Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

On Joe Lieberman and bipartisanship

As regular readers of Shadow Government know, we here at the blog don’t take an official "house position" on particular issues, but rather try to present thoughtful commentary from the vantage point of those who have served in foreign policy roles in a Republican administration. Often we will agree amongst ourselves on a particular issue, ...

By , the executive director of the Clements Center for National Security and the author of The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink.
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

As regular readers of Shadow Government know, we here at the blog don't take an official "house position" on particular issues, but rather try to present thoughtful commentary from the vantage point of those who have served in foreign policy roles in a Republican administration. Often we will agree amongst ourselves on a particular issue, but just as often we might find disagreements among ourselves as well. Likewise, we might find ourselves disagreeing with a particular course of action or emphasis of the Obama administration -- and saying so -- but it is also not unusual to find posts from Shadow Government contributors agreeing with, and even applauding, a White House policy step. In short, national security policy does not always fall easily along party lines. Our foremost priorities at Shadow Government are to speak out on what we think is best for our country, and to do so in a constructive and civil manner. Civility doesn't preclude being hard-hitting at times, but it does mean focusing on the issues rather than maligning the opposing side. Not to mention being mindful that we might on occasion be wrong.

Two items from this past week prompted me to reflect on the possibilities of bipartisanship in foreign policy, and one of its correlates, civility. The first is this thoughtful post by David Shorr over at Democracy Arsenal on "More Ideas for a Constructive Foreign Policy Debate." Shorr relates some trenchant remarks from a recent conference he attended, in which Rich Williamson urged a bipartisan U.S. commitment to human rights promotion, and Bruce Jentleson offered some leavened insights on the sometimes contentious subject of the relationship between the United States' international reputation and policy leverage. Shorr concludes with an appeal for all parties to resist impugning motives and focus instead on problem-solving: "Here's the choice: we can keep arguing over whether the US needs to burnish its moral authority, or we can look at the dilemmas bedeviling our country's international challenges."

The second item is the announcement by Senator Joe Lieberman that he won't be seeking re-election in 2012. When it comes to national security policy, Senator Lieberman has for more than the past decade been one of the most visible exemplars of bipartisanship. Heir to a distinguished tradition of hawkish Democrats such as Scoop Jackson and Harry Truman, he will be missed for his personal decency as much as his independence of mind. I first came to appreciate Senator Lieberman when I worked on Capitol Hill in the 1990s, and he provided crucial bipartisan sponsorship -- and active support -- for the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (known also and appropriately as the "Nickles-Lieberman" bill). As David Brooks points out today, the peculiar dynamics of politics often meant that Lieberman's conservative foreign policy stances actually abetted his liberal positions on domestic policy. I know very few people of either party who agree with him all of the time, but even fewer who don't appreciate his civility, goodwill, and patriotism.

As regular readers of Shadow Government know, we here at the blog don’t take an official "house position" on particular issues, but rather try to present thoughtful commentary from the vantage point of those who have served in foreign policy roles in a Republican administration. Often we will agree amongst ourselves on a particular issue, but just as often we might find disagreements among ourselves as well. Likewise, we might find ourselves disagreeing with a particular course of action or emphasis of the Obama administration — and saying so — but it is also not unusual to find posts from Shadow Government contributors agreeing with, and even applauding, a White House policy step. In short, national security policy does not always fall easily along party lines. Our foremost priorities at Shadow Government are to speak out on what we think is best for our country, and to do so in a constructive and civil manner. Civility doesn’t preclude being hard-hitting at times, but it does mean focusing on the issues rather than maligning the opposing side. Not to mention being mindful that we might on occasion be wrong.

Two items from this past week prompted me to reflect on the possibilities of bipartisanship in foreign policy, and one of its correlates, civility. The first is this thoughtful post by David Shorr over at Democracy Arsenal on "More Ideas for a Constructive Foreign Policy Debate." Shorr relates some trenchant remarks from a recent conference he attended, in which Rich Williamson urged a bipartisan U.S. commitment to human rights promotion, and Bruce Jentleson offered some leavened insights on the sometimes contentious subject of the relationship between the United States’ international reputation and policy leverage. Shorr concludes with an appeal for all parties to resist impugning motives and focus instead on problem-solving: "Here’s the choice: we can keep arguing over whether the US needs to burnish its moral authority, or we can look at the dilemmas bedeviling our country’s international challenges."

The second item is the announcement by Senator Joe Lieberman that he won’t be seeking re-election in 2012. When it comes to national security policy, Senator Lieberman has for more than the past decade been one of the most visible exemplars of bipartisanship. Heir to a distinguished tradition of hawkish Democrats such as Scoop Jackson and Harry Truman, he will be missed for his personal decency as much as his independence of mind. I first came to appreciate Senator Lieberman when I worked on Capitol Hill in the 1990s, and he provided crucial bipartisan sponsorship — and active support — for the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (known also and appropriately as the "Nickles-Lieberman" bill). As David Brooks points out today, the peculiar dynamics of politics often meant that Lieberman’s conservative foreign policy stances actually abetted his liberal positions on domestic policy. I know very few people of either party who agree with him all of the time, but even fewer who don’t appreciate his civility, goodwill, and patriotism.

Will Inboden is the executive director of the Clements Center for National Security and an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, both at the University of Texas at Austin, a distinguished scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and the author of The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink.

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