I have to hand it to Joe Lieberman -- seldom has a man been willing to so publicly void his intellectual bowels in newsprint or to such impressive effect. Lieberman's Wall Street Journal ode to a fictional history of his fictionalized past party goes a long way towards explaining his current psychology; like McCain and the other Republican foreign policy uberhawks whose companionship he now finds solace in, he is not content with merely asserting that dissenting opinions are wrong, but must declare them appeasers and collaborators. Retroactively, if necessary.
Towards this end, Lieberman is willing to redraw history into a Republican talking point, but he does it so badly -- so crudely -- that is comes across as the flashback-riddled rantings of a political Willie Loman. He sees visions of peaceniks and hippies in his head at night; they dance around his bed, preventing the proper dispensation of justice. He sees visions of a modern Democratic Party cowing to "activists", but cannot name any. He paints a history of a Democratic Party plagued by foreign policy weakness, yet recites a litany of Democratic foreign policy strengths to do so.
I will quote at length, only because the devolution of Lieberman's capacity for logic needs to be shown at length to be appreciated.
Beginning in the 1940s, the Democratic Party was forced to confront two of the most dangerous enemies our nation has ever faced: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In response, Democrats under Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy forged and conducted a foreign policy that was principled, internationalist, strong and successful.
This was the Democratic Party that I grew up in – a party that was unhesitatingly and proudly pro-American, a party that was unafraid to make moral judgments about the world beyond our borders. It was a party that understood that either the American people stood united with free nations and freedom fighters against the forces of totalitarianism, or that we would fall divided. [...]
This worldview began to come apart in the late 1960s, around the war in Vietnam. In its place, a very different view of the world took root in the Democratic Party. Rather than seeing the Cold War as an ideological contest between the free nations of the West and the repressive regimes of the communist world, this rival political philosophy saw America as the aggressor – a morally bankrupt, imperialist power whose militarism and "inordinate fear of communism" represented the real threat to world peace.
It argued that the Soviets and their allies were our enemies not because they were inspired by a totalitarian ideology fundamentally hostile to our way of life, or because they nursed ambitions of global conquest. Rather, the Soviets were our enemy because we had provoked them, because we threatened them, and because we failed to sit down and accord them the respect they deserved. In other words, the Cold War was mostly America's fault.
Lieberman recites a litany of strong foreign policies; then asserts they all collapsed, come Vietnam. But on what Liebermanesque planet did the Democratic Party -- or even substantial forces within the party -- believe the Soviets to have been the good guys of the Cold War? He offers no example, he merely asserts it. "It is argued", he says, but Lieberman and the imaginary 1960s-era hippies cavorting in his cortex are the only ones arguing it. Support for Vietnam is given as proxy for being sufficiently American; whether or not Vietnam was a good idea, or well executed, or resulted in anything but fiasco is entirely beside the point. A true American is willing to support a foreign policy fiasco of historic proportions; dissenters are simply weak.
That's it. That is the entire assertion. Democrats were powerful foreign policy figures throughout WW2 and the Cold War, but then Vietnam came along and some people didn't like it, therefore Democrats were weak.
Then, beginning in the 1980s, a new effort began on the part of some of us in the Democratic Party to reverse these developments, and reclaim our party's lost tradition of principle and strength in the world. Our band of so-called New Democrats was successful sooner than we imagined possible when, in 1992, Bill Clinton and Al Gore were elected. In the Balkans, for example, as President Clinton and his advisers slowly but surely came to recognize that American intervention, and only American intervention, could stop Slobodan Milosevic and his campaign of ethnic slaughter, Democratic attitudes about the use of military force in pursuit of our values and our security began to change.
This happy development continued into the 2000 campaign, when the Democratic candidate – Vice President Gore – championed a freedom-focused foreign policy, confident of America's moral responsibilities in the world, and unafraid to use our military power. He pledged to increase the defense budget by $50 billion more than his Republican opponent – and, to the dismay of the Democratic left, made sure that the party's platform endorsed a national missile defense.
