventually ask whether and why we are simply funding World War I trench-style warfare with no end in sight.

There is also history here that needs to be considered but, in no small part due to Russia’s unprovoked invasion, is largely ignored. The November 1 New York Times touched upon it in an article entitled, “Some Ukrainians Helped the Russians. Their Neighbors Sought Revenge.” “In 2014,” the article read, “Russia was able to seize Crimea and back an insurgency in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine in part because many Ukrainians in those places helped it do so. There is mounting evidence that something comparable took place last year in Kherson: Russian troops overran most of the region in just a few weeks.”

Many Russian and Ukrainians living today remember when they were part of one country. And within living memory, Crimea was even part of Soviet Russia, before it was part of Soviet Ukraine. So what may be treason to a Ukrainian loyalist may simply be a return to the good old days for a Russian loyalist.

I’m not suggesting you advocate simply pulling the plug on Ukraine, Bernie, but someone in Congress has got to raise the question of whether they might be something to talk about here as an alternative to endless grinding warfare.

Third – Run, Bernie, Run!

As we all know, the polls are lately treating our most recent president very kindly and while we might consider the prospect of a second Trump administration even more absurd – and more dangerous than the first, we now know better than to dismiss it as impossible. As someone who has maintained his independent status, you know better than most that both of our major parties are quite capable of waxing anti-war – when they can hang the blame for the war on the other party – particularly if it isn’t going all that well.

Our concern should go deeper than garden variety opportunism, though, in that we need to stop and take a hard look at where we are. Do we really want to go into an election supporting two major foreign wars and asking American taxpayers to pay for them – indefinitely? A lot of people who were with you three and seven years ago are not going to stick around for a ride like that. A lot of people who were with Biden last time won’t either.

The world is burning up and we’re going to keep pouring money down the gullets of the armaments industries, without even suggesting an alternative? This is the hand we’re going to play in the 2024 election? I don’t like the reality, the message, or the odds. I know that you decided not to run again if Biden sought a second term. I know that it is ridiculously late in the game. But maybe not impossibly late. And, unfortunately, I’m pretty sure Joe Biden isn’t going to change between now and Election Day.

Bernie, if not you, who?

Tom Gallagher was a Bernie Sanders delegate elected from California’s 12th Congressional District. He is the author of “The Primary Route: How the 99 Percent Takes on the Military Industrial Complex.”