Bernie Sanders on US-Iran History

In Foreign Affairs, Beware Unintended Consequences

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | May 27, 2006                    
[Updated September 18, 2021]

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on Iran, U.S. Foreign Policy

Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-described “Democratic socialist” from Vermont, former Mayor of Burlington and Congressman, has served in the House of Representatives longer than any other Independent in its history. In 2016 and 2020 he ran for President of the United States as a Democrat, garnering a massive following among progressives.

After over four decades in politics, Sanders is endowed with a thoroughly progressive track record. He strongly opposed the disastrous Vietnam war in the early 1970’s, and was one of the few to vote against the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the Iraq War Resolution of 2002 on grounds which now appear prophetic.

At the time, years before ISIS rampaged the area, Sanders asked, “Who will govern Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed and what role will the U.S. play in ensuing a civil war that could develop in that country? Will moderate governments in the region who have large Islamic fundamentalist populations be overthrown and replaced by extremists?”

The same year, prior to the attack against Iraq, Sanders reminded Congress of the “unintended consequences” of past U.S. interventions, including the 1953 coup in Iran, among other misadventures.

In 2007, Sanders introduced a resolution to demand that the Bush administration consult Congress before initiating war with Iran, a potentially “horrendous disaster” which would be “the last thing in the world we want.”


Sanders has called the U.S. invasion of Iraq “the worst foreign policy blunder in modern American history.”

As the Iran talks developed, Sen. Sanders continued to vigorously defend the diplomatic course in nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He conscientiously skipped Binyamin Netanyahu’s March 2015 speech before Congress on Iran, delivered by the Israeli Premier without first consulting with Pres. Obama. Sanders called the snub “insulting”, “completely unacceptable”, and “not a good thing for our country.”

When 47 Republican senators signed a defiant open letter to Iran only days later, Sanders condemned it as a deliberate attempt to “sabotage” a deal and make war inevitable.

During his extremely popular 2016 Presidential campaign, Sanders conjured the overthrow of Mossadegh (along with Allende, Arbenz and others) eight times — including three Democratic debates and one Town Hall viewed by millions on television. The extent to which he has inserted this history and its dangerous aftermath is unprecedented in the history of U.S. Presidential elections.

Sanders believes the fight against global terrorism, such as the threat posed by ISIS, is a responsibility which should be shared principally among a coalition of nations — particularly in the Middle East itself — not a burden carried by the United States alone.

“We cannot and should not be involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East,” says the Senator.

Mossadegh & Arbenz & Lumumba & Sukarno & Allende... shirts

Mossadegh & Arbenz & Lumumba & Sukarno & Allende... t-shirts

Democratic Debate | Charleston, South Carolina
February 25, 2020

Under fire for his past comments lauding the Cuban literacy program under Castro, Sanders reminded the audience that Obama, too, made similar remarks. Joe Biden fiercely protested, inaccurately, that Obama did not do so (Obama arguably went even further than Sanders, see attached video below). Note that Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, who died the day of the debate, was defended by Biden in 2011 as a U.S. ally but “I would not refer to him as a dictator.”

Margaret Brennan [CBS News]: You’ve praised the Chinese Communist Party for lifting more people out of extreme poverty than any other country. You also have a track record of expressing sympathy for Socialist governments in Cuba and in Nicaragua. Can Americans trust that a Democratic Socialist President will not give authoritarians a free pass?

Bernie Sanders: I have opposed authoritarianism all over the world. Now I was really amazed at what Mayor Bloomberg just said a moment ago. He said that the Chinese government is responsive to the Politburo, but who the hell is the Politburo responsive to? Who elects the Politburo? You got a real dictatorship there. Of course you have a dictatorship in Cuba.

What I said is what Barack Obama said in terms of Cuba, that Cuba made progress on education. Yes, I think — [someone boos] Really? Really? Literacy programs are bad? What Barack Obama said was they made great progress on education and health care. That was Barack Obama.

Occasionally it might be [a] good idea to be honest about American foreign policy, and that includes the fact that America has overthrown governments all over the world — in Chile, in Guatemala, in Iran, and when dictatorships, whether it is the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that, but you don’t trade love letters with them.

Joe Biden: Look, Barack Obama was abroad, he was in a town meeting. He did not in any way suggest that there was anything positive about the Cuban government. He acknowledged that they did increase life expectancy, but he went on and condemned the dictatorship. He went on and condemned the people who in fact, had run that committee.