What is impressive here is that Vietnam is given as the sole example of Democratic "appeasement" of enemies. Before then Democrats were strong, and after then Democrats were strong -- Joe gives plenty of examples for both periods -- and Democrats were only "weak" in for the years between because a few unkempt activists had the audacity to disagree with Joe "I am the voice of all Parties" Lieberman about the merits of Vietnam. It is a comical premise -- it is the kind of addled pseudohistory that the hawks of Vietnam have been obsessed with for forty years, on the Republican side; to see it from Lieberman makes me wonder if he caught the contagion from a senatorial toilet seat.
Lieberman does not mention Carter; presumably, he was weak too, for not carpet bombing Iran when he had the chance, or for engaging in a failed military action against Iran that was suspiciously narrow and tactical, instead of one that was overwhelming and bloody and patriotically escalatory. We can only presume Lieberman and McCain, if given the chance, would rectify that error.
Today, less than a decade later, the parties have completely switched positions. The reversal began, like so much else in our time, on September 11, 2001. The attack on America by Islamist terrorists shook President Bush from the foreign policy course he was on. He saw September 11 for what it was: a direct ideological and military attack on us and our way of life. If the Democratic Party had stayed where it was in 2000, America could have confronted the terrorists with unity and strength in the years after 9/11.
Instead a debate soon began within the Democratic Party about how to respond to Mr. Bush. I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework the president had advanced for the war on terror as our own, because it was our own. But that was not the choice most Democratic leaders made. When total victory did not come quickly in Iraq, the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price saw an opportunity to reassert themselves. By considering centrism to be collaboration with the enemy – not bin Laden, but Mr. Bush – activists have successfully pulled the Democratic Party further to the left than it has been at any point in the last 20 years.
And there we get to the nub. America was united behind the President immediately after September 11th, near-universal in support for the actions in Afghanistan. But then some (embarrassingly small number of) Democrats took policy exception to Bush's expansion of post-9/11 action into an unrelated war at cross purposes to the first, under the premise that it would be counterproductive and would weaken efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, thus playing directly into the hands of extremists seeking that larger war. For that insight, they are apparently leftists. The President bears no burden for shattering the post-9/11 unity of the nation or the post-9/11 international vigor against terrorism with his own badly planned, badly executed, badly premised Rumsfeldian clusterfuck of imagined opportunity for forced U.S. hegemony in the Muslim world; heavens, no. It is all the fault of a passel of hippies and the activists for daring to speak up.
In this, let me be clear, I believe Lieberman to be exposed as the intellectual equal of a worm-riddled, half-composted sack of shit, and am not sorry in the slightest for the comparison. For Lieberman to so willingly conflate any opposition to a war of occupation in Iraq to the appeasement of bin Laden -- essentially asserting as weak and cowardly all Americans who properly called out the ramifications of the Iraq fiasco for what they were, shows him to be a political charlatan, and a buffoon, and a McCarthyite hack besides. For not carrying on the fiction that Iraq has made us safer, he asserts us roundly to be fools or against our own country, so let the tired crank whine about our own language if he dares.
Far too many Democratic leaders have kowtowed to these opinions rather than challenging them. That unfortunately includes Barack Obama, who, contrary to his rhetorical invocations of bipartisan change, has not been willing to stand up to his party's left wing on a single significant national security or international economic issue in this campaign.
In this, Sen. Obama stands in stark contrast to John McCain, who has shown the political courage throughout his career to do what he thinks is right – regardless of its popularity in his party or outside it.
John also understands something else that too many Democrats seem to have become confused about lately – the difference between America's friends and America's enemies.
There are of course times when it makes sense to engage in tough diplomacy with hostile governments. Yet what Mr. Obama has proposed is not selective engagement, but a blanket policy of meeting personally as president, without preconditions, in his first year in office, with the leaders of the most vicious, anti-American regimes on the planet.
