The Scorpion and the Tarantula:
Joe Lieberman, Radical Historian

Ira Stoll - The Wall Street Journal - August 30, 2000

Prefacing Comments:

Wall Street Journal:

Ira Stoll unearths a copy of Joe Lieberman's 1970 book onU.S.-Soviet relations, "The Scorpion and the Tarantula." Lieberman says his views have changed, but refuses to disavow what Stoll, in a Wall Street Journal piece, calls a

"masterpiece of moral equivalency."

(Best of the Web 08/ 30/2000).


Similar responses from Joseph Lieberman in defense of his flip-flops on matters of principle such as affirmative action and school vouchers all translate out to essentially the same posture of: "Even-when-I'm-wrong-I'm-right! - You-just-misunderstood." Lieberman's "Don't-confuse-me-with-the-facts! - My-mind-is-made-up!" attitude towards the Pollard Case is strongly evidenced here, as well.

So you thought Al Gore's book "Earth in the Balance" was flaky? Check out his running mate Joseph Lieberman's little-noticed 1970 volume on arms control and the origins of the Cold War, "The Scorpion and the Tarantula." It's a masterpiece of moral equivalency in which Mr. Lieberman draws a parallel between Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and the American Monroe Doctrine of maintaining influence in the Western hemisphere.

The book's title comes from a quote from Cold War historian Louis Halle, who contended that the Cold War "is not fundamentally a case of the wicked against the virtuous. Fundamentally, it is like the case of the scorpion and the tarantula in the bottle, and we may properly feel sorry for both parties, caught as they are, in a situation of irreducible dilemma." In the preface to his 1970 book, Mr. Lieberman wrote that "this is the spirit in which I have recorded what my research has revealed."

The only problem is that, as most Americans have by now realized--and as those stuck behind the Iron Curtain at the time knew all too well--the Cold War was a case of the wicked against the virtuous. The Soviets were the wicked ones, depriving the Russian people and those in their puppet states of freedom of the press, of religion, of emigration.

Mr. Lieberman interpreted the communist talk of international domination as mere bluster, and he wrote that Americans should have known better than to take it seriously: "One of the primary causes of the failure to achieve international atomic control and the concurrent failure to prevent the cold war was the inability of America's statesmen and people to see through the avalanche of Communist rhetoric and deal with Soviet foreign policy as something shaped by Russia's unique history and guided by the Russians' conception of their national interest. In this more accurate light, Russia's goals are seen to be more limited and less in conflict with America's."

When it came to American activity in Latin America, Mr. Lieberman sounded like a campus radical, or at least George McGovern. "Consistency was not one of the characteristics that marked America's side of the argument over the fate of Eastern Europe," he wrote. "While protesting the creation of a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe on the theory that it would constitute a return to the evil days of international power politics that has caused two world wars, the United States nevertheless zealously protected its own sphere of influence in the Western Hemisphere. From the earliest enunciation of the Monroe Doctrine right down to the twentieth century, America has proved itself willing to resort to arms to keep anti-American governments out of power in Latin America."

Has Mr. Lieberman reassessed his views, or does he still see the Cold War as a battle between a scorpion and a tarantula, a war that America shared equal guilt for starting and in which American calls for democracy and Soviet talk of world domination were each merely rhetoric? After I inquired about the matter, the senator issued a statement that distanced himself from the book without totally disavowing it.

"Few of us view the world through the same lenses in our 50s as we did in our 20s," the senator said. "The Scorpion and the Tarantula was written more than 30 years ago and certainly does not reflect my thinking about foreign policy or our national security today. As the Cold War progressed, and the actions by the Soviet Union to subjugate the people of Eastern Europe intensified and the Soviet military build-up increasingly threatened the United States and the free world, I became a strong advocate of military readiness and of using our military power when necessary to oppose any such tyranny. My voting record since I have been in the Senate much more accurately reflects my positions than does this 30-year-old book."

Mr. Lieberman's statement is somewhat reassuring. But rather than admitting he was wrong at the time he wrote the book, he tries to explain it by suggesting that the Soviets somehow worsened their behavior after 1970. In fact, the crushing of the Prague Spring, the construction of the Berlin Wall and Stalin's forced collectivization campaign all happened before Mr. Lieberman wrote his book. The Soviet Union threatened the free world from the very inception of that totalitarian state in a coup by a group of Bolshevik thugs, not as a result of some post-1970 increase in aggressiveness imagined by Mr. Lieberman.

The Cold War is over, and there are other issues to vote on in November. But there are still plenty of scorpions and tarantulas out there on the international scene. And when it comes time to deal with them, you get the sense that the Bush-Cheney team, with their cowboy boots and Reagan-era foreign policy posse, could flick the creepy-crawly dictators aside with a lot less self-doubt and moral equivocation than a Gore-Lieberman team.

Even a Gore-Lieberman team that claims to have matured somewhat since Mr. Lieberman's days as a radical historian of the Cold War.

Mr. Stoll is editor of, North American editor of the Jerusalem Post and a contributor to

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