Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has finally begun efforts to assemble a team of foreign policy advisors following weeks of criticism from Hillary Clinton that his campaign lacks the kind of trusted experts necessary to inform a future commander-in-chief.
According to sources close to the campaign, Sanders has tapped Bill French to help craft the Vermont senator’s foreign policy messaging and coordinate with outside advisors and experts. French, a policy analyst at the National Security Network, a nonprofit policy group dedicated to building “a strong progressive national security and counter conservative spin,” has testified on Capitol Hill on various proposals for combatting the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria. French’s testimony last March warned lawmakers about the risks of an overly-broad war authorization against the Sunni extremist group that could be used in unexpected ways by a future U.S. president. He also raised doubts about the Obama administration’s soaring rhetoric about being able to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State.
French has written broadly about U.S. defense policy and its modern history, including extensive analyses on the capabilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and a catalogue of every authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) the United States Congress has ever passed.
The Sanders campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Previously, the campaign has been unable to name any full-time foreign policy advisors on staff despite persistent questioning on the subject from national media outlets. French alone will likely be called on to enlist a team of outside advisors to draft memos and develop position papers for the senator.
He will have his work cut out for him. As reported by Foreign Policy, Clinton’s campaign has already amassed an army of several hundred, perhaps even more than a thousand, foreign policy advisors to assist the campaign and publicly cast doubt about Sanders’ ability to lead the world’s lone superpower.
Clinton’s massive network is a result of her frontrunner status and tenure as secretary of state, where she cultivated close ties to the Democratic Party’s foreign policy talent pool. Her campaign’s foreign policy is run by policy director Jake Sullivan, who served as Clinton’s deputy chief of staff at the State Department, and Laura Rosenberger, a former State Department official who runs day-to-day operations and long-term planning. Some of her top outside advisors include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Center for a New American Security CEO Michèle Flournoy.
Up until now, Clinton has made Sanders’ lack of foreign policy advisors a top attack line in her stump speeches and media interviews.
“There really isn’t any kind of foreign policy network that is supporting and advising Senator Sanders,” Clinton told NBC’s Meet the Press this month. “This job requires you to be ready on all aspects of it on the first day. And we know we’ve got a particularly complex world right now. And the president’s not going to have the time.”
Sanders has made economic inequality, rather than foreign policy, a centerpiece of his campaign. In his Senate career, he has not differed in many ways from the foreign policy objectives of the Obama administration: he voted against scuttling the Iran nuclear deal; supports a two-state solution on Israel-Palestine; and has been largely supportive of the president’s drone program targeting suspected terrorists around the world. Like Clinton, he opposes the White House’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal he says doesn’t provide adequate protections for American blue collar workers.
The intensity of attacks between the two candidates has increased as Sanders’s quixotic campaign surprised observers after he won the New Hampshire primary by more than 20 points. Last week, the Vermont senator passed Clinton in a national poll for the first time during the 2016 race when a Fox News poll showed him with 47 percent support to her 44 percent. At the same time, Clinton secured a victory against Sanders in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday and three other recent national polls show her registering double-digit leads. The Clinton campaign is expecting a large victory in Saturday’s presidential primary in South Carolina where she’s currently running 20 points ahead.