Lost in the headlines of the Democratic Senate's failed attempt last weekend to bust a GOP filibuster to force a floor debate and resolution vote on President George W. Bush's surge in American forces in Iraq is that one member of the Democratic caucus allied himself with the Republican majority: Joe Lieberman.
Lieberman's alliance with the GOP on this issue is not surprising; the 3-term Connecticut Senator has been a staunch support of the war on terror, President Bush's foreign policy in general, and the Iraq War in particular ever since September 11, 2001. But there has been little substantive examination by the mainstream media as to precisely why Lieberman is so steadfast in his support of the war.
Most media accounts of Lieberman's position on Iraq frame it as part of his general 'hawkish' foreign policy mindset.
"Joe Lieberman, the centrist hawk." (Houston Chronicle, 10/25/06)
"Hawk Joe Takes Hit at Debate" (New York Post, 10/19/06)
"In Connecticut race, insurgent left aims at Democratic hawk" (Christian Science Monitor, 08/02/06)
"Sen. Joe Lieberman, one of the last ''liberal hawks'' in the Democratic Party" (Chicago Sun Times, 07/28/06)
But simply labeling Lieberman a 'hawk' does not explain his policy positions or his vote last weekend—there are other conservative, foreign policy hawks on the Democratic side of the aisle who voted with their party (e.g. Ben Nelson of Nebraska).
So the question becomes why is Lieberman a foreign policy hawk, especially with regards to the Iraq War? In particular, what role do Lieberman's religious views have on his voting record?
The fact that Saddam Hussein sent scud missiles into Israel in the first Gulf War, and that Iran has made several threats against Israel during the past few years cannot be discounted in their potential impact on an observing Jewish American political leader like Lieberman who has long been a strong supporter of Israel. Could not such a leader seek to enact U.S. policy that helps to insure there is a strong U.S. military presence in the Middle East to help rid the region of (or at least contain) some of the more antagonistic anti-Israeli regimes, provided there is some U.S. interest to do so?
But the fact that Lieberman is Jewish per se does not explain anything—there are 13 Jewish members in the U.S. Senate, and only 1, Lieberman, voted with the Republicans. In fact, both Republican Jews in the Senate, Norm Coleman (MN) and Arlen Specter (PA), sided with the Democratic majority on the Iraq resolution procedural matters this past weekend.
The difference in Lieberman's case might be that he is a practicing Orthodox Jew, a much stricter sect of Judaism. And yet, Lieberman's strong religious faith—and his strong support of Israel—is scarcely mentioned in media accounts with regards to his foreign policy positions and his voting record. A Lexis/Nexis search of more than 30 major U.S. newspapers over the past year found more than 200 articles mentioning Lieberman's support of the Iraq War. However, only 2 of these articles made a single mention to Lieberman's Jewish faith.
One of these articles was a commentary by conservative Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times shortly after Lieberman lost the 2006 Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut to Ned Lamont. But even Goldberg stopped far short of making a direct link—focusing instead on Lieberman's faith in the context of morality, not foreign policy:
"As many have noted, the only reason he could get away with his Bill Bennett-esque sermonizing is that he's an Orthodox Jew. For many liberals, when white Christian politicians talk about God, it's scary. When Jews do it, it's quaint. No Christian national Democrat has talked so openly and sincerely about God and traditional values in decades."
It seems Goldberg's hypothesis is true to this extent: the U.S. media—which seems perfectly willing to caution against the potential impact Christianity may play on public policy—seems unwilling to even raise this same questions about a Jewish politician, let alone as one as prominent as the man who was one Florida County butterfly ballot away from being Vice President of the United States.
To his credit, Lieberman is one of the more honest politicians Washington, D.C. has seen in recent years. If only one member of the press would have the nerve to ask of him what Smart Politics asks today we might be further informed as to the rationale behind his policy positions: "Senator Lieberman, to what extent do your religious beliefs and your backing of the state of Israel impact you as a United States Senator when deciding to support the deployment of U.S. troops in Muslim nations which have engaged in hostilities with Israel in the past or are threatening to do so in the future?"