He also made sure, to make it clear — and by the way, I called to make sure that I was prepared — I never say anything about my private conversations with him, but, the fact of the matter is he, in fact, does not, did not, has never embraced an authoritarian regime and does not now. [Pointing at Bernie] This man said that, in fact, he thought it was — he did not condemn what they did.

Bernie Sanders: That is untrue, categorically untrue.

Joe Biden: What did you tell him?

Bernie Sanders: I have condemned authoritarianism whether it is the people in Saudi Arabia that the United States government has loved for years—

Joe Biden: How about Cuba and Nicaragua?

Bernie Sanders: Cuba, Nicaragua, authoritarianism of any stripe is bad, but that is different than saying that governments occasionally do things that are good.

Bernie Sanders Speaks to Students
May 25, 2019

On May 21 2003, C-SPAN broadcast Sen. Sanders’ talk before a classroom of high school students in Washington, DC. 16 years later, the Sanders campaign tweeted out this clip of him explaining the history of U.S. interference in Latin America for corporate interests.

Interview with The New York Times
May 17, 2019

‘I Did My Best to Stop American Foreign Policy’: Bernie Sanders on the 1980s, a phone interview with Sydney Ember.

Q. In the top of our story, we talk about the rally you attended in Managua and a wire report at the time said that there were anti-American chants from the crowd.

The United States at that time — I don’t know how much you know about this — was actively supporting the Contras to overthrow the government. So that there’s anti-American sentiment? I remember that, I remember that event very clearly.

You do recall hearing those chants? I think the wire report has them saying, “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die.”

They were fighting against American —— Huh huh —— yes, what is your point?

I wanted to ——

Are you shocked to learn that there was anti-American sentiment?

My point was I wanted to know if you had heard that.

I don’t remember, no. Of course there was anti-American sentiment there. This was a war being funded by the United States against the people of Nicaragua. People were being killed in that war.

Do you think if you had heard that directly, you would have stayed at the rally?

I think Sydney, with all due respect, you don’t understand a word that I’m saying.

Do you believe you had an accurate view of President Ortega at the time? [Daniel Ortega] I’m wondering if you’re ——

This was not about Ortega. Do you understand? I don’t know if you do or not. Do you know that the United States overthrew the government of Chile way back? Do you happen to know that? Do you? I’m asking you a simple question.

What point do you want to make?

My point is that fascism developed in Chile as a result of that. The United States overthrew the government of Guatemala, a democratically elected government, overthrew the government of Brazil. I strongly oppose U.S. policy, which overthrows governments, especially democratically elected governments, around the world. So this issue is not so much Nicaragua or the government of Nicaragua.

The issue was, should the United States continue a policy of overthrowing governments in Latin America and Central America? I believed then that it was wrong, and I believe today it is wrong. That’s why I do not believe the United States should overthrow the government of Venezuela.

Interview with The New Yorker
April 13, 2019

Bernie Sanders Imagines a Progressive New Approach to Foreign Policy, a profile of the 2020 Presidential candidate by Benjamin Wallace-Wells.

“In early April, I met with Sanders at his Senate offices, in Washington. Spring was already in effect—the cherry blossoms along the tidal basin were still in bloom but had begun to crinkle and fade—and talk among the young staffers milling around his offices was of the intensity of Sanders’s early campaign, of who would be travelling how many days over the next month and who would have to miss Easter. It was my first encounter with Sanders during this campaign. Basic impression: same guy. He shook my hand with a grimace, and interrupted my first question when he recognized the possibility for a riff, on the significance of a Senate vote on Yemen. His essential view of foreign policy seemed to be that the American people did not really understand how dark and cynical it has been—“how many governments we have overthrown,” as Sanders told me. “How many people in the United States understand that we overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran to put in the Shah? Which then led to the Revolution. How many people in this country do you think know that? So we’re going to have to do a little bit of educating on that.”

Senate Hearing on War Powers
June 16, 2018

Sen. Sanders called for the reassertion of Congressional authority over the authorization of war and foreign intervention, citing three notable examples when it didn’t. However, Congress could not have acted with regard to the 1953 coup, as that was a Deep State project of the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department.

