Joe Lieberman’s War

Neoconservative godfather Norman Podhoretz has written that "as an American and as a Jew" he prays that President George W. Bush will attack Iran. He rests his case on his belief that 2007 is really 1938, that Iran is Nazi Germany, and that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is Hitler. His most recent book, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, was described by a reviewer as "a hectoring, often illogical screed based on cherry-picked facts and blustering assertions (often made without any supporting evidence), a book that furiously hurls accusations of cowardice, anti-Americanism, and sheer venality at any and all opponents of the Bush doctrine, be they on the right or the left."

Unlike people who subscribe to the view that a war with Iran would be a catastrophe for the United States, Podhoretz reportedly has regular access to the White House to promote his insightful historical analysis. But as Podhoretz is not in government and he controls no carrier groups, he has only a limited capability to bring about his dream of an emasculated Iran to take its place alongside an emasculated Iraq and a presumably soon-to-be emasculated Syria.

But while Podhoretz cannot start a war alone, there are plenty of others in the government, including Vice President Dick Cheney and the National Security Council’s Elliott Abrams, who share his enthusiasm for a preemptive attack on Iran. The leader of Congress’ Iran hawks is undoubtedly Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Lieberman, currently an independent, has long been regarded as a "conservative Democrat," but his voting record reveals that his conservatism is largely limited to foreign policy and more specifically to the Middle East, where he is a strong and uncritical defender of Israel. When he successfully ran for reelection as an independent in Connecticut in 2006, he accused his Democratic opponent Ned Lamont of not being a forceful enough advocate for Israel, claiming that Lamont was "surrounded by people who are either naïve or are isolationists or, frankly, some more explicitly against Israel." A former senior official of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC also endorsed that view, stating that "the pro Israel community … will stick with Joe Lieberman."

Lieberman has never counted the costs to the United States of pursuing Israeli objectives in the Middle East. He continues to be a vocal supporter of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, frequently mentioning Saddam’s alleged links to terrorists and invoking a variation of the White House line that if the U.S. does not fight terrorists in Iraq it will be necessary to fight them in New Haven. In 1998 he co-sponsored the Iraq Liberation Act, which made regime change in Baghdad official U.S. policy. His regular forays to Baghdad have convinced him that Iraq has been transformed from "primitive, killing tyranny" into "modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood." He saw clear evidence by 2005 of the democratization of Iraq: "Progress is visible … there are many more cars on the streets, satellite television dishes on the roofs, and literally millions more cell phones." More recently, he enthusiastically supported last summer’s Israeli invasion of Lebanon and has tried to make Syria the newest member of the axis of evil, claiming without any evidence that it is Syria "through which up to 80 percent of the Iraq-bound extremists transit. Indeed, even terrorists from countries that directly border Iraq travel by land via Syria to Iraq, instead of directly from their home countries, because of the permissive environment for terrorism that the Syrian government has fostered."

Lieberman has also been front and center in taking on the thorny problem of Iran, promoting a military response as the most effective option. In an April 2006 interview in the Jerusalem Post, he freely discussed using military force to disarm Iran, noting that the U.S. had learned a lesson from both Osama bin Laden and Hitler that "sometimes when people say really extreme things … they may actually mean it." In December 2006, Lieberman followed up by explaining that he opposed direct talks with Iran because it would be like going to "your local fire department asking a couple of arsonists to help put out the fire. These people are flaming the fire. They are extremists." On Dec. 29, 2006, Lieberman wrote a Washington Post op-ed in which he explained the situation in the Middle East in simple terms: "On one side are extremists and terrorists led and sponsored by Iran, on the other moderates and democrats supported by the United States."

On June 10, 2007, Lieberman told Face the Nation, "I think we’ve got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq. And to me that would include a strike into … over the border into Iran … where they are training these people coming back into Iraq to kill our soldiers." He later stated that "By some estimates, they have killed as many as 200 American soldiers," and, for good measure, he added that if Iran is not willing to live "according to the international rule of law and stopping, for instance, their nuclear weapons development, we can’t just talk to them." On the following day, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol said "It sure does," after being asked if the Lieberman statement would make it easier for the White House to consider an attack against Iran.

On July 6, 2007, Lieberman wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which he claimed, "The Iranian government, by its actions, has all but declared war on us and our allies in the Middle East. American now has a solemn responsibility to utilize the instruments of our national power to convince Tehran to change its behavior," employing "credible force" because Iran is bringing "about the death of American service members in Iraq." He described, without providing any evidence, how the "Iranian government has been using the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah to train and organize Iraqi extremists, who are responsible in turn for the murder of American service members." He called Iran’s role as "hostile and violent" and complained that Tehran’s "fanatical government" demonstrates "expansionistic, extremist behavior." After again referring to Iran’s "fanatical regime," he cited "attacks on American soldiers" as a reason why Iran "must be confronted head on."

Lieberman was the co-sponsor of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment to the recently passed defense appropriations bill, which passed by a Senate vote of 76 to 22 on Sept. 26, 2007. The amendment stated that "the murder of members of the United States Armed Forces by a foreign government or its agents is an intolerable act of hostility against the United States." Lieberman’s press release on the subject, dated July 11, 2007, accused Iran of "murdering our troops" and quoted Sen. John Kyl, who blamed Iran for "actively supporting terrorists who are killing our troops in Iraq." When the Kyl-Lieberman amendment was debated in the Senate, James Webb of Virginia said, "At best, it’s a deliberate attempt to divert attention from a failed diplomatic policy. At worst, it could be read as a backdoor method of gaining congressional validation for military action, without one hearing and without serious debate." Webb also called the amendment "Dick Cheney’s fondest pipe dream" and noted correctly that the attempt to categorize the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary guard as a "foreign terrorist organization" would mandate military action against Iran: "What do we do with terrorist organizations? … We attack them."

There is hardly any point in identifying Lieberman’s numerous errors in fact in an attempt to refute his assertions, as he is ideologically driven and not interested in the truth. His sloganeering is more in the nature of propaganda than a careful consideration of policy options or the U.S.’ national interests. He twists and embroiders the facts to enable him to rule out speaking to Iran while at the same time blaming it for all of the problems in the region. Lieberman also disregards the reality in Iraq, which is that Iran is deeply embedded there as a result of the United States’ invasion, which removed Tehran’s traditional rival and empowered the Shia.

Lieberman repeats over and over again that American soldiers are being killed by Iran. Apparently, the neocons have found it too difficult to make the case that Iran is actually seeking a nuclear weapon. That American soldiers are being killed through the active intervention of the Iranian government is in any event debatable, and most of the international media appears to believe that the allegations lack hard evidence. That many Americans do not see the need to attack Iran does not faze Sen. Joseph Isadore Lieberman, a man of self-proclaimed principle who obviously has clearer vision and knows better than his fellow countrymen what is right and what is wrong. If Iran turns into a major catastrophe not only for the U.S. and Iran but also for the entire region, will Lieberman take the blame as a principal enabler of the war so desired by Norman Podhoretz? If Lieberman’s lack of contrition over Iraq is anything to go by, almost certainly not.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.