Joe Lieberman, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, is facing a tough primary re-election fight because of his support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq:
In a dramatic bid to stave off a potential defeat in Tuesday's Democratic primary, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) on Sunday rejected charges from rival Ned Lamont that he has been one of the chief cheerleaders for President Bush's Iraq policy, but he reaffirmed his belief that a hasty withdrawal of U.S. forces would prove disastrous for Iraqis and for the United States.
With polls showing Lamont leading the three-term incumbent, Lieberman at last moved to confront the issues -- opposition to the war and anger with Bush -- that have put his political career in jeopardy. The decision came after a lengthy debate within his campaign over whether he could win the primary without directly addressing his position on the war and his relationship with the president.
Lieberman stated his position on the war as follows:
Saying he still believes his vote to authorize the war was correct, Lieberman added: "What I don't think is right, as I've said over and over again, are many of the Bush administration's decisions regarding the conduct of the war. The fact is I have openly and clearly disagreed with and criticized the president."
Lieberman cited what he called Bush's failure to develop more allied support before the war, to have a plan to win the peace and to put more troops into the conflict.
This position -- that invasion was the right policy but that the administration bungled the occupation -- is one that politicians of both parties are likely to embrace this fall. Most incumbents in Congress voted to support the invasion, but they now face an electorate that has become disenchanted with the progress of the occupation. Thus, they need a way to rationalize their earlier support while distancing themselves from the current situation.
In all likelihood, however, nothing we could have done would have avoided the current mess. A multinational force, or a greater number of troops, would not have eliminated the religious and ethnic tensions. Nor would a greater number of troops have decreased resentment of the US; indeed, it might have exacerbated that resentment. Better planned or executed reconstruction efforts, especially in the immediate aftermath of invasion, might have eased frustrations with the occupation. But the task was so enormous as to defy a fix sufficiently fast to make any real difference. Other controversial decisions, such as whether to fire Baathist members of the Iraqi Army, look unfortunate now. But hindsight is much easier than foresight; at the time it was understandable that the U.S. wanted to remove those affiliated with Saddam Hussein.
So, I am dubious we could have "won the peace" had we simply conducted the occupation "better." More fundamentally, the possibility of all the difficulties the occupation has faced should have been recognized by everyone before the invasion. So defending the invasion while criticizing the conduct of the war is a dodge.
And, as I have noted previously, all that is water under the bridge. The question now is how long to stay. Lieberman argues against hasty withdrawal. Drawing on our recent experience, however, what reason does he have to think continued occupation will do any good?