FILE/Prior to his retirement from Congress, Lieberman routinely argued in favor of the hawkish foreign policy positions that would have placed the U.S. in the middle of international conflicts.
In a move that could turn off some of his lingering libertarian-leaning fans, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) floated former independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, a foreign policy hawk, as an ideal candidate to replace ousted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
“We need a Secretary of Defense who is squarely focused on defending the national security interests of the United States, first and foremost, and especially preventing a bad deal over Iran’s nuclear weapons program that could do irreparable harm to us and our allies. One strong option would be former Sen. Joe Lieberman, a member of the President’s own party with deep experience and unshakable commitment to the security of the United States. I urge the President to give him full and fair consideration for this critical position,” Cruz said Monday in a prepared statement.
Prior to his retirement from Congress, Lieberman routinely argued in favor of the hawkish foreign policy positions that would have placed the U.S. in the middle of international conflicts. His strongest foreign policy allies were often Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both of whom are notably hawkish on overseas issues.
Lieberman joined McCain on a 2012 trip as conflict heated up in Syria to support rebel fighters at the Turkish border, announcing: “Diplomacy with [President Bashar] Assad has failed and it will continue to fail so long as Assad thinks he can defeat the opposition in Syria militarily.”
And in August 2012, Lieberman joined McCain and Graham (the Three Amigos, as they’ve been called in political circles) to pen a Washington Post op-ed calling on the U.S. to arm Syrian rebels and take on a strong support role in the conflict.
“The U.S. reluctance to intervene in Syria is, first of all, allowing this conflict to be longer and bloodier, a radicalizing dynamic,” they wrote. “Contrary to critics who argue that a greater U.S. role in Syria could empower al-Qaeda, it is the lack of strong U.S. assistance to responsible fighters inside the country that is ceding the field to extremists there.
The former lawmaker has spent much of his time since leaving office criticizing the Obama administration’s foreign policy, calling out the administration for everything from being too easy on Iran to failing to adequately support Israel during 2014 unrest in Gaza.
Speaking about nuclear relations with Iran this year, Lieberman said that he believes not reaching a deal with the country is a better option than a deal that allows the Iranians to continue with even the most modest nuclear ambitions.
Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, argued that accepting positions such as Lieberman’s would effectively put the U.S. on course for direct military conflict with Iran.
Parsi wrote in a Reuters column earlier this year after Congress balked at an Obama administration plan to ease sanctions on the country:
It’s very simple: If you prefer war with Iran over a deal with Iran — even one that would prevent it from building a bomb — your best and possibly last opportunity to kill the deal is immediately after the nuclear talks have concluded. That’s when distrust of Iran’s intentions will remain pervasive and when its commitment to carry out its side of the deal will still have to be demonstrated. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor pursued this tactic in January after an interim agreement was reached in November last year.
But it’s unsurprising that Lieberman takes a hardline stance against working with the Iranians in spite of the potential for war; he’s been itching for a U.S. attack on the country for years.
In a 2006 interview with the Jerusalem Post, Lieberman said that the U.S. should launch pre-emptive strikes on Iran to “to delay [the nuclear program] to deter it hoping that you set the program off course so that by the time they catch up back to where they were there’s been a change in government. That’s the limited objective that I would see.”
In June 2007, with no real evidence, Lieberman claimed the Iranians were training Iraqi insurgents and called for the U.S. to strike over the Iraqi border into Iran.
Oddly enough, Iran has (admittedly for selfish reasons) been a key supporter of the U.S.-installed government currently being ripped apart in Iraq by Islamic State radicals who have proliferated in the Middle East as a result of ongoing unrest.
Lieberman has been predictably against the idea of allowing Iran to participate in the fight against ISIS.
If conjecture isn’t a concern, understanding how Lieberman wants the U.S. to handle affairs in the Middle East is a simple matter of connect the dots. Intervention in Syria, war with Iran, redoubling of efforts in Iraq, and once the fighting slows in each case, an ongoing peacekeeping presence (occupation) forevermore.
With that in mind, Cruz’s endorsement makes sense considering the lawmaker’s well-publicized efforts to position himself as the Jewish lobby’s top Washington ally. Israel’s leadership hasn’t exactly been reluctant to suggest that it’s Washington’s responsibility to insulate the country from its Arab neighbors — a view Lieberman certainly shares.
To Lieberman, the U.S. has always been a country devoted to nation building and military interventionism.
He said as much in a piece titled “The Myth of Fortress America,” which he co-published in Foreign Policy magazine with former GOP senator Jon Kyl. The two are co-chairs of the American Enterprise Institute’s American Internationalism Project.
“The time has come for the advocates of U.S. passivity to stop talking about the popular mandate [for nonintervention] they never had and to speak honestly to the American people,” he wrote. “And it’s high time for others to stop cowering before this imaginary consensus.”
Lieberman’s gung-ho attitude toward military action has led many to question Cruz’s endorsement.
Jack Hunter of the conservative publication Rare had this to say via Facebook: “This is as bad as saying John McCain or Lindsey Graham would be a good defense secretary. A huge slap in the face by Cruz to any libertarian who ever supported him. Right now, I’m ashamed I did.”
If the foreign policy positions of Cruz’s Defense pick aren’t enough to disgust people who support the Texas lawmaker because of his faux libertarian comportment, there’s another thing small government types should know: Back in 2002, Lieberman led the fight to create the Department of Homeland Security.
Lieberman has almost no chance of becoming the nation’s next Defense Secretary, but that Cruz suggested him brings other concerns for libertarian-leaning conservatives as the Texas Republican’s political ambitions continue to grow. Who might Cruz pick for his own Cabinet if he were ever elected president? And how might he — and other politicians using libertarian popularity to gain power in the GOP — evolve leading up to, and after, such a scenario.