Thursday, January 05, 2006

Lieberman and the Anti-War Left

“To put it simply, screw Joe and don't feel sorry for him or give him a free pass this election year. He has always thought of no one but himself and his own image whenever he opens his mouth and has been a pain in the side of Democrats in Connecticut. This is an election year and the only time the voters of Connecticut hold Lieberman accountable for his actions. No Democrat should come to his defense or campaign for him if he is challenged by Weicker or another Democrat.” --

Principles are tethers that do not permit politicians to wander very far from their promises. The beef about the last two Connecticut governors is that they both threw off their tethers. To be a moderate – clever moderates will prefer he term “pragmatist” – is to shuck off binding restraints. Former governor and senator Lowell Weicker made a career of this; former Governor John Rowland’s elastic principles ferried him to prison. The first pragmatist was not William James but Ralph Waldo Emerson, who warned that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by statesmen, philosophers and divines.” Neither Emerson nor James, both broad minded philosophers, would fault a principled consistency.

It is important to bear these distinctions in mind when discussing Sen. Joe Lieberman’s position on the war in Iraq. Lieberman’s position is tied to certain principles that he cannot easily abandon; some have uncharitably supposed that Lieberman’s sole principle is the security and safety of Israel. Lieberman’s position on the war has jarred the sensibilities of liberals within his own party. The only question worth discussing at this point is: Whose principles are more foolishly consistent, Lieberman’s or the anti-Bush, anti Iraq war liberals within the Democrat Party?

Most anti-war liberals have been reluctant, so far, to move beyond the rhetorical barricades they have set up to protest the war. Except for a growing vanguard that now insists on a certain date for the withdrawal of troops, many on the left are content to reinforce the view that President Bush entered the war on false pretenses. Their operative assumption appears to be that since the reason for entering the war was fraudulent, the United States should withdraw its troops; the end must be aborted because the means were found wanting. To Lieberman and others, that principled position seems to be foolishly consistent, because it does not allow for the probable consequences of withdrawal.

The times, Lieberman has argued, have moved beyond the point when Bush decided to oust Saddam Hussein. “We are fighting on the side of the 27 million [Iraqis],” Lieberman wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “because the outcome of this war is critically important to the security and freedom of America. If the terrorists win, they will be emboldened to strike us directly again and to further undermine the growing stability and progress in the Middle East, which has long been a major American national and economic security priority.” Lieberman already has agreed that the entrée to the war, like the road to Hell, was paved with good intentions, some of which were rooted in false assumptions.

There are two legitimate reasons for engaging in war: The war must be 1) necessary and 2) winnable. The absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq does not necessarily mean that the Iraq war is unnecessary, and the continued insurgency does not necessarily mean that the struggle is unwinnable.

Bush’s operative assumption is that democracy in Iraq, which is not friendly towards totalitarian regimes, will soften the grosser pretensions of religious fascists intent on imposing in the Middle East a functioning caliphate that, given free reign, will destroy Israel and force the West to embrace Islam by means of terror and political chicanery. According to some on the Right, much of the West already has been fatally undermined. The hard and soft Left in the United States regards such talk as demonization. They view the insurgency in Iraq as a reaction against a foreign occupation; withdraw the troops, and conditions will revert to the status quo before Osama Bin Laden facilitated the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York.

Any honest debate on the war in Iraq – and at least one newspaper has promised a “debate” on the issue between Lieberman and his alter ego, Sen. Chris Dodd – should center on the question: Of the two views represented here, which is the more consistently foolish?

No one wants to make a fatal mistake.

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