Saudi Arabia is “not an ally of the United States,” according to Bernie Sanders, the independent senator and former Democratic presidential hopeful.
Sanders broke with the bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill in an exclusive interview with The Intercept. The United States has long considered Saudi Arabia to be a loyal friend, supporter, and partner in the so-called war on terror.
Sanders issued a scathing denunciation of the Gulf kingdom, which has recently embarked on a new round of domestic repression.
“I consider [Saudi Arabia] to be an undemocratic country that has supported terrorism around the world, it has funded terrorism. … They are not an ally of the United States.”
The Vermont senator accused the “incredibly anti-democratic” Saudis of “continuing to fund madrasas” and spreading “an extremely radical Wahhabi doctrine in many countries around the world.”
“They are fomenting a lot of hatred,” he added. In June, Sanders joined 46 other senators in voting to try and block the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led coalition backed by the U.S. has been bombing Iranian-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen since 2015 and is accused of killing thousands of Yemeni civilians.
Speaking to The Intercept, Sanders called for a “rethink, in terms of American foreign policy … vis-a-vis Iran and Saudi Arabia.” The senator suggested the United States should consider a pivot toward long-standing adversary Iran and away from traditional ally Saudi Arabia. The latter, he claimed, “has played a very bad role internationally, but we have sided with them time and time and time again, and yet Iran, which just held elections, Iran, whose young people really want to reach out to the West, we are … continuing to put them down.”
Sanders said he had “legitimate concerns … about Iran’s foreign policy” but wanted a more “even-handed” approach from the United States to the “Iran and Saudi conflict.”
In a wide-ranging interview ahead of his set-piece speech on foreign policy in Fulton, Missouri, on Thursday morning, the independent senator said the United States is “complicit” in Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and said he would be willing to consider voting to cut U.S. aid to the Jewish state. He also offered tentative support for a “face-to-face” meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un; described U.S. drone strikes against innocent civilians as one of the “root causes” of terrorism; and called for a re-examination of U.S. foreign policy “unilateralism.”
Asked if he agreed with ESPN’s Jemele Hill and The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, who have both called Trump a “white supremacist,” Sanders said he preferred to use the word “racist” to describe the president.
“I think Donald Trump has strong racist tendencies,” he said. “And I say that not just because of his absurd and horrific remarks on Charlottesville, but because … when you lead the effort to try to de-legitimize … the first African-American president in our history, I think that’s racist. When you argue about the Central Park 5, I think that’s racist — so I think it’s fair to say he has strong racist tendencies.”
The Intercept will publish the full interview with Sanders on Friday.