Lieberman's Loss Sparks Iraq War Debate

Sen. Joe Lieberman's (D-CT) loss in his Democratic primary has sparked fierce debate on Capitol Hill. Some conservative pundits say the loss shows the political left won't stand behind a candidate who supports the war in Iraq. But progressives argue that Lieberman's loss demonstrates American impatience with the failures of the Bush administration's policies.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

It didn't take long. Some politicians are already trying to make political hay out of the alleged terror plot. Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman used it to attack his opponent Ned Lamont. He said Lamont's desire to pull out of Iraq would be taken as a, quote, tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up the planes. Also, Vice President Dick Cheney - reacting to Lamont's victory in Tuesday's primary - said it shows that Democrats are soft on international terrorism.

NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams joins us now for our weekly conversation about politics.

And Juan, it seems that Lieberman and Cheney are trying to revive this link between Iraq and terrorist plots aimed at the West.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Well, that's politics, Madeleine. I should say good day first. But I mean that's politics because politically speaking - and this is where it becomes so difficult for Senator Lieberman - Senator Lieberman is taking the Republican line, which is that we are in this war on terror and that should dominate, even as public opinions polls show that most Americans now have a very negative view of the war in Iraq, favor setting a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq, something that the administration, Vice President Cheney, have been staunchly opposed to.

But politically, they're hoping that will play for them down the line because most Americans - when it comes to a matter of, you know, which party do you trust more to protect the United States, who is the more pro-defense party - would say it it's the Republicans, not the Democrats.

BRAND: And you know, maybe Democrats are scratching their heads at what Lieberman is doing. But perhaps this makes good political sense for him, as he's now running as an independent and needs Republicans votes.

WILLIAMS: Oh, without a doubt. He needs independent votes. He needs Republican votes. And it's clear that he did not have the Democratic votes and the Democrats are strongly anti-war. Now, I mean the other side of this, obviously, is that in political terms, here in Washington, you've heard from people like the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, who said basically, look, what we've got here is George Bush has been in office, Republicans have been in control of the Congress, and they've mishandled this war on terror. They've set the wrong funding priorities, he said, and we're not as safe as we should be.

Now, that's the Democratic leader in the in-house political discussion in Washington among the political class this week, Madeleine. Because suddenly people are saying, you know, Hillary Clinton is going to have her own Ned Lamont. And guess who? None other than Al Gore. Now, Al Gore, if you'll recall, voted for the first Gulf War back in the '90s, but he wasn't in office. So he didn't have to cast a vote this time around in the way that Hillary Clinton did and the way that John Kerry, John Edwards, all of whom voted for a resolution to give the president power to go to war. So that's the big difference. Is this a ticket for Al Gore?

BRAND: Hmm. Well, let's talk about the president - excuse me. The president, he's on vacation this month at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. We're seeing a lot more of him than on previous Augusts. What's going on here?

WILLIAMS: Well, you noticed he's in a suit, Madeleine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: No more cowboy outfits.

BRAND: Or clearing brush, yeah.

WILLIAMS: I think the criticism of his long vacations - you know, already he spends - 20 percent of his time in office has been spent out at Crawford, all the criticisms of the five-week vacation. This time around, the White House wants to present him in a different light and they're trying all they can.

BRAND: All right. Well, NPR's Juan Williams, thank you as always.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Madeleine.

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