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Bernie Sanders Criticizes Trump Over Killing Of Iran's Top General


They said retaliation was coming, and it did. Overnight, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles targeting two U.S. military bases in Iraq. The attack comes less than a week after a U.S. drone strike killed Iran's top military commander, Qassem Soleimani.

Democratic primary contenders have been weighing in on the tension between the U.S. and Iran, including Senator Bernie Sanders. I spoke with him yesterday before the Iranian attack on the U.S. bases in Iraq, and I asked him if the, quote, "imminent attack" that the Trump administration had cited was justification for killing Soleimani.

BERNIE SANDERS: No, and I haven't seen any of the evidence being brought forth which justifies their claim. The bottom line is that the war in Iraq was the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of America. And I fear very, very much that Trump is moving us in exactly the same direction as I saw in 2002, 2003 and getting us into a war with Iran.

And if that happens, what we will see is loss of more American lives, the loss of lives around the world, trillions more spent in another endless war. And as a United States senator, I will do everything I can to prevent that from happening.

MARTIN: It is true, though, that Iran has not exactly been acting in its best behavior. It's been exhibiting a lot of dangerous behaviors. What would you do differently if you were president to rein in Iran?

SANDERS: Well, you know, Iran is - the leadership of Iran are not nice guys. And you're quite right; they have been involved in a lot of ugly activities. But so has the leadership in North Korea, which has killed hundreds of thousands of their own people. So has Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, who killed an American journalist and is a thug and a murderer.

When you go around assassinating a government official, you unleash international anarchy, and all the rules are gone, and anybody can do anything that they want. And I get very, very nervous about that.

MARTIN: Would you, Senator, as president, keep any U.S. troops in Iraq?

SANDERS: Here you have a situation where the United States has lost 4,500 troops, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, we have spent trillions of dollars, and now we're being booted out of the country we came to, so-called, liberate.

And then you have Trump the other day saying, if they throw us out, we're going to have trillions of dollars of sanctions on them. And the next day, you have somebody in the State Department or in the Pentagon saying, oh, we're leaving because we respect the sovereignty of the people of Iraq. They want us out. We're going. And then the next day, you have somebody say, oh, that was a mistake. We're staying.

So, you know, this is the chaos that takes place in an administration that acts impulsively, that has no plans for the future. I...

MARTIN: But if it was on you, what would be your plans? Would you keep U.S. troops in Iraq?

SANDERS: Oh, no. We would not be in Iraq right now. We would've been out before. But you don't leave because you're...

MARTIN: But, you know, you can't look backwards. You have to deal with the present facts.

SANDERS: Well, look; well, I am not the president. Trump is the president right now, and he is causing all of this chaos. I think that endless wars and the so-called war on terrorism has, by and large, been a disaster. It's created more instability around the world, incredible loss of life and the expenditure of trillions of dollars.

So what you need to do is end endless wars by withdrawing American troops in an appropriate, well-thought-out way - not through a tweet, not by getting booted out, not by a phone call with somebody. You do it working with your allies and working with, in fact, the people of Iraq to make the withdrawal as consistent and as positive as possible.

MARTIN: Would you keep a force on the ground - a special operations force - to maintain the pressure against ISIS?

SANDERS: What I worry about right now is Trump continues to destroy our relationships all over the world. Iraq is in the process of booting American troops out, so how open they will be to continued having American involvement in there remains to be seen.

MARTIN: But I guess what I'm trying to clarify is, would you be OK with pulling America back from the Middle East, Iraq in particular, and allowing Iran to then fill that void?

SANDERS: Well, Iran now already has enormous influence in Iraq. And I think the time is now to withdraw American troops. But unlike Trump...

MARTIN: So you would be OK with them having even more influence.

SANDERS: Hold - but unlike Trump, I believe in diplomacy. I believe in negotiations. The goal is to bring countries together to try to address international conflict without war. And Trump is cutting our ties with major countries all over the world, making it more difficult for us to do that.

MARTIN: I'm interested in a big-picture answer from you about how you do see America's role in the world. Should America be active in foreign conflicts in order to promote its own interests, in order to promote the interests of its allies?

SANDERS: Well, the United States is the wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth. We should use our wealth and our resources, through carrots and sticks, to bring countries together, to end the kind of terrible conflicts that we are seeing all over the world, to strengthen international organizations where people can sit down and argue rather than shoot guns or drop bombs against each other.

Now, I'm not a pacifist. There are times when war may be necessary. But I believe, as somebody who as a young person opposed the Vietnam War, which was such a disaster for my generation, as somebody who helped lead the effort against the war in Iraq, which was such a disaster for our younger people, that I will do everything I can to resolve international conflict through diplomacy, through negotiations and not through the continuation of endless wars. Enough is enough.

MARTIN: Senator Bernie Sanders, thank you so much for talking with us.

SANDERS: Rachel, thank you very much for the opportunity.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.