By Fr. George Welzbacher
January 28, 2007
I think that by now it's reasonably clear that our government's new policy of sending additional troops to bring security to the streets of Baghdad and to intensify the thus far successful efforts of our Marines in Iraq's western provinces to win the support of the tribal sheiks against the insurgents there represents our last real chance to win the battle for a democratic Iraq. That is certainly the conviction of one of the U.S. Senate's most thoughtful members, a former Vice-Presidential candidate and an astute appraiser of American foreign policy over many a year, Connecticut's Independent Democrat, Joseph Lieberman. The Wall Street Journal, in its weekend edition for January 20th and 21st, provided a summary of a recent lengthy interview with Senator Lieberman. Whether one agrees with the senator's views or not, they are based not on the latest data from the Gallup Poll but on Senator Lieberman's honest and, I believe, perspicacious assessment of what will affect our national security for years to come. The interview was conducted by a member of the Journal's editorial board, Kimberly Strassel I reprint it here, abridged to accommodate our restrictions of space.
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Unbowed By Kimberly Strassel
The war in Iraq brings to Joe Lieberman's mind an old Mark Twain story. "When a cat jumps on a hot stove, the cat never jumps on the stove again because the cat always assumes the stove is hot, " says the senator from Connecticut. "But we are smarter than that. OK, so Vietnam didn't work out. But there are times when you've got to use force, to protect your security and to protect your principles." ......
If ever the Iraq political debate was at a crossroads, it's now.
At the Center of this fray is Sen. Lieberman, a sort of Horatio at the congressional bridge-spiritedly trying to hold back a bipartisan stampede out of Iraq that he believes will result in devastating consequences for that country, the region and, most importantly, U. S. national security.
"Iraq is the central part of a larger and ultimately longer-term conflict in the Middle East between moderates and extremists, between, democrats and dictators, between Iran-and Iraq-sponsored terrorism and the rest of the Middle East .. Are we going to surrender to them, surrender that country to them, and encourage people like them to be in authority and power all over the Middle East and to be in a better position to strike us again?' asks Mr. Liebermam. If only Livy had his quill today.
These are blunt words, and quite a few more flow from Mr. Lieberman throughout a lively interview in his office this past week. A born gentleman, he refrains from lobbing any pot shots at opponents. But he made clear that he felt Washington had been ducking an honest debate about the war and the consequences of abandoning it, hiding instead behind "cosmetic" resolutions and rhetoric. Four years into the conflict, Mr. Lieberman thinks there is value in remembering again why it is we're in Iraq.
This is well-trod ground for a man who supported not just the first Gulf War, but sponsored the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act that aimed to topple the regime. In 2003 "we did something that was right and courageous which was to overthrow Saddam Hussein," says Mr. Lieberman. "He was a genocidal dictator, he tried to assassinate a former American president, he used chemical weapons [on his] .. own people .. He was a hater of the United States." Saddam was a danger, not to mention a barrier to creating a democratic Middle East that ceases to be a threat to the U.S.
This is why the senator remains unmoved today by those colleagues who have abandoned the cause, lamenting that they were "deceived" about the existence of WMD or that they have "lost confidence in the leadership of the president." Says Mr. Lieberman: "If you still think not only that the original purpose of going in was right, but that how it ends will have a significant effect on American security for a generation or more to come, then you don't back away." And that, he says, counts even in the face of faltering public opinion. "I think we are elected to lead .... Americans are understandably responding to the carnage they see on TV every night, and what we have to urge them is not to surrender to the people who are causing the carnage. "
Mr. Lieberman, who returned from his latest visit to Iraq in December, freely acknowledges what he believes were "the series of mistakes that were made after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, "from the disbanding of the Iraqi army to our reluctance to send more troops (something he has advocated since thefall of 2003). Still, "we were getting to a point where we were making some significant progress and it is important not to overlook this. There were three elections held. Those were a powerful demonstration of what no one is able to deny, not even those who now want to turn away and give up on lraq. Which is that the majority of the Iraqi people want a better life for themselves and theirfamilies. The majority is not involved in sectarian violence and is clearly not involved in terrorism "
There are still hopeful signs, he says. His recent trip included a stop in Ramadi in Anhar Province-an area thick with terrorist operatives-where the senator saw evidence that we've turned the tribal leaders to our side, against al Qaeda. " Mr. Lieberman also felt from his discussions around the country that there were strong signs a "moderate, multiethnic coalition" was coming together among political leaders who would support Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in a renewed push to restore order." This thing is still winnable, " says Mr. Lieberman, "And it is critical that we take advantage of this opportunity to win."
