WASHINGTON -- International rivals would be mistaken to assume he wouldn't be prepared to use military force if that's what circumstances required, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said in an interview that aired on Sunday.
The Vermont senator who is the leading challenger to front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton says the United States should have the strongest military in the world. The U.S. should be prepared to act when it or its allies are threatened or in response to genocide.
"Yes, there are times when you have to use force. No question about it," Sanders said. "But that should be a last resort."
During his nearly 25 years in Congress, Sanders' record on authorizing military force is mixed. He voted to send troops to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But he voted against going to war with Iraq in 1991 and again in 2003.
Sanders comments came during an interview that aired on ABC's "This Week." His campaign has focused on the economy and gained momentum, drawing the largest crowds of any candidate to his rallies. Clinton served as secretary of state for about four years. Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, was asked why national security and foreign policy are missing from his campaign's website.
"In all fairness, we've only been in this race for three-and-a-half months. And we've been focusing, quite correctly as you've indicated, on the economy, on the collapse of the American middle class, on massive income and wealth inequality," Sanders said.
Sanders cited the war in Iraq as one of the "worst foreign policy blunders we have ever seen" because it led to an enormous destabilization of that region. He also said he believes his vote against the first Gulf War was correct.
"I think we could've gotten Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in a way that did not require a war," Sanders said. "... Do we need to go to war in every instance or can we bring pressure of sanctions and international pressure to resolve these conflicts?"
Sanders is among the 31 senators -- all Democrats -- who support the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by President Barack Obama's administration and other world powers.
While polls show Sanders trailing Clinton among Democrats by a wide margin nationally, he has gained ground on her in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire where he has been most actively campaigning. Clinton still remains the favorite to win the nomination because of her backing within the party establishment, fund-raising advantage and strong support among blacks and Latinos who represent a large segment of the Democratic primary electorate.