Mr. Obama has said that in proposing this, he is following in the footsteps of Reagan and JFK. But Kennedy never met with Castro, and Reagan never met with Khomeini. And can anyone imagine Presidents Kennedy or Reagan sitting down unconditionally with Ahmadinejad or Chavez? I certainly cannot.
While I cannot personally imagine a more maddening fate than to be constantly tormented by the fictional appeasers of Lieberman's war-addled head, I find this whole section to be nearly, but not quite, hilarious. Oh, to be Joe Lieberman, for whom all past events must be packed into the frame of willing militancy or be dismissed.
Reagan did not meet with Khomeini; he did, however, meet with Gorbachev. Are we to presume Reagan was, then, an unpatriotic coward? He is simultaneously credited by conservatives with superhuman powers in ending the Cold War, and recent evidence indicates he did not bomb them into submission -- what are we to make of this? Kennedy never sat down with Castro, but Nixon's talks with China are credited with opening up the communist country to both diplomacy and, eventually, capitalism. Was he too a traitor to his nation? If only Mr. Lieberman could tell us, but he cannot, because for Mr. Lieberman "strength" goes along with supporting his own foreign policy notions, and "weakness" consists of not supporting them, and all history that does not directly speak to his own imagined sense of strength and weakness is discounted -- simply not even mentioned.
As for this notion of "unconditionally" meeting with anyone, it is a Republican talking point, again eagerly swept up by Lieberman in service to our cause. Nobody honestly believes any American president, of either party, will "unconditionally" meet with anyone. It is a half-baked talking point sloughed from the skin of Karl Rove's back.
As for the assertion of McCain as the politically courageous maverick who will no doubt be a compassionate and bipartisan conservative, if elected, let us not even touch that for now. There are too many words here already.
There are another dozen things to mock about Lieberman's column -- deconstructing it would take chapters, not just paragraphs -- but in the end Lieberman's very simplistic and fiction-touting assertions boil down to his own simplistic and fiction-touting notions of foreign policy. Lieberman's true problem (and the one that got him booted from the Democratic Party in his own primary) is that for Lieberman, all foreign policy "seriousness" is dependent on supporting the clusterfuck of Iraq and all related possible clusterfucks in neighboring countries. Not just before the invasion, but during the occupation, during all the "reorganizations" and "surges" and turned corners and imminent successes and plans for goddamned Green Zone theme parks, now and in perpetuity, and now continuing into Iran, and we're not supposed to talk about Pakistan because They Are Our Friends.
If you don't support indefinite action in Iraq, if you don't support the most aggressive of uberhawkish positions in the Middle East, Joe Lieberman will declare you an appeaser, pure and simple. It does not matter what other foreign policy positions you may hold: whether you support action in Afghanistan, or wish to see a non-nuclear North Korea, or what your opinions may be about Sudan or Myanmar or Tibet or Russia or Pakistan or the dozens of other crisis points around the world; for Lieberman, Iraq is all. Support Iraq, or you are not "serious." Support Iraq, or you are an "appeaser."
Here is a man unbalanced by the rage that can only come from a steady stream of human failures. Foreign policy is a simple land, for Joe Lieberman; it steadfastly consists of doing the most aggressive thing at the most aggressive time, and all other options are weak to the point of very nearly being anti-American. And yet as Iraq has shown, such actions can be not just unwise, but catastrophically destructive. For Joe Lieberman, asserting his opponents to be complacent or unpatriotic or appeasers is the only possible rhetorical option remaining, and he lacks the wisdom to leave it unused.
I can think of only one example of recent Democratic appeasement: the way Senator Reid and others have constantly appeased Joe Lieberman, in spite of Lieberman's constant and increasingly rabid attempts to undermine his previous party. As has been amply demonstrated by Joe himself, appeasement does not work.