Joe Lieberman AEI: Former Senator Working With Conservative Think Tank

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) announced Monday that former Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) will co-chair the American Internationalism Project with former Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). Kyl signed on as a Visiting Fellow with AEI last week. The project aims to “reshape a bipartisan consensus around American global leadership and engagement.” Lieberman said “there is an urgent need to rebuild a bipartisan — indeed non-political — consensus for American diplomatic, economic, and military leadership in the world." Both Lieberman and Kyl opted not to run for re-election in 2012.

In a call with this author, Phillip Lohaus, a fellow at AEI’s Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies, which encompasses the new project, said that Lieberman will not be joining the Institute itself, as several news outlets have reported. Rather, he will work with the institute on this project. Lohaus said Lieberman has long been in conversation with the Institute informally because they “share a common interest in America being a force for good in the world.” He said that Senator Kyl suggested bringing Lieberman on as a good way to bring bipartisanship to the project. Kyl, as a Visiting Fellow, has an office at the institute; fellows can expect to receive six figure salaries.

Senator Lieberman definitely brings bipartisanship to the conservative institute’s project, if only in a literal sense. Lieberman served as Al Gore’s vice presidential running mate in 2000 and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 2004. In 2006, Lieberman switched his party affiliation to Independent after losing the primary to businessman Ned Lamont. He went on to win the general election and caucused with the Democrats. However, in 2008, he spoke at the Republican National Convention and backed Republican John McCain for president. After Democrats voted to let Lieberman keep his chairmanship of the influential Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, he continued to caucus with them.

Evidently, Lieberman has bridged the partisan divide, but nonetheless it is extremely unlikely he will differ substantially from his co-chair Kyl on foreign policy; the two collaborated frequently in the Senate. In fact, he may simply be providing a veneer of bipartisanship for the conservative institute’s hawkish foreign policy. In 1998, he co-sponsored a bill with McCain, making the overthrow of Saddam Hussein an official goal of US Foreign policy, and in 2002, Lieberman was an honorary co-chair of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, along with McCain. It is important to note that the American Enterprise Institute pushed heavily for the war in Iraq and the surge in 2006-7.

Lieberman lost the primary in 2006 thanks in large part to his continuing support for the Iraq War; that year, he was one of only six Democratic senators who voted against resolutions to limit involvement in Iraq. However, Lieberman has continued to support military intervention around the world. In 2012, he co-authored an op-ed with McCain and Republican Lindsey Graham calling for US intervention in Syria.

The most important impact Lieberman’s work with AEI will likely have relates to Iran. Since 2007, he has called for a “strike over the border into Iran” against nuclear sites and military bases. At a Foreign Policy Initiative conference, Lieberman said there is a “broad bipartisan base of support” for military action against Iran. Perhaps he was referencing the non-binding resolution that he and John Kyl cosponsored in 2007 which labeled the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp a “foreign terrorist organization”. The amendment passed 76-22.

Lieberman has also joined the board of advisors of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) which seeks to promote “a strong U.S. military, a robust national security policy, and a strong U.S. security relationship with Israel”. Other members of the board include former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor. JINSA supports regime change in Iran for its support of terrorist organizations.

Joseph Lieberman is obviously trying to strengthen his influence after giving up his Senate seat. He will almost certainly use his new positions to build the case for military action against Iran. He may also try to produce action on cybersecurity, after his bill strengthening America’s protections failed. He will also certainly continue his strong advocacy for Israel. Given his stature in the foreign policy world and that of the organizations he has affiliated himself with, he will likely influence policymakers to a great degree for someone who has just left office.

If Lieberman’s efforts are successful, it will fuel the ire of many liberals who decry the dominance of conservative think tanks in the Washington establishment. It is no surprise that Lieberman chose to work with AEI given his conservative foreign policy leanings, but the move points to a larger disparity that manifests in funding and citations in the media. While Lieberman may call for a “non-political consensus,” his efforts are sure to advance a vision for American foreign policy favored by Republicans.