US Affairs: Lieberman’s legacy
As he prepares to step down after 24 years in Congress, Senator Joseph Lieberman talks to the ‘Post’ about Iran, Israel’s strike on Gaza, and partisanship.
US Senator Joe Lieberman [file photo] Photo: Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Perhaps Israel’s greatest friend in the US Senate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, will
remain steadfast in his support to the very end. The iconic legislator from
Connecticut, a former vice presidential candidate and an independent in his 24th
year in Congress, will retire at the end of this year from public
But after two decades at the forefront of America’s foreign
policy debates, Lieberman had no hesitation commenting on Wednesday’s
assassination of Ahmed Jabari, Hamas’s head of military operations in
“So long as Hamas is attacking them, [Israel] can’t just accept
those attacks without making clear to those who are ordering them that they are
endangering themselves,” Lieberman said when first hearing the
“From an American perspective, as you think about what happened
today in Gaza, it’s quite comparable to the drone attacks that President Obama
has been ordering against terrorists, who, if they go ahead unthreatened or
unattacked, would clearly attack and kill Americans.”
Lieberman can speak
about America’s commitment to Israel with confidence: his longstanding position
has succeeded. The American bench of support for Israel is so deep, he says,
that even he will be replaceable in the years ahead.
“I’m sure if my
mother were still alive, she’d say I was irreplaceable,” he said with a laugh.
“I’m sure there’ll be many that will step in and play the leadership role that
I’ve been privileged to play in the US-Israel relationship.”
America’s Israel policy is only one of two strategic American policies that
Lieberman says have significant bipartisan support. The second is an ancillary
Israeli issue: Iran, which he warns is giving little choice to an American
electorate tired of war.
He says with candor that the American government
has tried everything else, almost to the point of exhaustion. And he promises
that, in his final session in Congress, there will be yet another push to
reinforce existing sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy – and, unfortunately, too many of the
Iranian people – they have not up until this moment at all affected the all-out
commitment of the Iranian regime to their nuclear program,” he says. “And that
means they’re reducing our choices to two: accept a nuclear Iran and try to
contain it, which everybody from the president on down says is unacceptable,
[or] strike them militarily.”
This year, Lieberman introduced a Senate
resolution ruling out containment of Iran’s nuclear program as an acceptable
American policy. The resolution won with overwhelming support.
has confidence that Obama is personally capable of making the heavy decision
whether or not to go to war – and knows that, either way, he will have a
bipartisan Congress behind him, nearly unanimous in its support.
might call it a war of choice because we would make the decision,” Lieberman
adds. “It doesn’t mean that we only engage in war defensively after we’ve been
attacked. That’s not a policy that any nation can accept – if you see danger
rising, and an attack imminent, you need to act to prevent it. And to me, that’s
the course we’re on with Iran, unless they surprise us.”
entered the Senate in 1989 and has hit political turbulence most frequently in
his support of American wars. He was one of few Democrats to support the Gulf
War, and lost his Democratic primary election in 2006 for his position on
But the senator’s legacy may not be those votes.
will likely be his pioneering of post-9/11 legislation, and his leadership in
founding of the Department of Homeland Security, which together represent one of
the greatest national security overhauls in America since the 1940s.
believes America is at its best when it remains loyal to its ideals – democracy,
freedom of will and the protection of human rights – as universally
But leaving office, the eclipsing of these values remains his
biggest fear: that the cancer of partisanship will grow to overcome foreign
policy, endangering the homeland and those who benefit from American leadership
around the world.
“It’s partisanship,” Lieberman warns, “and it’s a
concern about a loss of the kind of patience that is necessary to successfully
prosecute the kind of unconventional wars we’re involved in today.”
public grows impatient, and then it becomes tempting for politicians – for
partisan and personal reasons – to appeal to the public’s desire for our troops
to come home,” he says.