Friday, March 09, 2007


National Journal Shows the Other Side of Lieberman

Today I am going to invoke a point of personal privilege, put on my Lieberman partisan hat, and share with you an excellent National Journal story on my former boss and current client. [NOTE: for you full-disclosure purists, I worked for Lieberman for 10 years in the Senate, on his 2006 general election campaign, and continue today as a paid advisor.]

This piece provides some much-needed outside perspective on Senator Lieberman's productive bridge-building efforts since become an Independent Democrat. It also provides a healthy reality-check -- particularly about Lieberman's ongoing good Democrat-ness on domestic issues -- for the liberal blogosphere's myth-making. Not least of all, it shows why Harry Reid and his inclusive leadership style commands the respect of the entire Democratic caucus.

(FYI: Since non-subscribers can't get access to the article on the National Journal website, I am including the full text of the piece below instead of linking to it.)
Lieberman at the Water's Edge
By Brian Friel
National Journal

On February 28, President Bush and his top national security advisers met at the White House with congressional leaders of both parties to talk about the war in Afghanistan. The lawmakers later pronounced the meeting "very good" and "constructive" -- although they had no news to announce, given the parties' general agreement about U.S. policy in Afghanistan. "It was a meeting that reflected the unity of purpose between the administration and, obviously, Republicans who were there, but also Democrats that were there, that we want to be successful in defeating terrorism," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters as he left.

The meeting was the first gathering of a high-level working group on national security issues. The idea for administration and congressional leaders -- including Bush, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. -- to regularly discuss matters related to the war on terrorism came from Sen. Joe Lieberman.

"We'll never get to a point where everybody agrees on everything," the self-styled "independent Democrat" from Connecticut and Bush's main Democratic ally for the Iraq war told National Journal. "And we shouldn't. That's not the American way. But we sure ought to get to a point where we can sit in a room and talk to each other about our disagreements and our agreements, recognizing that we are all -- regardless of party affiliation -- on the same side."

The meeting of the most powerful people in Washington at his behest is just one of the events in the last few weeks that demonstrate Lieberman's unique position in the new Congress. He is, on the Iraq war, firmly against the Democratic Party line, opposing his party on two key votes on Bush's plan to send additional troops to Iraq. But Lieberman remains a leading spokesman for other Democratic initiatives. Despite a Bush veto threat, he promoted union rights for airport security screeners in the 9/11 bill that he shepherded on the Senate floor during the past two weeks. And he spoke on behalf of Democrats in the party's March 3 radio address, demanding better medical treatment for wounded veterans.

Lieberman's tenuous loyalty to the Democratic Party keeps it in control of the 51-49 Senate. If he caucused with Republicans instead, the GOP would take over, with Vice President Cheney serving as the tiebreaking vote. Lieberman has said there is only a remote possibility that he would switch sides, but he hasn't ruled it out. He could, and may, use his position in the catbird seat as previous senators have -- to demand concessions and favors from party leaders in return for his support on key legislation. But so far, Lieberman is styling himself as a bridge builder who will use his position at the center of the Senate to generate bipartisan agreement on overarching foreign-policy issues.

Lieberman cites Sen. Arthur Vandenberg as his inspiration. The Republican senator represented Michigan from 1928 until his death in 1951. For most of that time, he was a leading isolationist, opposing the internationalist policies of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But on January 10, 1945, Vandenberg gave what has become known as "the speech heard 'round the world," in which he denounced isolationism, promoted the formation of the United Nations, and announced support for an activist American role in world affairs. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1947 to '49, Vandenberg helped Democratic President Truman develop the nation's postwar and Cold War foreign policies. A phrase from a 1947 Vandenberg speech, "Politics stops at the water's edge," has become a mantra for patriotic unity, and he is one of only nine senators honored with a portrait in the Senate Reception Room.

