What if Al Gore had won the 2000 presidential election but died in office? Would President Joe Lieberman have been worse than George W. Bush? His recent actions suggest that he could have descended even lower in his illogical and immoral responses to the tragedy of Sept. 11. Although now an independent, Lieberman provides a cautionary tale for folks who talk of backing “any Democrat” who can win.
At a time when even President Bush has recognized the need for negotiations with Iran in order to stabilize Iraq — where disciples of Tehran’s ayatollahs have risen to power, thanks to the U.S. occupation he fervently supports — Lieberman urges war with Iran. “I think we’ve got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq,” he told CBS on Sunday. “And to me, that would include a strike over the border into Iran.”
He never learns. This is the joker who bought the Ahmad Chalabi line that invading Iraq would result in a pro-West and pro-Israel democracy with Chalabi (who later failed to get 1 percent of the vote) playing Iraq’s George Washington. For five years before Sept. 11, Lieberman pushed funding for Chalabi’s exile organization to lead the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Lieberman was also a principal author of the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which threw $100 million in Chalabi’s direction.
Even as late as June 2004, when Chalabi was exposed by the United States as a spy for Iran, Lieberman continued to profess admiration for the architect of a policy that replaced the secular despot of Iraq with Shiite fundamentalists trained in Iran. “I met Dr. Chalabi and others of the Iraqi National Congress,” he said in a speech defending Chalabi after U.S. intelligence uncovered his contacts with Iranian spies. “It’s fair to say I found them to be patriotic Iraqis. Their counsel to us was important.”
In fact, Chalabi’s “counsel” concerning Iraq’s WMD program and ties to al-Qaida turned out to be totally fraudulent and as embarrassing to the U.S. as it was convenient to Iran’s plans to overthrow Hussein. Lieberman’s statement in support of Chalabi came two months after the National Security Agency reported that Chalabi informed Iranian agents that the U.S. had broken Tehran’s encryption code.
At the time of the revelation, Chalabi traveled freely within Iran, where he maintained a residence. Despite Lieberman’s warm endorsement of Chalabi, “a person of strength, principle and real commitment,” the Bush administration ended his monthly $340,000 stipend.
Having fallen for the Iranian plot to gain control over Iraq, Lieberman now seeks to undo the damage by invading Iran. He is apparently unaware of public warnings that key Shiite leaders in Iraq would take up arms again in support of their co-religionists across the border. Indeed, the Iranian arms being smuggled into Iraq that Lieberman complains about are going to the Shiite militias dominating America’s surrogate government in Baghdad.
Bush seems to grasp this reality, which is why the U.S. is now negotiating with the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad, leaving Lieberman to play the role of a hawkish critic of an administration he apparently feels has lost its enthusiasm for yet another disastrous invasion. This is a man whom leading Democrats, including Bill Clinton, supported in his primary campaign against an intelligent Democrat who sought to end the Iraq nightmare.
But, as those “any Democrat is better” apologists will likely argue, Lieberman, as president, would have conducted the occupation in a more measured manner, sensitive to civil liberties and other enlightened concerns. That conceit was also smashed Monday when Lieberman voted against holding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales accountable for sabotaging the federal judiciary. At a time when Arlen Specter and six other Republicans voted to advance a no-confidence vote, Lieberman supported the attorney general, who may well be remembered most for his consistent support of torture.
No surprise there, given Lieberman’s previous apologies for this administration’s assault on the rule of law. Indeed, even after the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib, Lieberman was able to find a bright spot, noting that “those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, never apologized.”
Great. So we are now to be comforted by exceeding the standard set by Osama bin Laden. Lieberman also failed to acknowledge in his statement that the perpetrators of Sept. 11 had nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq before the invasion. The same can be said for Iran — but that does not quiet Lieberman’s cry for wider war.
E-mail Robert Scheer at firstname.lastname@example.org.