Past U.S. presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson have been described as liberal hawks for their roles in bringing about the US's status as the world's premier military power. The Clinton Doctrine can also be considered as consistent with this vision. Today the term is most frequently used to describe liberals and leftists who supported or still support the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, which was authorized by the United States Congress and ordered by president George W. Bush. The war has stirred heated controversy among all political sides of the debate. The American left was divided over the issue of whether going to war in Iraq was the right decision, as some liberals felt that they should support the war, in accordance with the philosophy of liberal internationalism, which had caused them to support military intervention in the past.
One document often cited as promoting a liberal hawkish point of view is Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy, published by the Progressive Policy Institute in October 2003. Another document related to this philosophy is a letter to President Bush sent by Social Democrats USA in February 2003, urging the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.
In January 2004, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, George Packer, Kenneth Pollack, Jacob Weisberg, Fareed Zakaria and Fred Kaplan participated in a five-day online forum entitled Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War, in which they discussed whether they had been correct in advocating military action against Saddam Hussein's regime. Kaplan by that point had renounced his prior support, but the general consensus among the participants was that, despite the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the war had still been justified on humanitarian grounds.
In his book The Good Fight, published in 2006, Peter Beinart renounced his prior support for the Iraq War, saying, "I was too quick to give up on containment, too quick to think time was on Saddam's side."
People who have been described as liberal hawks include:
- Ronald D. Asmus, scholar at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
- Paul Berman, contributing editor to Dissent and The New Republic (described as a 'Philosopher King' of liberal hawks)
- Jonathan Chait, self-described liberal hawk
- Hillary Clinton, former First Lady of the United States, former U.S. Senator from New York, former US Secretary of State, 2008 Democratic Presidential Candidate, 2016 Democratic Presidential Nominee
- Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution
- Christopher Hitchens, British-American journalist, essayist, critic and writer.
- Richard Holbrooke, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, former Ambassador to Germany, former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, former Ambassador to the United Nations, and former special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
- Michael Ignatieff, former Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, former Professor at Havard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
- Henry "Scoop" Jackson, United States Senator who represented Washington State from 1953 to 1983
- Bernard-Henri Lévy, a French intellectual who espouses liberal interventionist tendencies.
- Joe Lieberman, United States Senator representing Connecticut from 1989 to 2013; liberal on social issues, but in favor of strong national defense.
- Michael McFaul, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution
- Kenneth Pollack, former Clinton administration advisor and senior fellow at The Brookings Institution
- Michael Tomasky, Editor of Guardian America
- Packer, George. "The Liberal Quandary Over Iraq." The New York Times Magazine. December 8, 2002.
- Anatol Lieven, Liberal Hawk Down, Anatol Lieven, The Nation, 7 October 2004
- Letter to President Bush sent by Social Democrats USA Archived May 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
- Chait, Jonathan (17 March 2010). "The Yoke's On You, Krauthammer". newrepublic.com.
- "How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk". The New York Times. 24 April 2016.