In a bid to lend a patina of “bipartisanship” to its ideas, the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has made former Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) the co-chair of its newest foreign policy initiative. The move has been met with raised eyebrows, as progressives have not considered Joe Lieberman an authentic representative of their foreign policy positions for quite some time, if they ever did in the first place.
Lieberman will co-chair the new “American Internationalism Project” with former Senator John Kyl (R-AZ). As the project is intended to “rebuild and reshape a bipartisan consensus around American global leadership and engagement,” Lieberman’s participation is aimed at blunting the perception that anything coming out of AEI is a dogmatically Republican plan. AEI generally hews to a hardline neoconservative standard on foreign policy; its staff in the area includes former Bush Administration officials John Bolton, Richard Perle, and Marc Thiessen.
Lieberman’s dogged support for George W. Bush’s foreign policy played a critical role in his in 2006 Democratic primary defeat (he subsequently won as an independent). endorsed arch-hawk John McCain over Barack Obama for President in 2008 on grounds that McCain was “the strongest candidate on security of all the candidates running.” Indeed, Lieberman’s views are far closer to AEI’s than they are to the progressive mainstream, as a quick survey of his particular positions will show:
1. Iraq. Lieberman himself credits his vociferous support for the Iraq War for making him “persona non grata with the Democrats.” As recently as 2011, Lieberman defended his vote to invade Iraq, saying “I believe that the evidence is very clear that [Saddam] was developing weapons of mass destruction.” During the height of the war debate in 2007, Lieberman accused war critics of committing “a kind of harassment” and being “invested in a narrative of retreat and defeat.”
2. Torture. Lieberman voted against legislation banning waterboarding in 2008 on grounds that it wasn’t torture. Because the torture technique “has a mostly psychological impact on people,” Lieberman argued, “we ought to be able to use [it],” adding that President Obama’s decision to release the Bush torture memos “help[ed] our enemies.” Though he once signed a letter that included a clause condemning waterboarding, it is unclear how he reconciled that with his long record of support for the practice.
3. Iran. When asked point-blank if he was endorsing an attack on Iran during a 2007 interview, Lieberman said “I am… We’ve got to use our force and to me that would include taking military action.” More recently, he has said a strike on Iran is highly likely, and that, in its aftermath, we should “hope and pray that there will be a regime change.”
4. Israel. Though Israeli leaders have praised Obama’s policy towards their country (even awarding him a prestigious medal), Lieberman has been persistent critic of the President’s policy — from the right. Lieberman denied that settlements were “a major impediment to peace” and suggested that Obama’s foreign policy “has encouraged Israel’s enemies.”