Lieberman Mangles History — Again

The Democratic Party’s most notorious hawk has struck again.

During the NATO military intervention in Kosovo in 1999, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) embraced the notorious Kosovo Liberation Army, asserting that “fighting for the KLA is fighting for human rights and American values” (Linda Wheeler, “Marchers Strut Support for Independent Kosovo,” Washington Post, April 28, 1999). The KLA-dominated government in Kosovo has since proven his point by ethnically cleansing more than 240,000 Serb and other non-Albanian inhabitants of the province.

Lieberman has now brought his acute powers of analysis to bear again. Responding to the disruption of the latest terror plot in the UK, he opined that Islamic terrorists pose an even greater threat to America’s security than did the Soviet communists during the Cold War.

That comment exhibits historical illiteracy. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was the world’s number two military power. Its conventional forces could have overrun Europe and condemned hundreds of millions of additional people to communist slavery. Its arsenal of thousands of nuclear weapons was capable of killing tens of millions of Americans and effectively ending American civilization. The USSR was a strategic threat of the first magnitude.

Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists are certainly scary, but their ability to cause destruction and loss of life is decidedly more limited. We need to remember that terrorism is the strategy of weak forces, not strong ones. The terrorists killed some 3,000 people on September 11. Subsequent incidents, such as those in Bali, Madrid, Istanbul, London, and Mumbai, have each killed dozens or hundreds more. That is certainly tragic, but it doesn’t begin to compare to the number of deaths caused by the Soviet Union and its communist allies during the Cold War in various wars, much less to the deaths that would have occurred if the Cold War had erupted into World War III.

Lieberman’s scare mongering — and the similar tactics of others who hype the threat by saying that we’re already in World War III (or IV–or V!) — is profoundly unhelpful. We need to keep the terrorist threat in perspective (pdf).