At John Hopkins's School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) yesterday, Sen. Joe Lieberman delivered a speech on foreign policy and partisanship that seemed designed to validate everything his Democratic critics have said about him over the last few years, and to humiliate Democrats who have defended him (and I count myself in this group, though not since his loss to Ned Lamont in Connecticut in the Democratic primary last year).
Press accounts reported that at some point (probably a post-speech Q&A) Lieberman said he might not support the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008. But the speech itself pointed more than sufficiently in that direction. Its essence was to define a "muscular" FDR/Truman/JFK Democratic foreign policy, on which the two parties have repeatedly reversed roles, with Republicans currently "for" and Democrats "against." Joe Lieberman himself, the speech suggests, seems to be the only consistent advocate for that tradition, emulating the brave example of Democrat-turned-Republican-advisor Paul Nitze, whose name is attached to SAIS.
I really encourage Democrats who have defended Lieberman in the past to read this speech. It provides an exceptionally simplistic and mechanical history of partisanship and foreign policy. Democrats were "good" from World War II until Vietnam, and Republicans tended to be "bad." Democrats were "bad" from Vietnam to the First Gulf War, and Republicans were "good." During the Clinton administration, and particularly with respect to the Kosovo intervention, Democrats were "good" and most Republicans (excepting Dole and McCain) were "bad," and that characterization remained true during the 2000 elections (Lieberman's running-mate Al Gore "good," the humility-in-foreign-policy Bush "bad"). Both parties were "good" from 9/11 through the Iraq War authorization, but once the war began, Republicans were "good" and Democrats turned "bad" (presumably including Al Gore, who was prematurely "bad" in opposing the war).
These judgments appear based on an interpretation of the "muscular" Democratic foreign policy tradition that's all about the willingness to use military force, and a rhetorical commitment to democracy-promotion and tyranny-denouncing. You'd never know from Lieberman's speech that the Democratic tradition he's pretending to uniquely defend had a lot to do with multilateralism, collective security, international institutions, diplomacy, non-military means, human rights, bipartisanship, and the rule of law--all parts of the tradition that Bush and contemporary Republicans have aggressively rejected, and that today's Democrats explicitly support. You'd also never know, since Lieberman never acknowledges it, that the leading Democratic presidential candidates don't simply identify themselves with opposition to Bush on Iraq and Iran, but have offered their own detailed national security plans which take Islamic jihadism quite seriously as a threat.
In other words, Lieberman's speech is less a rebuke to the "'antiwar" Democrats who helped deny him the party's nomination to the Senate in 2006, than a challenge to liberal internationalists whom he places on the wrong side of a choice between preemptive unilateralism and isolationism and chaos. This is one occasion on which so-called "liberal hawks" need to take the lead in repudiating Joe. As Sam Boyd at TAPPED suggests, in an essentially accurate if exaggerated view, Lieberman is saying "you're either with Norman Podheretz, or with Noam Chomsky."
Democrats who vehemently deny this false choice should be in the forefront of those vehemently denouncing Joe Lieberman's latest descent into full-bore neoconservatism, which isn't just about foreign policy, but about the wilfull subjection of every progressive instinct on every issue to the monomaniacal drive for warfare against every enemy, foreign or domestic.