BERNIE SANDERS: Now some people may think that this is an interesting abstract discussion, we have brilliant constitutional scholars, wonderful intellectual debate.

Well let me assure every person here that the abdication of Congress to its responsibilities over war has had incredibly dire and horrific consequences for the people of our country and in fact the world.

So I want to bring this down to earth and away from an abstract, although enormously important constitutional discussion.

I want to give you three examples in recent American history where Congress did not ask the right questions, abdicated its responsibility, and the consequences were enormous.

Very few Americans know that when we deal with Iran, very much in the news right now, how many people know that in 1953, the United States along with the British overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh, reinstalling authoritarian rule under the Shah.

In 1979, the Shah was overthrown in the Iranian revolution, bringing to power an extremist anti-American government.

In 1953, the United States government, without congressional approval, thought that it could simply remove the government of Iran in order to protect wealthy oil interests. And what has been the consequences of that over the years? Congress abdicated its responsibility.

And the second one more relevant to my generation, was the war in Vietnam. In 1964 — now Iran took place under Eisenhower, Republican — in 1964, Lyndon Johnson, Democrat, otherwise in my view a very great President. But in this instance cited an attack on a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Tonkin as a pretext for escalating the U.S. intervention in Vietnam.

But we now know from his own recordings that Johnson himself doubted that story about that attack. Johnson misled both Congress and the American people into a war that resulted in the loss of over 50,000 American soldiers and over a million Vietnamese. Congress was lied to, there was no serious debate about American intervention in that war.

Third example, more recently, that we all remember was Iraq. Today it is now broadly acknowledged that the Iraq War was a foreign policy blunder of enormous magnitude. In this case the Bush administration lied to the American people, claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The result of that war: the loss of thousands of brave American soldiers, the displacement of millions of people in the Middle East, and bringing us to where we are right now.

In other words, what we have seen is time and time again, disasters occur when administrations, Democrat and Republican, mislead Congress and the American people, and when Congress fails to do its constitutional job in terms of asking the hard questions of whether or not we should be in a war. And I think we need to ask that very hard question today.

And here is the point that I hope the American people are asking themselves: Is the war on terror a perpetual, never-ending war, necessary to keep us safe?

Breaking the Deal: Live Town Hall
May 14, 2018

SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: I think this is probably one of the most catastrophic decisions we’ll see coming out of the Trump administration, and I think that’s saying a lot. I just came from a meeting in Europe where I had a discussion with a very well placed Iranian and he likened this move to the 1953 coup of the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mossadegh, that’s when the U.S. and Britain overthrew this democratically elected government...

BERNIE SANDERS: Let me interrupt you, Suzanne and do you think many people in America know that in 1953, the United States and Great Britain overthrew the democratically elected government?

SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: I don’t think it’s common knowledge, Senator, but I think it’s important to look at the U.S.-Iran relationship in its full history and as you’ll find, there’s a long list of grievances on both sides. This one I just mentioned, and for him to compare it to that, I think it really does demonstrate how much this has impacted the psychology of the Iranian people. With this Iran Deal don’t forget, they saw hope as a way to improve their economy, join the global economy, become more engaged with the West, and I think the people of Iran really look to this deal in a very positive way, and with this careless, reckless move, Trump has just wiped that out. When you travel to the Middle East I’m always struck, when I travel to Iran, the people of Iran actually look very kindly on Americans. They don’t like our policy but they sure like us as people and I’m afraid what Trump has done is one step towards losing the hearts and minds of the Iranian people and how they think of Americans.

Interview with The Young Turks
May 10, 2018

CENK UYGUR: What are the different topics you guys are going to talk about in regards to Iran and this deal?

BERNIE SANDERS: I think this one we’re going to do it in a little bit different way. I think what we want to talk about is an area I think people know very little about, is the history of modern U.S.-Iranian relationships. I wonder — and what unintended consequences are about, Cenk.

You know, you have politicians and Presidents throughout history giving these great, bellicose speeches, and their poll numbers go up, ‘Oh they’re gonna go to war and they’re gonna bring freedom and democracy to everybody’, you know we heard that in terms of the war in Vietnam, we heard that in terms of the war in Iraq, but I think people don’t even know that back in 1953, the United States along with the British overthrew a democratically elected Prime Minister, named Mohammad Mossadegh, reinstalled the Shah of Iran, who was a hated despot, which led to the Iranian revolution — the Islamic revolution of ‘79 and the taking of hostages, and all the way to where we are today, so let’s get a sense of unintended consequences, know something of the history of the region.