Which gets to President Bush's proposal for more troops, a plan Mr. Lieberman enthusiastically endorses. "The people in Congress, and the public were quite right in saying the president's got to come up with a different approach. And he did. It's better than any other plan I've seen because it holds the hope of success. Most of the other plans are effectively just giving up and walking away."
Are 21,500 additional troops really enough? "I wish it was more, truthfully," he answers, throwing in his own wish of 35,000 or even 40,000. "but I believe it is adequate. What I hope is that it is implemented quickly. " The troops will be vital to quelling what Mr. Lieberman sees as several very different conflicts currently raging in Iraq. In Baghdad, more U.S. soldiers will bolster more Iraqi forces who aim to hold neighborhoods wracked by violence between local Shiites and Sunnis. In Anbar, they will hunt down al Qaeda. More Troops, says Mr. Lieberman, will also provide the opportunity "to change the dynamic" in the wider war on terrorism, by sending a message to Iran and others that the U.S. will not abandon the region's moderates who are struggling to create a new democratic order.
And what of those Americans looking for some guarantee this will succeed? "None of us can be certain [the president's plan] is going to work; all the choices we have in Iraq right now are difficult. But byfar, the one that is the worst and would have disastrous consequences, is to pick up and leave.
The other alternative, of course, is to simply admit defeat. Some in Congress are working up the courage to say as much, and to further suggest that abandoning Iraq wouldn't be all that bad. "People say this isjust like Vietnam, we could leave, and that would be that. That won't be that. We're in a war which has its origins in this part of the world, in the Middle East, in the conflict with Islam. If we pull out and essentially surrender to the extremists and terrorists, they are naturally going to follow us right back to our shores.
"If we leave the place collapses. And it's more than civil war, it's ethnic cleansing. The Iranians come in and dominate a good chunk of the country. Al Quaeda takes over a good part and uses it as a base. The Kurds [can sustain themselves] but it gets very ominous .... And then the same group of people who attacked us on 9/11, they achieve a victory, and they will use that victory to strike at us again "
Speaking of the threat posed by Iran, Mr. Lieberman has been equally unimpressed by the U.S.'s lack of resolve. "I'm troubled by this reflex reaction to talk with Iran. We're a strong enough country, when it seems productive we shouldn't hesitate to talk to anybody. But we ought to talk when it is in our interest, not theirs. And right now it is only in Iran's interest. "
He says he's been encouraged by the administration's tougher stance in recent weeks, and in particular President Bush's decision to move another carrier battle group to the Gulf region - "which sends a message to Iran. "
Mr. Lieberman also notes that, "We know that some of our American soldiers are being killed by sophisticated IEDs from Iran. The evidence is just closed, clear, compelling .... I can't believe the concern expressed by some of my colleagues here about whether we have a right to take prisoner Iranians who we conclude are either supplying weapons to Iraqis who are using them to kill American troops or are training them to kill American troops." Asfor the rest of the world community, "they're in denial. "
What is remarkable, I think toward the end of our conversation, is how spry and feisty the senator looks. He did, after all, just come off a draining year fighting a bitter battle- against his own party-for his political life. Mr. Lieberman is now officially an "independent," yet he takes care to describe himself as an "independent Democrat."....
His own Democratic heroes are Truman and Kennedy. "The Kennedy inaugural was the single ... speech that brought me into public life....'Pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty'.... "