"Vandenberg came a distance to agree with Truman on the great policies of the postwar period, not only the international institutions critical to the Cold War but the basic policy of containment of the Soviet Union," Lieberman told NJ. "I hope we can get to that point."

Lieberman quoted Vandenberg for a year and a half while he promoted his idea for a high-level national security working group. Lieberman said that Bush asked him in December -- soon after Democrats won control of Congress -- for ideas to build bipartisan consensus to fight terrorism. "I said, 'Why don't you just try to get people together around other subjects?' " Lieberman recounted. " 'You can talk about Iraq sometimes, or on other subjects where there may be more agreement, to create dialogue and trust.' "

Bush embraced the idea in his January 10 speech to the nation in which he also announced a "surge" of troops for the Iraq war. Bush repeated it in his January 23 State of the Union address.

Lieberman in December had proposed a standing membership for the group, including party leaders as well as the chairmen and ranking members of various committees. Pelosi and Reid said instead that they wanted to decide who from the Democratic side would attend each meeting, depending on the subject. Bush ultimately agreed. Lieberman said he didn't attend the first meeting because he hasn't been as involved in Afghanistan policy as he has been on other issues. "I'm very pleased with how it's gone so far," he said.

But on the major foreign-policy issue confronting the nation -- Iraq -- Lieberman has had more trouble developing bipartisan good feelings. In fact, he's managed to annoy several of his colleagues in the process of supporting the president's war policies. In a Meet the Press appearance on January 14, Lieberman angered Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., an opponent of Bush's war plans, by saying: "The consequences [of withdrawal] for us, for -- I want to be personal -- for my children and grandchildren, I fear will be disastrous." Hagel retorted: "Senator Lieberman talks about his children and grandchildren. We all have children and grandchildren. He doesn't have a market on that, nor do any of my colleagues."

Similarly, at a January 23 Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing for Lt. Gen. David Petraeus as Iraq commander, Lieberman asked Petraeus if he agreed that resolutions opposing Bush's plans would encourage America's enemies. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who drafted one such resolution, took exception to Lieberman's question. "We're not a division here today of patriots who support the troops and those who are making statements and working on resolutions that could be translated as aiding and abetting the enemy," Warner said.

Senate Democrats have mostly avoided such tussles with Lieberman, directing their fire at the GOP instead. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., for example, has said that Lieberman is voting his conscience and that Democrats respect him for it. When Lieberman stopped attending the Democrats' Tuesday caucus luncheons because he felt like the odd man out on Iraq, Reid personally asked him to come to the meetings and said they would cover other topics. Lieberman accepted.

Although Lieberman is again meeting with the Democrats for lunch on Tuesdays, he has different plans for breakfast. He and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on January 9 convened the first Bipartisan Members Group breakfast, at which lawmakers from both parties get together for informal discussions of issues. "The whole reason for the group is that now almost every spare minute is taken up in partisan team meetings, leaving little time for opportunities to know one another across party lines so that we can work better together," the two wrote in a December 20 letter to their colleagues. Forty senators showed up for the first breakfast.

It remains to be seen whether Lieberman's efforts will bear bipartisan legislative fruit. Members have found themselves frequently aligning with their parties for votes on both foreign and domestic policies, from Iraq to amendments on minimum wage to the security screeners' union rights. But one glimmer of hope came on March 5, when Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., flanked by Lieberman and other senators of both parties, announced a bipartisan legislative package of education and research initiatives aimed at keeping America competitive in a global economy.

As each senator went to the podium to speak, Lieberman chatted in the background with colleagues from both parties -- including Reid, who whispered behind his hand into Lieberman's ear for a few moments. When it was Lieberman's turn to speak, he began with a biblical quote: "How good and wonderful it is for brethren to dwell together in harmony."

Iraqis Finally Unite--Against the U.S.
Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig, where this essay originally was published.

You have to hand it to Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., for having the chutzpah to cite the fiercely anti-American rally that dominated the anniversary of Iraq's fourth year of U.S. occupation as evidence that the troop "surge" is working. As opposed to Lieberman, who continues to act as Bush's overeager lap dog, his masters in the White House knew better than to celebrate at this depressing moment.

