Monday, February 26, 2007

Lieberman: carrying that big stick

Senator Lieberman has had a strange year. His ostracism from the Democratic Party failed to stop his re-election, and has paradoxically put him in a stronger position than ever--although, for many reasons, I doubt he'll ever hold national office, even were he to switch parties.

In such an evenly divided Senate he holds the threat of upsetting the balance between the parties were Joe--now an Independent (like me!)--to defect. Despite the fact that he votes with the Republicans on security issues, he's still not officially tied to them, and thus the Democrats hold onto their slim majority and their power over all the committees. Lieberman's rejection by his fellow-Democrats has bought him a certain amount of freedom--and potential power to gum up the works and rain on the Democratic parade, were he to make an outright switch to Republican, a possiblity he has wisely refused to rule out.

With that in mind, Lieberman has written an appeal to Congress. It appeared in today's Opinion Journal, explaining exactly what's at stake and why members of Congress needs to focus on reality instead of playing petty games. The tone strikes me as reasonable and measured, practical and realistic. But it's backed up with an implicit threat of Lieberman's power of defection, nowhere mentioned in the piece:

What is remarkable about this state of affairs in Washington is just how removed it is from what is actually happening in Iraq. There, the battle of Baghdad is now under way. A new commander, Gen. David Petraeus, has taken command, having been confirmed by the Senate, 81-0, just a few weeks ago. And a new strategy is being put into action, with thousands of additional American soldiers streaming into the Iraqi capital.

Congress thus faces a choice in the weeks and months ahead. Will we allow our actions to be driven by the changing conditions on the ground in Iraq--or by the unchanging political and ideological positions long ago staked out in Washington? What ultimately matters more to us: the real fight over there, or the political fight over here?

I fear if the truth be known that many in Congress would answer: the latter.

Lieberman then goes on to detail the differences between the new approach and the old. He agrees that there's no way of guaranteeing the former's success, but:

We are now in a stronger position to ensure basic security--and with that, we are in a stronger position to marginalize the extremists and strengthen the moderates; a stronger position to foster the economic activity that will drain the insurgency and militias of public support; and a stronger position to press the Iraqi government to make the tough decisions that everyone acknowledges are necessary for progress.

Unfortunately, for many congressional opponents of the war, none of this seems to matter. As the battle of Baghdad just gets underway, they have already made up their minds about America's cause in Iraq, declaring their intention to put an end to the mission before we have had the time to see whether our new plan will work.

True, and very shortsighted, as well as cowardly. Lieberman points out their basic lack of bravery in refusing to do what they should do if they really believe what they say: cut the funding. Instead, they are proposing the death of a thousand cuts--the "slow bleed."

Lieberman again:

Many of the worst errors in Iraq arose precisely because the Bush administration best-cased what would happen after Saddam was overthrown. Now many opponents of the war are making the very same best-case mistake--assuming we can pull back in the midst of a critical battle with impunity, even arguing that our retreat will reduce the terrorism and sectarian violence in Iraq.

Lieberman then appeals to his colleagues to give peace a chance--peace in Congress, that is. He asks for a moratorium on political squabbling till the end of summer, in order to give General Petraeus and the plan some time to begin to prove itself, or not.

My guess is that his pleas will fall on deaf ears. But don't forget--Lieberman may be walking softly, but he's carrying a big stick--the stick of his potential defection.

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