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A Lieberman Lamont Debate Worth Having

The beef about U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman is that he is out of touch with his constituents concerning the war in Iraq. The beefing comes mostly from bloggers who support Ned Lamont’s attempt to oust Lieberman in a Democrat primary, a few Democrat town committees that have drafted official rebukes, and a sizable chunk of Connecticut voters. President George Bush’s flagging poll numbers in Connecticut suggest a broad dissatisfaction with the Iraq war.

The anti-Iraq war contingent received an assist from an unlikely quarter recently when the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported that Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House that progressives love to hate, leapt off the burning deck, telling students at the University of South Dakota, "It was an enormous mistake for us to try to occupy that country after June of 2003. We have to pull back, and we have to recognize it."

Gingrich did not suggest a time table for the rug pull.

Fox news, the TV station progressives love to hate, has reported that Gingrich – now on the literary stump promoting his newest book, “"Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America" – might be available as a presidential candidate at some unspecified point in the future.

"For an Army brat from Pennsylvania who became the only Georgia Republican in the House and the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years,” Gingrich said, “anything seems possible. I don't think it's very likely. On the other hand, if I have an impact on public policy and do it in a way that is exciting and positive, why wouldn't I want to do that?"

It is only a matter of time before Gingrich’s remarks on the Iraq war begin to appear in anti-Joe Lieberman ads.

Verily, politics doth make strange bedfellows.

How much longer will Lieberman be able to hold out against the fierce political winds blowing against the war? Much of the opposition to Bush has centered upon the question when should the troops be withdrawn. Bush perhaps undercut his own stiff-necked position—Victory is not for sale at any price -- by presenting a scenario in which American troops will be replaced by Iraqi security forces at some point to be determined by his generals on the ground. Why not now, some Democrats asked; why not tomorrow; why not the day after tomorrow? Americans always will prefer certain victory to what President Richard Nixon used to call, during the Vietnam War rout, an “honorable withdrawal.” And if certain victory cannot be attained, well then …

Politics on the ground in Iraq suggests a bloody rout if American troops withdraw precipitously. Iraq always has been a nation of religious tribes held together by scotch tape, chewing gum and Saddam Hussein’s exquisite terrorist techniques. No one is certain whether tribal and religious loyalties will trump a nationalism in which democracy is little more than a promise. Not for nothing has Saddam been compared to Hitler and Stalin.

Add to the volatile political mix Bush’s lameduckerry and we have a recipe for massive failure in the Middle East. Conservative Republicans, positioning themselves for the next election, may be expected to return to their old ideological haunts. It was conservatives, in the rosy days of Reagan, who use to quote John Quincy Adams on American foreign policy to the effect that Americans are “friends of liberty everywhere but the guarantor and provisioner of ours alone.”

Progressives may be expected to use the outgoing president as a political piñata in the next election – unless the gods of war surprise both conservatives and liberals by tilting the field in favor of liberty, justice and the good life in the Middle East. It is always easier to run against a president who is leaving the stage and cannot answer his critics.

And this brings us back to Lieberman. Can he do it? In a debate with anti-war warriors like Ned Lamont, can Lieberman prevail, when everyone else on the war ship is bailing? Ned Lamont and the anti-war warriors have studiously avoided answering what is perhaps the most important question: What are the likely consequences of an American failure in the Middle East for Europe and the United States? Americans are an intensely practical people. And practical people look to consequences; they want to know – what comes next?


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