Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lieberman v. the mainstream tradition of U.S. foreign policy

Joseph Lieberman has served in the United States Senate representing Connecticut since 1988 when he defeated moderate Republican incumbent, Lowell Weicker. While starting his political career in the Connecticut state legislature as a “reform” Democrat he has drifted rightward, particularly on foreign policy issues, while serving in the U.S. Senate to the point of becoming an apologist for Bush administration blunders abroad.

In 2006 he faced a challenge in the Democratic primary for the Senate nomination. He was endorsed by most of the national Democratic Party establishment in this race that he lost. National Democrats then endorsed the winner of the primary but Lieberman was elected as an independent. He was allowed to join the Democratic caucus in the Senate as an independent Democrat giving him the advantages of being a member of the majority. He has shown his gratitude by regularly denouncing the Democratic Party and endorsing the Republicans presumptive nominee for president, John McCain.

Jonathan Chait has this analysis of Lieberman’s foreign policy views and inflated self-esteem in The New Republic:
…In a series of speeches, op-eds, and interviews, he has been making the case that he, Joe Lieberman, has resolutely stood behind his lifelong ideology while the entire rest of the Democratic Party has gone off the McGovernite cliff. In his telling, the party was hawkish from World War II through the early 1960s. Then it was taken over by left-wing isolationists who were "viscerally opposed to the use of military force." Under Bill Clinton and Al Gore, the party recovered its hawkish legacy, but, in the last few years, Democrats-- presumably including Clinton and Gore themselves--have "resurrected the profoundly wrong and persistently unsuccessful McGovern-Carter worldview."

You might wonder precisely which ways McGovern's nefarious ideology is making itself felt. Lieberman says that Democrats, who were once "unafraid to make moral judgments about the world beyond our borders," now "minimize the seriousness of the threat from Islamic extremism." Lieberman prefers them to use morally confident language like this:

The terrorists are at war with us. The threat is from violent extremists who are a small minority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, but the threat is real. They distort Islam. They kill man, woman, and child; Christian and Hindu, Jew and Muslim. They seek to create a repressive caliphate. To defeat this enemy, we must understand who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for.
Oh, wait--that passage was Barack Obama, speaking last summer. Lieberman further complains, "The top foreign policy priority of the Democratic Party has not been to expand the size of our military for the war on terror or to strengthen our democracy promotion efforts in the Middle East or to prevail in Afghanistan. It has been to pull our troops out of Iraq."

This is a really sneaky formulation. Lieberman is implying that Democrats oppose expanding the military, prevailing in Afghanistan, etc. Actually, they favor all those things. (Obama has proposed adding 92,000 new troops to the military.) Lieberman's statement is literally true--Democrats put a higher priority on Iraq than those other issues-- but misleading. Just because something isn't your "top" foreign policy priority doesn't mean it isn't a high priority.

Yes, Democrats do favor a withdrawal from Iraq. They think the U.S. occupation is not helping to produce a stable government in Baghdad. This is certainly a debatable view, but it just isn't the same thing as lacking confidence in the virtues of American democracy or viscerally opposing the use of force. In Pakistan, the Democratic presidential candidate has advocated military strikes against Al Qaeda, while the GOP candidate has ridiculed such action as impractical. Imagine what Lieberman would say if it was the other way around.

Lieberman's history, which imagines a binary fight between hawks and isolationists, is woefully mistaken. In fact, during the cold war there were three camps: anti-interventionists on the left, liberal internationalists in the center, and hard-line anti-communists on the right. The left opposed the cold war. The center favored containment. The right deemed coexistence with communism unacceptable and advocated "rollback" of communism.

Lieberman's foreign policy views are in the tradition of the right, not the center. In the 1990s, he promoted "rogue state rollback," a neoconservative doctrine that's the direct lineal descendant of cold war rollback. Right-wing anti-communist hardliners opposed negotiations or arms control agreements with the enemy and, at various points, raged against Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan for their soft line.

My colleague J. Peter Scoblic's new book, U.S. vs. Them, opens with the story of conservatives in 1959 creating the "Committee Against Summit Entanglements" to express their horror that Eisenhower would sit down with Soviet premier Khrushchev. The Committee's logic was nearly identical to that which Lieberman now deploys against Obama for his willingness to meet with Iran's leadership. Lieberman tries to use this issue to show that Obama falls outside the mainstream tradition of U.S. foreign policy, but he winds up proving this about himself.
You can read the entire article here.

1 comment:

James Young said...

Hmmmm. Let's see: supports the policies of a President elected twice, the second time with more popular votes than any predecessor. Elected as an independent when defeated by a moonbat in his own party's primary.

You can certainly debate the merits and demerits of current American foreign policy, but you've got a pretty pathetic claim to advocacy of "the mainstream."