Michael Bloomberg, to borrow a line from Elizabeth Warren, is running in the wrong presidential primary.
The billionaire ex-mayor of New York formally announced his candidacy over the weekend — but Warren’s recent rebuke of Joe Biden seems an even better fit for Bloomberg.
Remember: Biden, for all his sins, is a lifelong Democrat. Bloomberg, however, served as an elected Republican between 2001 and 2007. This was a period during which he enthusiastically endorsed the reelection of George W. Bush and also addressed the Conservative Party’s annual conference in the U.K.
Bloomberg is so right-wing that he makes Biden sound like Bernie. Much has been made of Bloomberg’s blind defense of Wall Street, including his astonishing claim that it was Congress and “not the banks that created the mortgage crisis”; his ridiculous comparison of Warren’s modest wealth tax to Venezuela; his cynically timed apology for presiding over unconstitutional “stop-and-frisk” practices in New York, as well as his shameful failure to apologize to the city’s Muslim residents for subjecting them to an Orwellian surveillance regime.
But what of his foreign policy? Bloomberg is an ardent free trader and champion of globalization, but what else? As Nathan Robinson of Current Affairs has pointed out, “Foreign policy is one of the most important parts of a president’s role.” Writing in The Guardian, Robinson noted, “U.S. policy has the potential to destroy lives and undermine popular movements, or to save lives and support those movements. It is critical to have a president who will take on human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia and Israel, and who will stand up for authentic democracy around the world.”
Bloomberg, though, has been an abject failure on each of these issues. Take the war in Iraq. The then-Republican mayor of New York not only backed the illegal invasion and occupation in March 2003, but he also supported perhaps the most egregiously dishonest and bizarre justification for the war: that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. This, of course, was a brazen lie told by the likes of Dick Cheney and Fox News. But it was also publicly endorsed by Bloomberg.
As Jim Dwyer of the New York Times recalled in 2007:
In May 2004, a year after the invasion, Mr. Bloomberg served as host to Laura Bush, who had come to New York in an effort to rally support for the war effort. Mrs. Bush visited a memorial for Sept. 11th victims. Standing next to Mrs. Bush, with the Statue of Liberty in the background, Mr. Bloomberg … suggested that New Yorkers could find justification for the war at the World Trade Center site, even though no Iraqi is known to have had a hand in the Sept. 11 attacks. “Don’t forget that the war started not very many blocks from here,” he said that day in 2004.
Three years later, in March 2007, the then-mayor of New York backed the Bush administration against congressional Democrats who were trying to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Bloomberg called the proposed legislation irresponsible and “untenable.” Does this sound like a future Democratic president who plans to end the “forever wars”?
Then there is the Israel-Palestine conflict. Bloomberg is a longstanding supporter of Israel and especially Benjamin Netanyahu, who he has called a friend and wished him well on his birthday. During both the 2009 and 2014 Israeli assaults on Gaza, Bloomberg flew to Israel to express solidarity with Tel Aviv. “Israel is doing the right thing in defending itself,” he said in 2009. “Israel was entirely justified” in attacking Gaza, he declared in 2014.
You might argue that Bloomberg was only parroting the standard liberal defense of Israel but, no, he went much further than that. During the 2014 bombardment of Gaza, in which more more than 500 Palestinian kids were killed, Bloomberg told CBS News that Israel “cannot have a proportional response” when fighting Hamas.
Only last week, Democrats sitting in the audience at the presidential debate in Atlanta loudly applauded Sen. Bernie Sanders when he said, “We must treat the Palestinian people … with the respect and dignity that they deserve.” Do these Democratic voters really want a presidential candidate who has no interest in offering Palestinians such respect or dignity? Who backs disproportionate attacks on them?
Sticking with the Middle East, also consider Bloomberg’s awful stance on Saudi Arabia. During the most recent debate, Democratic presidential candidates, including Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, fell over one another to attack the Saudis for their role in both the Yemen war and the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Even Biden, who served in a Democratic administration that sold more weapons to Saudi Arabia than any other in modern American history, took to the stage in Atlanta to denounce Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, for ordering the murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi while promising to make the Gulf kingdom a “pariah.”
Bloomberg, on the other hand, helped launder the reputation of the crown prince in March 2018, when he hosted the reckless autocrat in New York and smiled for photos with him in a Starbucks.
Have Bloomberg’s views of MBS or Saudi Arabia changed in the wake of the Khashoggi killing last October? Nope. Two months ago, the former mayor sat down for an interview with the Saudi-owned newspaper, Arab News, and heaped praise on the economic and social reforms introduced by the crown prince and his father, King Salman, claiming that the Saudi royals had “made progress” and were “going in the right direction.”
No mention of Khashoggi’s murder. No mention of war crimes in Yemen. No mention of imprisoned women’s rights activists.
But if you think his views on Israeli or Saudi Arabia are bad, check out his position on China. Bloomberg has spent years lauding Chinese efforts against climate change — which have been far from successful — while preventing journalists at Bloomberg News from publishing pieces critical of the regime in Beijing.
On the former mayor’s Twitter feed, you will find plenty of tweets praising Chinese officials and business leaders but zero mentions of the Hong Kong protesters or the Uighur Muslims. (Biden, to be fair to him, has said the “internment of nearly 1 million Uighur Muslims is among the worst abuses of human rights in the world today.”)
In an interview with PBS in September, Bloomberg made what should be considered a disqualifying statement on the subject of China. “The Communist Party wants to stay in power in China and they listen to the public,” Bloomberg told interviewer Margaret Hoover. “Xi Jinping is not a dictator. He has to satisfy his constituents or he’s not going to survive.”
Got that? The unelected president for life of communist China is “not a dictator,” says the person who wants to be the next Democratic president of the United States.
It isn’t just domestically, therefore, that a Bloomberg presidency would be a regressive disaster; on foreign policy, it is clear even from his limited record that he would undermine, rather than advance, the cause of democracy and human rights, and peace in the Middle East.
There is already a right-wing billionaire in the White House who lacks foreign policy experience; supported the Iraq War debacle; and considers the prime minister of Israel, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and the president of China to be among his closest friends and allies.
Do we really need another one?