03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Lieberman's Right on Fort Hood

I have a hard time looking at or listening to Joe Lieberman.

I know this is my problem. If I agreed with the man's politics, I'd likely view his smirking mien, his habit of droning and whining, even that occasional Alfred E. Newman grin with something resembling affection. But Lieberman's behavior from after the 2000 presidential campaign to the present is riddled with hypocrisy, and defiance of his own much-vaunted "conscience." In 2006, for example, he advocated a "MediChoice" system that would "allow anybody in our country to buy into a national health-insurance pool like...members of Congress have." What is that, if not a public option? So bitter is Lieberman at Democrats, and disrespectful of the American people, that when campaigning for John McCain he actually declared Sarah Palin fit to be president.

Yet, when it comes to the Fort Hood slayings, Joe Lieberman is spot on.

The murderous outburst of Major Nidal Hasan was an unambiguous act of terrorism. It's appropriate and necessary for Lieberman as chair of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee (please deal with that, Harry Reid) to find out why this particular terrorist was tolerated within the ranks of the U.S. Army. Hasan had for some time exchanged e-mails with the extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, prescribed violent medicine for "infidels," and been found guilty by his peers and superiors of poor judgment and incompetence. And, possibly, mental illness.

Consider this simple Dashboard definition of terrorism: "The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims." Whether Major Hasan was in need of the very services he was trained by his employer (us) to provide, or simply had his eye on avoiding service in Iraq there can be little doubt about his motive to hurt and frighten for political purpose.

Violent criminals are often driven by multiple motives: to exact revenge, rub out one's competition, gain notoriety, send a message of dominance (all motives, incidentally, of narco-terrorists).

We'll learn more about Major Hasan in the coming weeks and months, but it's entirely possible he killed (1) to avenge the religiously offensive treatment he claims to have suffered at the hands of the military; (2) to promote a radical religious agenda; (3) to keep himself from being shipped off to the Middle East, whether as a political statement or an act of cowardice. What difference does it make? His implicit goal was to harm and intimidate in furtherance of a political agenda.

And so what if that agenda was more personal than political? Think of a suicide bomber whose motive is not so much in service to Allah but rather to prove himself to his family, or to gain sympathy from a love interest who's spurned his advances. Think of a homegrown murderer whose anger at his boss or coworkers leads to mass killings. The ultimate goal, twisted and nuanced as it may be, is to call attention to perceived workplace injustices, in part by scaring the hell out of people.

"Political aims" need not be confined to broad or grand domestic or international or religious themes. Indeed, we're taught to think global, act local as a form of pragmatic politics. Violence aimed at perceived workplace inequities is terrorism, a label I'd also stretch to fit the act of a murderous husband who opens fire at his estranged partner's downtown law firm. Likewise, more transparently, the killing of an abortion doctor.

Lieberman is right to question how Major Nidal Hasan's threats, reflecting a radical and violent interpretation of the Qur'an, were tolerated for years by the Army, and perhaps by the FBI. He's right to demand answers to why the copious collection of dots in this case were never connected.

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