Lieberman vs. the left
By Barry Casselman 12/19/05
We are witnessing a true and rare case ofpolitical courage.Sen. JosephLieberman,ConnecticutDemocrat, has articulated a renewed and powerful statement of one of the most important American political principles of the past -- a bipartisan foreign policy -- and dared to put it into the new century. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled "Our Troops Must Stay," Mr. Lieberman argued, after his fourth and most recent visit to Iraq, that American policy there is working and is likely to be successful. He accurately characterizes the struggle there between 27 million Iraqi citizens and 10,000 terrorists, many of whom have come to Iraq from other parts of the Arab world to thwart Iraqi democracy in its infancy.
Mr. Lieberman was blisteringly critical of Democrats who were obsessing on part of the rationale for the United States going to Iraq, made three years ago, and of Republicans who were faltering because they speculate that support for the war might cost them their re-election next year. Mr. Lieberman sees "the big picture" of Iraq and the Middle East, and how the success in building a local representative government there will affect its totalitarian neighbors, not to mention the most important impact of all -- significantly furthering the vital goal of creating a democratic Palestinian state that ends the region's half century of hostility and violence to the state of Israel, our oldest and best ally in the region.
By contrast, the left-wing base of the Democratic Party has always opposed the war in Iraq; it now calls for immediate withdrawal of American troops. With much of American media, especially broadcast media, rooting them on with distorted news coverage, a mood of defeatism and American failure has begun to creep into American public opinion, ironically just as success and victory are in sight. The American left has always confused the "popularity" of American international leadership with its real and historical influence.
As the world's sole military superpower, and still its leading economic force, America cannot ever win popularity contests. We will always be verbally resented and criticized, and have our motives second-guessed. While we will always pursue our own national interests, which we must, we also have acted as a unique benevolent force in the world for almost a century, bringing military help, foreign aid, food and medical relief, technical assistance, models of democracy and education to parts of the world which need these most.
All of this is conveniently and deliberately ignored by the American left, which perceives our strong but imperfect representative democracy as somehow always a failure. It is shocking to observe how many of the spokespersons of the national Democratic Party have allowed themselves to become part of this. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean has continued this line since his humiliating defeat in the 2004 presidential primaries. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have been shrill and ineffective in their predictable and superficial broadsides against American foreign policy.
The good news is that they do not yet speak for the whole Democratic Party. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, both likely presidential candidates in 2008, have showed consistent restraint so far. Mr. Lieberman, who says his national ambitions are now exhausted, has gone an important step further. Mr. Lieberman has brought back the concept of a bipartisan foreign policy that was stated so eloquently by the late Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg during World War II. Mr. Lieberman argues that bitter dissension in the United States encourages our enemies abroad, particularly the terrorists we are now confronting in Afghanistan and the Middle East. No one is seriously suggesting that criticism cannot be made of the war, or that pacifists and others don't have the right to express their opposition to it. Mr. Lieberman himself has been critical of past implementation of the war in Iraq by the Bush administration. Clearly, mistakes have been made. Mistakes are always made in wars. Wars are ugly, brutal and unfair -- if sometimes necessary -- human activities. In Vietnam, the United States was reminded that we cannot fight wars without the intention of winning them.
Democracies only fight wars if they have to, and they are not ever popular over time. President Bush, at last finding a communicative voice, says we are in Iraq to win the war against terrorism, and that we are winning. What is victory? An Iraq which has some form of representative government.
As someone who supported President Clinton for two terms, I have no fear of a return of a centrist Democratic president in 2008. But that cannot happen if the defeatist gang is in charge of the Democratic Party, and if the Democratic nominee is beholden to them. Mr. Lieberman, whose stature cannot be debated, has courageously spoken out once more as the conscience of his party. He is, of course, being attacked by his party's leftist defeatists, and there is a contrived effort to isolate him in his effort to recreate a bipartisan foreign policy. Sens. Clinton and Biden and Govs. Mark Warner and Bill Richardson, all potential presidents in 2009, would be wise to ignore the defeatists and join with Mr. Lieberman. Should one of them succeed in three years, a bipartisan foreign policy will be absolutely necessary if they want to govern this nation successfully in the turbulent years ahead.
Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.