Obama In Heated Conversation With Lieberman

06/12/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

Update: Obama and Lieberman had a heated conversation on the floor of the Senate later today. Details below.

Senator Joe Lieberman, serving aptly as John McCain's foreign policy attack dog, jumped on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday to rip holes into Barack Obama's stance on Israel.

Playing off of Obama's address to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the Connecticut independent acknowledged that he hadn't heard the speech -- and urged for a "civil and constructive" presidential campaign -- before taking Obama to task for not being consistently tough on Iran.

"I appreciate many of the very good intentions to Israel and Israeli security that Senator Obama expressed today," said Lieberman. "I thought in the speech there was a disconnect between things Senator Obama said today, particularly in regard to Iran, and things he has said or done earlier either in the campaign or the Senate."

The crux of Lieberman's argument, however, was that Obama was putting the blame for Iran's rise in the Middle East on America's doorstep, pushing the argument that the Iraq war had strengthened Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's standing in the region and left Israel less secure.

"If Israel is in danger today it is not because of us foreign policy, which has been strongly supportive of Israel in every way," he said. "It is not because of what we have done in Iraq. It is because Iran is a fanatical, terrorist, expansionist state and has a leader and a leadership that constantly threatens to extinguish the state of Israel."

The remarks fit into a traditional GOP rallying cry, that the Democrats have a blame-America-first mentality. But there are outstanding factors that could muddle Lieberman's message. For starters, most objective metrics indicate that Iran has, in fact, been strengthened by America's involvement in Iraq. Ahmadinejad, after all, has increasingly meddled in Iraqi affairs.

But also, McCain, despite tough rhetoric on Iran, has several advisers with deep connections to the country; perhaps the most embarrassing of which is Charlie Black, the campaign's chief strategist. Before leaving his perch as a D.C. lobbyist, Black represented a Chinese oil company that did business with the Iranian government. He and his firm also represented Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile who helped churn up support for the war in the United States and has subsequently been accused of selling U.S. secrets to Iran.

UPDATE: Roll Call reports:

Furthermore, during a Senate vote Wednesday, Obama dragged Lieberman by the hand to a far corner of the Senate chamber and engaged in what appeared to reporters in the gallery as an intense, three-minute conversation.

While it was unclear what the two were discussing, the body language suggested that Obama was trying to convince Lieberman of something and his stance appeared slightly intimidating.

Using forceful, but not angry, hand gestures, Obama literally backed up Lieberman against the wall, leaned in very close at times, and appeared to be trying to dominate the conversation, as the two talked over each other in a few instances.

Still, Obama and Lieberman seemed to be trying to keep the back-and-forth congenial as they both patted each other on the back during and after the exchange.

Afterwards, Obama smiled and pointed up at reporters peering over the edge of the press gallery for a better glimpse of their interaction.

Obama loyalists were quick to express their frustration with Lieberman's decision and warned that if he continues to take a lead role in attacking Obama it could complicate his professional relationship with the Caucus.