Ballot Box

The Worldview of Joe Lieberman

His instincts on foreign policy and national security.

Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they’re saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. The second series analyzed their buzzwords. The third series outlined what each candidate would focus on as president. This series sketches how they would manage America’s role in the world.

After communism collapsed, American voters lost interest in defense and foreign policy. But those subjects can consume most of a president’s time, and 9/11 returned them to the forefront. It’s difficult to anticipate which hot spots a candidate would have to deal with as president, but it’s possible to get a sense of how he approaches war, diplomacy, trade, and other challenges abroad. This series pieces together a picture of each candidate’s instincts based on his words and his record. Today’s subject is Joe Lieberman.

War and regime change: Lieberman is the most consistent hawk in the Democratic field. He was one of only 10 Senate Democrats to vote for authorization of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. John Kerry and Dick Gephardt voted against the 1991 authorization; Bob Graham voted for it but opposed the 2002 Iraq war authorization, which Lieberman supported. Lieberman was also one of two Senate Democrats to co-sponsor the 1998 Iraqi Liberation Act, which committed the United States to changing the Iraqi regime.

Nation-building: Lieberman was the only 2004 presidential candidate (including President Bush) to outline a clear plan for post-Saddam Iraq before the war started. In February 2003, he proposed a non-American civilian administrator and an international security force. His plan assigned most humanitarian responsibilities to the United Nations and other world bodies. He gave high priority to relieving Iraq’s enormous foreign debt. While Lieberman’s defense of unilateral military action distinguished him from other Democrats, his internationalist policy for the aftermath distinguished him from Bush.

Missile defense: Like the other Democrats, Lieberman has criticized Bush for rejecting the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. But unlike the other Democrats, Lieberman supports missile defense. In 1998, he was one of only four Senate Democrats to vote for a missile defense bill. Although he later voted to subject the program to extensive oversight and tests, he reiterated in March 2003 that “an effective missile defense system is also necessary.”

Long interest: In 1970, before he entered politics, Lieberman wrote The Scorpion and the Tarantula: The Struggle To Control Atomic Weapons, 1945-1949, a policy-oriented history of the beginnings of arms control.