Westminster College Speech on Foreign Policy
September 21, 2017

Now here is a truth that you don’t often hear about in the newspapers, or on television, or in the halls of Congress. But it is a truth that we must face.

Far too often, American intervention and the use of American military power has produced unintended consequences which have caused incalculable harm. Yes, it is reasonably easy to engineer the overthrow of a government or a regime. It is far harder, however, to know the long term impact that that action will have. And let me give you just a very few examples:

In 1953 — and I would say the vast majority of the American people don’t know this — but in 1953, the United States, on behalf of Western oil interests, working with the United Kingdom, supported the overthrow of Iran’s elected, Iran’s elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, and the re-installation of the Shah of Iran, who led a corrupt, brutal and unpopular government. In other words, we overthrew a democratically elected government, installed an undemocratic, unpopular one. In 1979, the Shah was overthrown by revolutionaries led by Ayatollah Khomeini, and the Islamic Republic of Iran was created. What would Iran look like today if their democratic government had not been overthrown? What impact did that American-led coup have on the entire region? What consequences are we still living with today, as a result of that action?

That was back in 1953. In 1973, the United States supported the coup against the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende which was led by General Augusto Pinochet. The result of that coup was almost 20 years of brutal, authoritarian military rule, and the disappearance and torture of thousands of Chileans, and the intensification of anti-Americanism in Latin America.

Elsewhere in Latin America, the logic of the Cold War led the United States to support murderous regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala, which resulted in brutal and long-lasting civil wars that killed hundreds of thousands of men, women and children.

In Vietnam, based on a discredited “domino theory,” the United States replaced the French in intervening in a civil war, which resulted in the deaths of millions of Vietnamese in support of a corrupt, repressive South Vietnamese government. And we, of course, must never forget that 58,000 thousand brave young Americans also died in that war.

Most recently, in Iraq, based on a similarly mistaken analysis of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, the United States invaded and occupied a country in the heart of the Middle East. In doing so, we upended the regional order of the Middle East and unleashed forces across the region and the world that we will be dealing with for decades to come.

Now these are just a few examples of American foreign policy and interventionism which proved to be counter-productive.

Interview with The Intercept
September 19, 2017

The day before delivering his speech on foreign policy at Westminster College in Missouri, Sanders was interviewed in his Washington, DC Senate office by Mehdi Hasan. The article, Bernie Sanders To Democrats: This Is What a Radical Foreign Policy Looks Like, was published online on September 22nd.

“After referencing the Iraq War — “one of the great foreign policy blunders in the history of this country” — the senator touches on another historic blunder which, to his credit, few of his fellow senators would be willing to discuss, let alone critique. “In 1953, the United States, with the British, overthrew [Mohammed] Mossadegh, the prime minister of Iran – and this was to benefit British oil interests,” he reminds me. “The result was the shah came into power, who was a very ruthless man, and the result of that was that we had the Iranian Revolution, which takes us to where we are right now.”

Interview on Democracy Now!
Philadelphia — November 28, 2016

AMY GOODMAN: And I know we just have a few minutes, but this is an historic period. Fidel Castro just died on Friday at the age of 90. During the campaign, Hillary Clinton tried to redbait you by raising your support of the Sandinistas and talking about you being favorable towards Fidel Castro. But I was wondering if you could talk about the significance of the life and legacy of Fidel Castro and talk about the U.S. in relation to Latin America today.

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, it’s not just Latin America. You know, I think what we can say—and I’ve been to Cuba two or three times. I think Jane and I went in 1989 for the first time, and I’ve been back a couple of times, and Jane had some educational work in Cuba. A lot of positive things that can be said. Their healthcare system, for a Third World country, is quite good. It’s universal: all people have healthcare without any expense. Last time I was there, I visited a hospital, where they do very, very serious and good work. They come up with a lot of new drugs, actually, in Cuba, I believe. Their educational system is strong. But in truth, their economy is in pretty bad shape. And in truth, you don’t do very well if you dissent in Cuba. So I think, you know, if you look over Castro’s long life, he overthrew a terrible dictator, supported by the United States of America, Batista. Some very positive changes came about. And we can argue ‘till the cows come home to what degree American interference created the kind of society that exists in Cuba today. So that you could say there are some positive things in Cuba, some very negative things. Fifty years after the revolution, people still can't dissent with freedom. The economy is terrible.

