WASHINGTON – Sen. Joe Lieberman on Thursday painted a dim picture of his party, saying Democrats have given up their moral authority on foreign policy because they are more concerned with opposing Republicans than doing what is right.
The former presidential candidate and hawkish senator from Connecticut also came down hard on critics of a resolution he and Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., co-sponsored calling on the Bush administration to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.
"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," Lieberman said at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.
"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," Lieberman continued.
Lieberman — who has run for the top spot in the Oval Office as well as the No. 2 — is unique in the Senate, having won re-election last year following a Democratic primary election defeat tinged with anti-war sentiment. He ran a rare successful independent campaign by stumping largely on his foreign policy stance in support of the Iraq war and against terrorism. Lieberman has maintained his Democratic affiliation, caucusing in the Senate with Democrats.
On Thursday, Lieberman waxed nostalgic over foreign policy giants Democrats like Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy, but said that after Vietnam, it took until the Clinton administration to regain an internationalist, interventionist attitude among Democrats.
Just as soon as that attitude returned, it left again once the Bush administration took the reins in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, atmosphere. He said President Bush's call for the spread of democracy across the globe followed a campaign in which, as Lieberman described it, Bush was less interested in foreign policy than his Democratic opponent, Al Gore. Lieberman was Gore's running mate.
"The Bush administrations post-9/11 ideological conversion confronted Democrats with an awkward choice. Should we welcome the president's foreign policy flip-flop? Or should Democrats match it with a flip-flop of our own?" Lieberman said.
"I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework that the president articulated for the War on Terror as our own — because it was our own. It was our legacy ... But that was not the choice most Democrats made. Instead, they flip-flopped," he said.
Lieberman said Democrats aren't being guided by principle, but partisanship.
"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 that progress has enabled us to begin drawing down our troops there," he added.
Just as Lieberman was speaking, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House will take up a temporary Iraq spending bill which will curb the war in Iraq. The plan, known as the "bridge," provides $50 billion for four months in Iraq and starts a withdrawal of troops to be completed by next December.
"This (war strategy) is not working. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. We must reverse it. We will again make a distinction ... to show a new direction in Iraq. The goal is ending it within a year and leave behind just a small force," she said.
Lieberman defended the IRGC amendment adopted in September as a peaceful resolution designed to avoid further conflict with Iran, which military officials accuse of waging a proxy war against U.S. forces in Iraq.
Sen. Clinton was among those voting in favor of the amendment, but others have attacked the resolution and Clinton because of her support for it. Critics argue the resolution could give Bush the authority to attack Iran.
One of the amendment's chief critics, Sen. Jim Webb, said that by labeling the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, it is tantamount to a war declaration on Iran because it is labeling the country's elite military organization as a terrorist group.
The amendment was adopted on a 77-22 vote, with two senators not voting. Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd voted against the amendment; Barack Obama did not vote.
Lieberman said while he thought the amendment would be a no-brainer, what resulted was a "case study in the distrust and partisan polarization that now poisons our body politic on even the most sensitive issues of national security."
He said left-wing blogs offered "wild conspiracy theories," and the amendment had "nothing that could be construed as a green light for an attack on Iran."
"There is something profoundly wrong — something that should trouble all of us — when we have elected Democratic officials who seem more worried about how the Bush administration might respond to Iran's murder of our troops, than about the fact that Iran is murdering our troops.
"There is likewise something profoundly wrong when we see candidates who are willing to pander to this politically paranoid, hyper-partisan sentiment in the Democratic base, even if it sends a message of weakness and division to the Iranian regime," Lieberman said in a thinly veiled swipe at Clinton's Democratic challengers.