Lieberman and the Use of Force

P.R.: You've been something of a maverick in your party with your support of American military action in Grenada and Panama. What traditional principles of the Democratic Party justify such use of force?

Lieberman: Defense is another area, along with economic opportunity and growth, where the Democratic Party has left its traditional foundations over the past couple of decades. The party of Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy understood that one of the most critical responsibilities of our national government is to protect our national security. These presidents all understood that the world is imperfect, and that although civilization has progressed in many ways, we still are imperfect enough to want to cause harm to one another. Unless you have strength, and show that you are willing to use that strength in international relations, people and governments will take advantage of you and you will suffer for your timidity. The United States should not go looking for fights, but we have to be ready to defend our interests and defend them wisely and courageously.

P.R.: Under what circumstances must the United States be prepared to use force?

Lieberman: Wherever American people or principles are in danger, we have to be open to the use of force. President Reagan's decision to order an air attack on Libya was a totally justifiable use of force because Colonel Qadhafi was a major supporter of international terrorism, which was hurting and killing Americans, and it was important to send him a message that he could no longer operate without fear of reprisal. It is very dangerous to let an international outlaw run loose.

The ouster of Noriega was another justifiable use of force. Again, both principles and people were involved: Panama is close to our border and in our natural sphere of influence. We have important commercial interests through the canal. Noriega violated democratic principles with his flagrant nullification of the election he clearly lost. His role in drug running threatened our security. And, finally, his encouragement of, or at least toleration of, attacks on American soldiers in Panama could not be permitted to escalate.

A military response was also necessary in Grenada. Our conflict with the Soviet Communists seems to be diminishing now in many regions. But when the new government took over in Grenada with Cuban support, the situation was clearly threatening to other democracies in the Caribbean. Was it threatening to our ultimate existence? No, but it was a threat to freedom in our hemisphere. We had the capacity to eliminate the threat without much risk, and I thought it was an important and appropriate use of force.

Source: Policy Review Summer 1990