Elizabeth Warren calls for increased attention to civilian casualties

The Massachusetts senator, usually focused on domestic politics, advocates a smarter, more humane foreign policy

By Elias Isquith

Published February 27, 2014 3:35PM (EST)

  (AP/Michael Dwyer)
(AP/Michael Dwyer)

Massachusetts senator and liberal hero Elizabeth Warren — who has made her name by focusing on domestic economic issues like debt, consumer protections, inequality and regulating Wall Street — delivered on Wednesday night her first big speech on foreign policy, urging the U.S. foreign policy establishment to pay greater attention to civilian casualties for the sake of both America's interests and its values.

Citing retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Warren argues that America must keep in mind the fact that every civilian it kills in its foreign policy operations represents not only the loss of a singular life, but often the destruction of a whole community's emotional and even economic well-being. Warren praised McChrystal's insight that "traditional mathematics" won't suffice when it comes to civilian casualties because a single person's death may inspire another — or many others — to fight against the U.S. for revenge.

"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?" Warren asked. "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?"

Warren went on to criticize America's foreign policy establishment for its failure to take these issues more seriously. "Many policymakers in Washington seem hesitant to broach the subject and to ask these questions," Warren said. "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."

You can read her full speech here (scroll down) via the Huffington Post.

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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