Monday, December 12, 2005

Lieberman at the Bridge

Democrats assail one of their own for backing the war.

Monday, December 12, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST

The debate over Iraq is getting nastier, if that's possible, and the new target of antiwar Democrats isn't even President Bush. It's Joe Lieberman, the Democrat from Connecticut and 2000 running mate of Al Gore, who has dared to suggest we must and will win the war.

"I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and can report real progress there," Senator Lieberman wrote on these pages November 29. "What a colossal mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will [in Iraq]."

When that policy substance was ignored in Washington, the Senator repeated his case last week in the political language the Beltway press corps could finally comprehend: "It is time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be Commander in Chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war we undermine Presidential credibility at our nation's peril." The media, and his fellow Democrats, seemed agog.

And it's true that in modern, polarized Washington, such bipartisan sentiments are unusual. But as Mr. Lieberman also noted last week, they have a historic parallel from the early days of the Cold War. Then a Democratic President, Harry Truman, was trying to build alliances to resist Communism amid ferocious criticism from many Republicans, including their Senate leader, Ohio's Robert Taft. But a GOP Senator from Michigan, Arthur Vandenberg, stepped forward to support Truman, and the bipartisan "containment" strategy was born. Forty years later it would result in victory under Ronald Reagan.

We're now in the early stages of what might be another long, twilight struggle, this time against Islamist terrorism, and now the partisan tables are turned. While a Republican President is trying to win a campaign in Iraq that is part of a larger war, most Democrats are assailing his policy and predicting disaster, and even the party's senior Members have begun a Vietnam-like chant to "come home, America."

So it's revealing of the party's foreign policy condition that his fellow Democrats are now training their guns not on the enemy in Iraq--but on Mr. Lieberman. "I completely disagree with him," said Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader who went so far as to associate herself with the isolationist Taft Republicans of the early Cold War years.

"I agree with a Republican Senator, Senator Robert Taft," she said, who "said that disagreement in time of war is essential to a governing democracy." That would be fair enough if Ms. Pelosi were merely arguing over the tactics of how to win the war. But she has joined Congressman John Murtha in advocating a six-month deadline for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, no matter the consequences. She doesn't want to win; she wants to quit.

Her Senate counterpart, Minority Leader Harry Reid, averred through a spokesman that while the Senator "has a lot of respect" for his colleague, "he feels that Senator Lieberman's position on Iraq is at odds with many Americans." How's that for wartime leadership? Mr. Reid disagrees with Mr. Lieberman's support for the war because the opinion polls do too. Never mind that one reason public opinion has turned against the war is because of the relentless pessimism of the likes of Mr. Reid.

Democratic Chairman Howard Dean also took a public shot at Mr. Lieberman, and his brother Jim Dean, who runs something called Democracy for America, is ginning up a letter-writing assault on the Senator. "It is disturbing enough that Senator Lieberman remains one of the President's biggest cheerleaders. But his call for opponents of the President's failed policy to keep quiet is outrageous," Jim Dean wrote last week. Meanwhile, at the fever swamps of they're talking about a primary challenge to Mr. Lieberman in 2006.

We're confident the Senator would whip all comers in Connecticut. But this liberal animosity toward him speaks volumes about how far left Democratic foreign policy has shifted since Bill Clinton's Presidency. The same Senate Democrats who voted for the Iraqi Liberation Act in 1998 and for the war in Iraq in October 2002 are now claiming they were duped and it was all a mistake.

Even the supposedly serious Democratic policy voices are offering mostly criticism without any positive advice or counsel. Senator Joe Biden doesn't advocate withdrawal--"I'm not there yet," he says--but he too has been consistently negative, predicting the January elections would be "ugly" and now insisting we must "change course" to succeed. Yet the actual policy advice he offered in a recent speech consisted of the Bush strategy dressed up in different rhetoric.

Then there's former NATO Commander and once-and-future Democratic Presidential hopeful Wesley Clark, whose recent counsel was for Mr. Bush to invite Syria and Iran to help us in Iraq. Just how the U.S. is supposed to win over Tehran's mullahs without conceding them a nuclear weapon, or Syria's Assad clique without letting it return to dominate Lebanon, Mr. Clark doesn't say.

This is all a shame, because President Bush's conduct of the war could have used a more constructive opposition. There's no question the U.S. was terribly slow in training Iraqi troops, far too slow in transferring sovereignty to Iraqis, and far too cautious in pursuing insurgency strongholds in Fallujah and elsewhere. But those criticisms all came from the right, or from Iraqis, not from American Democrats.

Which brings us back to Mr. Lieberman, whose recent candid support for the war surely means the end of his Presidential ambitions. But if Democrats are smart they'll listen to what he's saying about the defeatist message they're now sending about Iraq, and about U.S. foreign policy in general.

The Taft Republicans of the late 1940s never did make it to the White House; Dwight Eisenhower won in 1952 as the heir to the GOP's Vandenberg wing. Smart Democrats who want to win in 2008 aren't going to do it as the party of pessimism and retreat.


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