But I think it raises the question—I was on a Sunday show yesterday, and somebody was raising a quote that I made about Castro 30 years ago. And, you know, somehow, they have decided that Fidel Castro is the only—that Cuba is the only nondemocratic country in the world. See, Saudi Arabia is fine. [audience laughter] Many other countries in the Middle East are fine... And what we need to do, as a nation, is really start educating the American people. You know, Amy, I’m sure, that in 1954, way back when, we overthrew a democratically elected government in Guatemala, which unleashed decades and decades and decades of horror in that country, supported terrible people in El Salvador. [Contras] We engineered the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile—democratically elected, the first time a person democratically elected in Chile was overthrown through the United States and the CIA. But those issues somehow don’t quite make it onto ABC. But I think it is important to understand our role in the world. In Iran, we overthrew—what was it? 1954?—Mr. Mossadegh...


BERNIE SANDERS: ‘53, Mr. Mossadegh. And how many people are familiar with that? Did people know that? Good. Not a lot of people—certainly, young people don’t know that. But in 1953, at the bequest of British oil companies, [BP was the only oil company involved] the United States government helped engineer a coup of a guy who was democratically elected, who was thinking about nationalizing some of the oil industry there. [The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company refinery in Abadan was nationalized in April 1951] He was replaced by the Shah, who turned out to be a very brutal, brutal man, which then resulted in what we have today with Khomeini coming to power. But these are issues that virtually do—correct me if I’m wrong—have you seen many shows about that on NBC? You know, it’s just not something to be talked about.

AMY GOODMAN: Tune into Democracy Now!

BERNIE SANDERS: All right. [audience laughter]

AMY GOODMAN: It’s a good show. [cheers and applause]

Live Interview on The Young Turks
March 23, 2016

CENK UYGUR: ...Should you fight back harder, [during candidate interviews] and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, you’re biased against me and I’m going to call you out on it’?

BERNIE SANDERS ....Maybe I should say, ‘hey, shut up, what you’re talking about is irrelevant to where the American people are. Let me tell you what’s going on in this country.’ Maybe I should do that. But trust me, virtually every interview we do, we have to fight.

You know, in this one, [with CNN, see below] I think what I ended up doing is saying what I was talking about is whether or not we think it’s proper for the United States to go around overthrowing governments. Whether it’s the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, whether it’s overthrowing Salvador Allende, overthrowing Mossadegh in Iran, or whatever it may be...

The Final Five
CNN — March 21, 2016

ANDERSON COOPER: I want to follow up to a question you were asked at the debate in Miami recently. The moderators played a video of you from way back in 1985, in which you praised Fidel Castro, you said he educated their kids, gave them healthcare, totally transformed their society... Do you think the Cuban revolution was good for the people of Cuba?

BERNIE SANDERS: Look, you know, the Cuban revolution took place, what was it, in was a long time ago. What I said—the main point that I made, Anderson, is that I don’t think the United States of America should go around overthrowing governments.

I think the Bay of Pigs was a disaster. I think the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile was a disaster. I think the overthrow of the democratically elected President in Guatemala, Jacob Arbenz, [Jacobo] was a disaster. I think the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister in Iran was a disaster. [Mossadegh]

So I don’t think the United States has the legal or moral right to go around overthrowing governments, and I think very often, those efforts have backfired, bringing about a whole lot of instability in regions throughout this country.

Hardball with Chris Matthews (MSNBC)
University of Chicago — February 25, 2016

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the role of Commander-in-Chief, however. Can you see yourself — I’ve heard your speeches [and they] are resounding and you have a powerful message and an agenda probably clearer than most candidates have ever had. When it comes to the job, it brings certain responsibilities you may not look for, but you’re going to get.

SANDERS Of course.

MATTHEWS: Sitting in the Situation Room, calling in a lethal drone strike. Can you see yourself in that position now?

SANDERS: Absolutely, absolutely. Look, I am proud of my achievement in terms of foreign policy. I’ve been all over the world, talked to a whole lot of people.

