Thursday, February 27, 2014

Elizabeth Warren Gives Speech at Georgetown Focusing on Civilian Casualties and National Security

My senior senator--Elizabeth Warren--was invited to give a speech on national security at Georgetown University, my alma mater. Her speech, entitled "Collateral Damage, National Interests, and the Lessons of a Decade of Conflict," was the 2014 Whittington Lecture at the McCourt School of Public Policy (formerly the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, or GPPI). Leslie Whittington was a GPPI professor and associate dean, who, along with her husband and daughters, died tragically on September 11, 2001, when American Airlines flight 77 was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon.
We have not heard much on foreign policy from Warren so far. Granted, most senators tend to avoid talking foreign policy or engage in jingoistic saber-rattling.

Back in August, as the President, his cabinet, and the Democratic Party leadership were beating the war drums and calling for direct military intervention in Syria, Warren responded with skepticism and hesitation:
"It's critically important that we remember about unintended consequences," Warren said. "We may have good intentions, but the consequences of our acts are not limited by those intentions."
More recently, she endorsed the interim deal with Iran and expressed hope for continuing diplomacy and opposition to the efforts of some of her colleagues to interfere with that democracy.

However, this is one of the first times we've gotten to hear her deliver a speech specifically devoted to national security and foreign policy. She chose to focus on civilian casualties, an issue few of her colleagues are willing to discuss. Although much work must still be done to change the foreign policy consensus in Washington, this speech marked a step in the right direction.

Here is a particularly cogent passage:
When military action is on the table, do we fully and honestly debate the risk that while our actions would wipe out existing terrorists or other threats, they also might produce new ones? Do we talk seriously about the price our great nation, built on the foundation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, may pay if others come to believe that we are indifferent to the deaths of civilians? Do we fully take into account the effect on our interests if people around the world are inflamed by such casualties, or if they do not believe that our actions align with our values?
    Many policymakers in Washington seem hesitant to broach the subject and to ask these questions – hesitant to acknowledge the reality that military commanders deal with every day, the reality that civilian casualties affect U.S. interests abroad. And when we debate the costs and benefits of intervention – when we discuss potential military action around the world – the talk about collateral damage and civilian casualties too often seems quiet.
    The failure to make civilian casualties a full and robust part of our national conversation over the use of force is dangerous – dangerous because of the impression that it gives the world about our country, and dangerous because of how it affects the decisions that we make as a country. 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.
And here are her remarks, as prepared for delivery.

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