After a weekend in which 10 U.S. soldiers were killed--four more were killed on Monday, bringing the total to 45 already in April--and the citizens of once bustling Baghdad cowered in their homes under a U.S.-imposed round-the-clock curfew, President Bush had the good sense for once to say not a word about the glorious "liberation" of Iraq. Instead, as Dana Milbank noted in The Washington Post, the president never mentioned Iraq in a 24-minute speech he gave on the happier subject of illegal immigration, nor did any of his top aides touch on the topic. The White House website ignored Iraq entirely under the heading "LATEST NEWS," instead featuring Clifford the Big Red Dog's romp at the South Lawn's annual Easter egg hunt.

Meanwhile, back in liberated Iraq, the anniversary of Saddam Hussein's overthrow was marked by only one sign of public response: In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, hundreds of thousands gathered to burn American flags and otherwise denounce the United States. "Yes! Yes! Iraq. No! No! America," chanted demonstrators organized by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, reported the BBC. "We were liberated from Saddam. Now we need to be liberated again. Stop the suffering. Americans leave now."

What part of "leave now" doesn't Lieberman get? Speaking of the rally called by Sadr to blast the Americans as Iraq's "archenemy" and to demand "that the occupiers withdraw from our land," Lieberman surreally sought to find a silver lining of support for U.S. policy: "[Sadr] is not calling for a resurgence of sectarian conflict. He's striking a nationalist chord. He's acknowledging that the surge is working," he said.

Ugh. What tortured logic. Ponder that sentence for the sheer mendacity of its optimism, which conveniently ignores the fact that the nationalist chord is a stridently anti-American one. Yes, there were Sunni clerics in the Najaf march and Sadr's followers heeded his call to wrap themselves, literally, in the Iraqi flag while shunning sectarian slogans--but what united them was the demand to end the U.S. occupation, which Lieberman so fervently supports.

So apparently the surge is working ... to unite all Iraqis against us. As Hazim al-Araji, one of Sadr's top Baghdad representatives, described the by-all-accounts massive rally: "There are people here from all different parties and sects. We are all carrying the national flag, which is a symbol of unity. And we are all united in calling for the withdrawal of the Americans."

What irony: The final refuge of the scoundrels who sold us on this war, Lieberman included, was that although it could not be justified by claims that Saddam had WMD or an alliance with al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden, the invasion would implant American ideals of democracy on Iraqi soil. What is being implanted instead is a virulent anti-American and anti-Israeli nationalism, Sadr's current cause, competing with a smoldering sectarian civil war, which this multitasking demagogue has also fueled. Yet, spinning like a top, Sen. Lieberman desperately finds solace in a resurgent Iraqi nationalism based on hatred of the United States.

It is true that Sadr has consistently opposed the breakup of Iraq into three ethnicity-based entities, but it is scant comfort that this son of a famed Shiite cleric killed by Saddam Hussein should now, in a sentiment that a recent ABC News poll shows is shared by a majority of his countrymen, consider Iraq's self-proclaimed liberators as evil occupiers. Indeed, the legacy of Bush's invasion is that the tired anti-U.S. nationalism of Saddam, never endorsed by the Shiite majority, now has a virulent energy that it never previously possessed.

The only alternative to this Iraqi nationalism is not the democratic and pro-Israel fantasy of the neoconservatives like Lieberman who talked our clueless president into this irresponsible folly, but rather the subjection of Iraq to a Shiite militancy allied with Iran. Sadr, who is rumored to be living these days in Iran, seems torn between those two futures, perhaps positioning himself to benefit no matter which path proves more popular.

Colin Powell was only partially right when he warned before the U.S. invasion, "If you break it, you own it." What he didn't add is that the locals will hate you for it, and try to kill you every day until you give it back.
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