Chris, as you well know, the most important decision that Congress made in many, many years in terms of foreign policy was the war in Iraq. Now, it’s not just that I voted against the war, which was the right vote. It’s not just that I led the opposition, helped lead the opposition against the war. Check out what I said on the floor of the House. Check out what I feared would happen the day after Saddam Hussein, a vicious dictator, was overthrown. Pretty good judgment. And I think when you talk about my views now and how we destroy ISIS through a coalition, through Muslim troops on the ground, I think my positions are pretty clear, and in fact right.

MATTHEWS: How do we — you as President convince our potential adversaries and current ones that we’re not a country and you’re not a person to be messed with? How do you establish that — remember, Kennedy [JFK] got in trouble because [of] the Bay of Pigs, then came the Cuban Missile Crisis. Once you look weak, then they come at you...


MATTHEWS: How do you deal with that?

SANDERS: Well, first of all, I don’t know that I accept your basic assumptions here. Obviously, anyone who knows my political history, I’ve taken on every special interest in this country. I am fairly tough guy. When I was mayor of Burlington, I take on everybody.


SANDERS: I am prepared to take on Putin and everybody else. But let’s —

MATTHEWS: How do you let them know that?

SANDERS: You let them know that we have the strongest military in the world. We have a great military and we are prepared to use that when necessary.

But let me also say, that I think that the kind of regime change that the United States has brought forth over many, many years has been in many respects counterproductive, all right? It’s not the war in Iraq and the overthrowing [of] Saddam Hussein, that was a terrible mistake, leading to where we are today.

You go way back and you talk about the overthrowing of Mossadegh. You remember Mossadegh in Iran?

MATTHEWS: Right, I know all about it...

SANDERS: Oh, he was — he wanted to nationalize oil there. The British were upset. The Eisenhower administration worked with them. And you know we ended up with?—Khomeini. All right?

We overthrew Salvador Allende in Chile, who was elected democratically. And you know what we ended up with? A lot of anti-American sentiment in Latin America.

So, what foreign policy is about is not just power. It is judgment. I think we got to be a little bit careful about regime change. Hillary Clinton sees as a mentor of hers, Henry Kissinger. So, let me be very clear: I do not see Henry Kissinger as a mentor of mine. I think he was one of the worst Secretaries of State in the history of this country.

MATTHEWS: Well, let’s add to the list: Arbenz down in Guatemala...

SANDERS: That’s right, exactly.

MATTHEWS: Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about Trujillo. [Rafael Trujillo, President of the Dominican Republic, assassinated in 1961] We had something to do with that baby.

SANDERS: That’s right!

MATTHEWS: And something to do probably with Patrice Lumumba [Democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congo overthrown by the CIA].

SANDERS: That’s it. [Points and nods in agreement]

MATTHEWS: We had a long history of – but now we have something as you say regime change. So, instead of unofficial or official assassination policy, we now have a regime change policy. You know I’m looking at Libya, what did you think of that?

SANDERS: Not much.

MATTHEWS: We ended up killing the leaders anyway. We got rid of Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein —

SANDERS: And what happened? And what happened the day after? Look, you know, Saddam Hussein, a brutal murdering thug, no question about it. Gaddafi—equal, bad guy. So, you know, Hillary Clinton and other people worked hard, they got rid of him. He was killed. And what happened right now? ISIS now has a foothold in Libya, which can be a testing ground, an operational strength, stronghold for them in terrorist attacks.

So, here’s the point. All of us agree you got a lot of bad, bad people running countries around the world. But it’s not good enough to say ‘Assad is a terrible guy’. He is. What happens the day after Assad is gone? What is the best way to transition to democracy?

So, on this area, I would say Hillary Clinton and I have a difference. It’s not just the war in Iraq which she supported, I opposed. It is: I am a little bit more cautious in terms of regime change.

MATTHEWS: So, you’re sitting in the White House and you’re reading the Op-ed page of The Washington Post or The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, and they start the drum beat for another regime change. You know what happened last time, page after page —

SANDERS: You got it, man.

MATTHEWS: — day after day, they start pounding the door. They said, “We got to get rid of Bashar Assad.” What do you do?

SANDERS: You stand up to them. Look, you’re absolutely right. The war drums for the war in Iraq, I remember it like it was yesterday.


SANDERS: Initially, the American people were very nervous about that war. You remember that?

