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Sailing Against The Wind: Senator Lieberman Speaks His Mind As An Independent Democrat

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"There is a poisoned political process today in the United States," remarked Senator Joe Lieberman at our SAIS Center on Politics & Foreign Relations/Financial Times/Johns Hopkins School of Government breakfast last week in Washington, D.C.

Speaking on the topic of "The Politics of National Security" before a crowd of nearly 200 guests, the fourth-term senator from Connecticut presented a foreign policy view that irritates many of his Democratic colleagues in the United States Senate and throughout the country.

Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000, stated that "the Democrats top priority is to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq. This is the simple litmus test for Democratic presidential candidates."

Continuing speaking about Iraq, Lieberman remarks that "No Democratic presidential primary candidate today speaks of America's moral or strategic responsibility to stand with the Iraqi people against the totalitarian forces of radical Islam, or the consequences of handing a victory in Iraq to al Qaeda and Iran. And, if they did, their campaign would be as unsuccessful as mine was in 2006."

Spelling out his differences with the majority anti-war mood in the Democratic Party today, the Connecticut Senator goes on to say, "Even as evidence has mounted that General Petraeus' new counterinsurgency strategy is succeeding, Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq, reluctant to acknowledge the progress we are now achieving, or even that progress has enabled us to begin drawing down our troops there."

It is easy to see why many Democrats do not like hearing Lieberman's comments on Iraq as they are so different from the prevailing anti-war view in the party.

While I disagree with Senator Lieberman on Iraq and agree with the majority Democratic view that the war has gone on too long and it is time to bring American troops home, I do feel his insights on the history of foreign policy in the Democratic Party are very accurate.

He feels the Democratic Party has "flip-flopped" on its foreign policy views on Iraq while he has stayed true to the views of Roosevelt and Kennedy. He feels that the Democratic Party has traditionally been for a strong internationalist foreign policy backed up by military force if necessary.

"That is why I call myself an Independent Democrat today. It is because my foreign policy convictions are the convictions that have traditionally animated the Democratic Party -- but they exist in me today independent of the current Democratic Party, which has largely repudiated them," says Lieberman.

With these comments the now Independent Democrat from Connecticut is saying that he is following the traditional foreign policy views of the Democratic Party from FDR to Bill Clinton and that the anti-war views on Iraq go against this tradition.

Lieberman also feels that current prevailing opinion in the Democratic Party has very little to do with actual foreign policy but with a strong dislike of President Bush.

As he says, "Another reason for the Democratic flip-flop on foreign policy over the past few years is less substantive. For many Democrats, the guiding conviction in foreign policy isn't pacifism or isolationism -- it is distrust and disdain of Republicans in general, and President Bush in particular.

In this regard, the Democratic foreign policy worldview has become defined by the same reflexive, blind opposition to the President that defined Republicans in the 1990s -- even when it means repudiating the very principles and policies that Democrats as a party have stood for, at our best and strongest."

Senator Lieberman is an honorable man with a point of view that traditionally, as he correctly states, has been the dominant Democratic Party foreign policy throughout its history. Foreign policy did change with the Democrats in 1972 with presidential candidate George McGovern who also held a strong anti-war view against the Vietnam War.

And, Lieberman is also correct that much of the anger today among some Democrats is against President Bush personally and politically against his policies in Iraq which have been disastrous for the United States. Lieberman needs to see the extent of this anger among his old party and the party needs to accept Lieberman as a strong voice for a strong international Democratic foreign policy.

Iraq, like Vietnam, has not only divided our country but the Democratic Party. The party of Jefferson and Jackson and FDR is big enough and strong enough to embrace the views of the Iraq anti-war activists and the hawkish views of Senator Joe Lieberman. Diversity in all of its forms including differences in foreign policy are the backbone of the Democratic Party today.

A good debate on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Middle East and overall American foreign policy is a healthy thing not only for the country at large but for the Democratic Party today and for all of the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates.

My colleagues and friends in the Democratic Party may dislike Lieberman for becoming an Independent Democrat and for his hawkish views on Iraq but they should feel he has a vital part to play as we all don't have to have the same point of view on the key issues of the day. That would be boring!

This post first appeared here.

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