What Kind of Politician Bases a Major Foreign Policy Speech on Civilian Casualties?

Civilian casualties

Not sure why exactly, unless she really is thinking of running for president, but, at Georgetown University on February 26, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA, as if you didn’t know) strayed from her usual domain of banking and consumer protections to deliver her first foreign-policy speech. With U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, she posed these questions for the future of the U.S. role abroad.

How do we best balance liberty and security? What role, if any, should nation-building play in our military strategy? When, if ever, should we engage in a so-called war of choice?

Then she said:

Today, I want to focus on a related question about how we advance our national interests – a question that is discussed less often than many of the others, but one that I think deserves our attention. How should we think about civilian casualties and their effect on our strategic decisions?

Huh? What politician makes “collateral damage” at the hands U.S. military forces the focus of her or his first foreign-policy speech? Usually, they speak about protecting the United States from terrorists, keeping the heat on Iran, resetting relations with Russia (the button for which has been stuck for years), whether U.S. policy toward China should be confrontation or containment, and, in general, projecting our power outward. Giving humanitarian concerns equal time with U.S. interests seems like political suicide.

But that may no longer be the case. Sen. Warren makes the case for what could be called The New Realism.

The failure to make civilian casualties a full and robust part of our national conversation over the use of force is dangerous. … Our decision-making suffers – and our ability to effectively advance our interests suffers – when we do not grapple fully and honestly with all of the costs and benefits, all the risks, all the intended and unintended consequences of military action.

When our country considers military intervention, we must be hard-headed and clear-eyed. It is critical to consider the chaos and factionalization that can arise in the wake of military intervention, critical to evaluate the potential for military intervention to spark an insurgency or fuel a civil war, critical to consider the possibility that civilian casualties in one conflict could be used as a recruiting tool or rallying cry for extremists in other parts of the world.

Suggestion for the main subject of your next foreign-policy speech, Sen. Warren ― dismantling U.S. military bases around the world.

  • certop

    thanks for flagging this, russ! it’s delightful to hear something like this from warren, a comparative neophyte on foreign policy who, in the past, has shown a willingness to parrot unhelpful talking points on iran–perhaps simply because she was simply deferring to more established voices. i hope this is the first step of many.

    separately, as someone who has written a book about investing prudently, i hope she sees the light on fossil fuel divestment.