MATTHEWS: I remember it all.

SANDERS: And the media kept pounding, ‘Well you’ve got to be tough and he’s a terrible guy and they have weapons of mass destruction!’

The trick is not just to understand that we’ve got a lot of bad people around the world. The trick is to what?—understand what happens the day after you get rid of those people. This is a lesson I think I have learned not just from Iraq. It’s a lesson I knew a long, long time ago.

CNN Democratic Town Hall
Columbia, South Carolina — February 23, 2016

CHRIS CUOMO: Now I know this was a while ago, but it’s been reported that in 1974 —

BERNIE SANDERS: That’s a while ago. [audience laughter]

CHRIS CUOMO: You said the CIA is “a dangerous institution that has got to go.” You went on to say the CIA was “accountable to no one, except right-wing lunatics who use it to prop up fascist dictatorships.” Do you stand by those comments that you said back then?

BERNIE SANDERS: No, I don’t. That was 40 years ago. Since then I’ve served eight years as mayor of the city of Burlington. I’ve spent 16 years in the House, and nine years in the United States Senate.

But let me tell you this. I do have concerns about past activities of the CIA. CIA was involved in the overthrow of a gentleman named Mohammad Mossadegh way back when in Iran. Overthrew him, on behalf of British oil. And you know what happened? That led to the Iranian revolution, and where we are today.

The CIA was involved in the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile. A democratic candidate, he won a fair election—CIA overthrew him. So I have a lot of problems with some parts of our history, which continues, by the way, to the present.

CHRIS CUOMO: But the institution itself, of the CIA?

BERNIE SANDERS: The CIA plays an important role. But have they done things which they should not have done on behalf of the United States government? Absolutely.

6th Democratic Presidential Debate
University of Milwaukee (Wisconsin) — February 11, 2016

Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (1882-1967) But this is nothing new. [U.S. regime change policies] This has gone on 50 or 60 years where the United States has been involved in overthrowing governments. Mossadegh back in 1953 — nobody knows who Mossadegh was — democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. He was overthrown by British and American interests because he threatened oil interests of the British. And as a result of that the Shah of Iran came in — terrible dictator — result of that: you have the Iranian revolution coming in, and that’s where we are today. UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES.

So I believe, as President, I will look very carefully about unintended consequences. I will do everything I can to make certain that the United States and our brave men and women in the military do not get bogged down in perpetual warfare in the Middle East.

3rd Democratic Presidential Debate
St. Anselm College, New Hampshire — December 19, 2015

Bernie Sanders at the 3rd Democratic Presidential Debate Look, the Secretary is right. [about the difficulties in Libya] This is a terribly complicated issue. There are no simple solutions. But where we have a disagreement is that I think if you look at the history of regime changes, you go back to Mossadegh in Iran, you go back to Salvador Allende who we overthrew in Chile, you go back to overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq, you go back to where we are today in Syria with a dictator named Assad. [President Bashar al-Assad]

The truth is it is relatively easy for a powerful nation like America to overthrow a dictator, but it is very hard to predict the unintended consequences and the turmoil and the instability that follows after you overthrow that dictator. So, I think Senator Clinton and I have a fundamental disagreement. I’m not quite the fan of regime change that I believe she is.

Georgetown University Speech
Washington, DC — November 19, 2015

I am not running to pursue reckless adventures abroad, but to rebuild America’s strength at home. I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will never send our sons and daughters to war under false pretense or pretenses about dubious battles with no end in sight.

Bernie Sanders at Georgetown University And as we discuss foreign policy, I know that all of you share with me your shock and your horror at what happened in Paris, and you share with me your condolences for the families who lost loved ones, and your hopes and prayers that those who were wounded will recover. And also those same thoughts go out to the families of those who lost loved ones in the Russian flight that we believe was taken down by an ISIS bomb, and also those who lost their lives to terrorist attacks in Lebanon and elsewhere.

To my mind, it is clear that the United States must pursue policies to destroy the brutal and barbaric ISIS regime, and to create conditions that prevent fanatical extremist ideologies from flourishing. But we cannot — and should not — do it alone.

Our response must begin with an understanding of past mistakes and missteps in our previous approaches to foreign policy.

