Lieberman’s challenge

Senator Joe Lieberman (full disclosure: I briefly campaigned for Lieberman in 2004, though mostly as

By Alec Brandon

Senator Joe Lieberman (full disclosure: I briefly campaigned for Lieberman in 2004, though mostly as a favor to a friend) has certainly lacked tact lately. He has managed to alienate Democrats on a host of issues. I find myself disagreeing with him on nearly ever social issue he has become active about lately, ranging from his support of government intervention in the Terri Schiavo debacle to the lame-lame-lame violence on TV/ in video games debate that seems to pop up about every five years. But as much as I am sure his Terri Schiavo grand-standing drove Democrats crazy, Democrats ought to give Joe another chance before giving into Connecticut’s far too often uber-liberal tendancies (Lieberman is facing a challenge on the far left from Ned Lamont).But ultimately the ill will towards Lieberman has little to do with his pet project social issues and everything to do with his support of the war in Iraq. Lieberman upset many Democrats last November when, in a Wall Street Journal column , he argued against reactionary/isolationist Democrats like John Murtha, who was calling for troop withdrawal and getting lots of party backing at the time. While Lieberman was far too optimistic about the future of Iraq in the column, his argument that the U.S. stands to lose more by withdrawing than staying was probably correct then (and now too). He does not come off a Bush apologist, he acknowledges that, “mistakes, some of them big, were made after Saddam was removed, and no one who supports the war should hesitate to admit that….” All told, his argument doesn’t seem that radical. But the reason so many Democrats were upset had less to do with the argument, than the fact that Lieberman was making it when Murtha’s diatribes were pushing Bush into a corner (something nearly every Democrat loves more than anything).Thankfully Lieberman has not given into the increasing pressure to disassociate himself from the war. But in turn, this has only upset Democrats who can’t stand to see the President having any of his actions legitimized by Democrats support. They are clearly not upset that Lieberman supported the war in the first place, but that he has stood with the President on the war well after the initial decision. I fail to see how this is logical. Lieberman, as was every Senator, was presented with bad choices and worse ones at the outset of war. Perhaps best defending Lieberman’s logic is the Economist’s ex-Editor Bill Emmot’s defense the paper’s choice to back the war in his sign-off column:

All of which is the background to the most controversial decision of this editorship: the decision to support the American-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Our reasoning began with the fact that the status quo was terrible: doing nothing, whether about Iraq or about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was itself a deadly decision. It went on to the risk that Saddam still had a stock of weapons of mass destruction that if left in power he might wish to use or to sell. In the light of September 11th and the dismal results from 13 years of sanctions, we argued that wishful thinking about Saddam would be reckless. The West should invade, remove him from power, and throw its considerable resources behind the rebuilding of a free Iraq.The ensuing three years, I hardly need to say, have seen a debacle. His WMDs turned out to be a bluff, fooling even his own generals. Elections have been held, a constitution has been written, but no government is in place. Institutions remain in tatters. Whether or not a civil war is under way is largely a semantic issue. Dozens of Iraqis are dying every day, killed by other Iraqis. So does this prove our decision wrong, just as the good outcome in ex-Yugoslavia put our “stumbling” warning in the shade?This will outrage some readers, but I still think the decision was correct—based on the situation at that time, which is all it could have been based on. The risk of leaving Saddam in power was too high. Outside intervention in other countries’ affairs is difficult, practically, legally and morally. It should be done only in exceptional circumstances, and backed by exceptional efforts. Iraq qualified on the former. George Bush let us—and America—down on the latter. So, however, did other rich countries: whatever they thought of the invasion, they had a powerful interest in sorting out the aftermath. Most shirked it.The only argument against our decision that seems to me to have force is that a paper whose scepticism about government drips from every issue should have been sceptical about Mr Bush’s government and its ability to do things properly in Iraq. This is correct: we should have been, and we were. But when the choice is between bad options and worse ones, a choice must still be made. Great enterprises can fail—but they fail twice over if they take away our moral courage and prevent us from rising to the next challenge. [Emphasis added]

Just as Bill Emmot is unwilling to give into popular pressure and disassociate the Economist from the war in Iraq, Lieberman is unwilling to say it was an unjust war and start demanding a pull out.But more to that point, Lieberman ought to be re-elected if only because he is one of the few Congressman willing to duck the party line. I mean, honestly, how often can you quote an editorial in the Economist as the justification for any politician’s actions? I don’t even care if it is not the Economist, it could be any logical publication (which is a shockingly short list), the point is that far too often poll numbers and opportunism define the actions of Congressmen. Democrats ought to keep Lieberman around if only because he represents one of the few leaders willing to go against popular will and check the party’s clear ideological excesses. Mavericks are not always the fuzziest politicians. Lincoln Chafee and John McCain are not men I agree with on every issue, but they serve a vital role in their independence of the party line. This might not make Lieberman the best “Democrat” for the job, but Democrats need to realize he is a rare and indispensable quantity for the party and the Senate.