Elizabeth Warren delivers first foreign policy lecture, urges greater consideration of civilian casualties

WASHINGTON -- Senator Elizabeth Warren took steps to broaden her foreign policy portfolio Wednesday night, with a planned lecture warning about the dangers of not carefully considering civilian casualties when ordering an attack on military targets.

“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 planned to say Wednesday at the Whittington Lecture at Georgetown University, according to prepared remarks.

Warren’s national rise has been fueled by her attention to domestic issues, particularly the financial hurdles middle-class Americans face, the effects of the financial crisis, and the burgeoning income gap. She has denied interest in seeking the presidency, but fans of the Massachusetts Democrat have continued to promote a potential candidacy. Warren’s lack of a foreign policy profile is sometimes cited as a gap in her experience should she seek higher office.


Wednesday’s planned lecture was to be her first devoted to foreign policy since she entered the Senate last year. The speech, along with comments she has made since her 2012 campaign, demonstrate that her liberalism extends to her foreign policy views.

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Warren planned to say that the 13 years of military engagement that followed the Sept. 11 attacks have provided new lessons in the strategic, as well as humanitarian, downsides of harming civilians, including the risk of inciting insurgents.

“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,” Warren said according to the prepared remarks.

She planned to back military training on civilian casualty issues, more accurate and transparent tracking, and efforts to establish “best practices” in responding to casualties.

Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.