It begins with the acknowledgment that unilateral military action should be a last resort, not a first resort, [applause] and that ill-conceived military decisions, such as the invasion of Iraq, can wreak far-reaching devastation and destabilization over regions for decades.

Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh on the cover of TIME magazine (June 1951) It begins with the reflection that the failed policy decisions of the past — rushing to war, regime change in Iraq, or toppling Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 . . . Mossadegh was the President, [Prime Minister] the CIA and others got rid of him to protect British Petroleum interests, the Shah of Iran came in, a brutal dictator, and he was thrown out by the Islamic Revolution and that is where we are in Iran today. Decisions have consequences, often unintended consequences.

So whether it was Saddam Hussein, or Mossadegh, or Guatemalan President Árbenz in 1954, [Jacobo Árbenz] in Guatemala, Brazilian President Goulart in 1964, [João Goulart], Chilean President Allende in 1973 [Salvador Allende] . . . this type of regime change, this type of overthrowing governments we may not like, often does not work, often makes a bad and difficult decision even worse. These are lessons we must learn.

2nd Democratic Presidential Debate
Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa — November 14, 2015

JOHN DICKERSON (Moderator): You criticized then Senator Clinton’s vote. [authorizing the war in Iraq] Do you have anything to criticize in the way she performed as Secretary of State?

Bernie Sanders at the 2nd Democratic Presidential Debate BERNIE SANDERS: I think we have a disagreement, and the disagreement is that not only did I vote against the war in Iraq. If you look at history, John, you will find that regime change—whether it was in the early ‘50’s in Iran, [1953: Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh] whether it was toppling Salvador Allende in Chile, [1973] whether it is overthrowing the government of Guatemala way back when [1954: Jacobo Árbenz] — these invasions, these toppling of governments, regime changes have unintended consequences. I would say that on this issue, I’m a little bit more conservative than the Secretary ... and that I am not a great fan of regime change.

Opposing the Invasion of Iraq
U.S. Congress — September 6, 2002

“What we do know is that things sometimes do not turn out the way we want. We should remember the lessons of some of our earlier military and political actions.

In 1953, the United States engineered the overthrow of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and installed the Shah of Iran. This precipitated a series of events which years later led to the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran and eventually a revolution that installed the Ayatollah Khomeini and his repressive regime. All Americans remember the seizure of our embassy in Tehran.

U.S. bombing in Cambodia during the Vietnam War destabilized the moderate Sihanouk government, [Norodom Sihanouk] allowing the Khmer Rouge to come to power and leading to the deaths of millions in the Killing Fields.

In the 1980’s, we supported Islamic fundamentalists [the Taliban] against the Soviets occupying Afghanistan, including providing training and arms to one Osama bin Laden.

The point is that military and political actions sometimes lead to outcomes we cannot predict and that can bring about even greater danger and instability.”

On CIA Intervention
C-SPAN Interview — February 3, 1989

“If you trace the history of the United States vis-a-vis Latin America and Central America, there has never been a time when a country made a revolution for the poor people where it was not overthrown by the CIA, or the United States government, or the Marines.

Chilean President Salvador Allende (1908-1973) Salvador Allende was democratically elected by the people of Chile. He made the mistake of believing that his job as president of that country was to represent the people of Chile. And he did his best. And he was overthrown by the CIA.

So the interesting question is why does the United States government think — whether it’s Nicaragua or any other country in Latin or Central America — that it has the right to overthrow those governments.”

Vermont Senate Forum (September 27, 1974)

Young Bernie Sanders on the CIA in 1974: "a dangerous institution that has got to go"
Exclusive Report: Young Bernie Sanders Bashes the CIA in 1974

Bernie Sanders on U.S. Foreign Policy, Militarism (1972)

Bernie Sanders on U.S. Foreign Policy, Militarism (1972) “I have spoken out consistently against the barbaric war in Vietnam and against our entire foreign policy of support to military dictatorships throughout the world. Not only is our foreign policy morally bankrupt –– but it is bankrupting us financially. We spent more on the military every day then we spend on the entire budget for the state of Vermont for a year.”

70th Anniversary of TIME’s 1951 Man of the Year


Related links:

Sec. of State John Kerry’s Historic Iran Deal: Smart Diplomacy of Appeasement?

The Vietnam War | IRAN | What Lessons Did America Learn? by Arash Norouzi

When Black Lives Matter, Iran Loses

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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