Lieberman Throws Support to Bush's Iraq Plan
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
We're going to talk about Iraq now with Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. The long time Democrat won reelection as an independent in November. He's a strong advocate of the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq.
Senator Lieberman, welcome to the program.
JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Melissa. Good to be with you.
BLOCK: You have called the Senate resolution that opposes a deepening military involvement in Iraq phony. I assume that you'll be voting no on that next week?
LIEBERMAN: I will. And I say that respectfully as we say here in the Senate. I only mean phony in the sense that it doesn't do anything. I say to those who are opposed to what the president is now suggesting that they have a responsibility to do one thing. One is to come up with a better plan if they don't like this one. Or two, to go at the proposal directly with the power that the Constitution gives Congress, and that is to try deny funding for what the president wants to do.
BLOCK: And there are some of those proposals as well. I'm curious, though, if you have had any other Democrats who will vote no on the resolution next week, or is it just going to be you and the Republicans?
LIEBERMAN: It's hard to say. I know that there are some other Democrats who are troubled by parts of the resolution that would go before the Foreign Relations Committee next week. I do think there's a lot more reluctance among Democrats in the Senate to actually vote to block funding for additional troops in Iraq.
BLOCK: Can you imagine a scenario where you would join in with a Republican filibuster to stop the resolution, if it comes to that?
LIEBERMAN: I can because I think that it is this important. Look, many mistakes have been in Iraq in the prosecution of this war, and I've spoken of those mistakes at length. But we are there now, and it is - how Iraq ends will have a direct effect on American security, including particularly American security in the war that we are fighting against Islamists, extremists and terrorists.
BLOCK: Senator Lieberman, if you look at the counterinsurgent formula put forth by General David Petraeus, who's assuming command in Iraq, it would actually require many more troops than the president is proposing in order to be effective. Would you say that we actually would need more troops? Is this too little too late?
LIEBERMAN: It's an interesting question. I don't think it's too late. It's not as many as I would like, but it's not too little. If I had my druthers we would be sending 35,000 troops to - additional reinforcement troops there. And I base that on a very effective work that's been done by a retired Army chief of staff, Jack Keane, and military historian Fred Kegan.
BLOCK: Senator, several polls that have been taken over the last week show virtually the same result, and that is that 60 percent of Americans say they disapprove of the president's plan to send more troops. Aren't you out of step with most Americans and especially the people in your home state of Connecticut?
LIEBERMAN: Yeah. Look, it's very - this is very troubling in many ways. I do think that because of the mistakes that have been made in the prosecution of the war, because of the fact that this is an unconventional war in which people - what they see on television at night or hear about it on the radio or read in the newspapers are the suicide bombings. In matters of national security, ultimately - two things. One is elected leaders have a responsibility to do what they think is right for the country and the future of the country, and not to play the public opinion.
But there is a worry here. These extremists and terrorists cannot defeat us on the battlefield. But they can break our national will. And if they do, the consequences will be the same. As for Connecticut, I guess, I have to say this. I'm very grateful. It was a tough election year for me last year. I lost the primary I'd say mostly about my position on the Iraq war. I decided to run as an independent and I was elected in a three-way race by a margin of 10 points. I feel very grateful for that support and, in that sense, encouraged to continue to do what I believe is right, not what the public opinion polls say is most popular.
BLOCK: You ended up in that general election getting more support from Republicans than from Democrats. Do you still consider yourself a Democrat?
LIEBERMAN: Yeah, I do. I consider myself now an independent Democrat because I was elected as an independent, but, you know, I've been a Democrat all my life and part of what continues to motivate me is, of course, is a broad agreement with Democrats on a lot of domestic policy. But if the Democratic Party cannot convince the American people that we are prepared to protect them in a dangerous world, ultimately, I don't think we're going to be successful in national elections.
BLOCK: It's interesting, though, because if you look at the names of which you've been linked recently in the news, at least on the issue of Iraq, it's Republicans. Lindsey Graham, with whom you wrote a letter to the president, John McCain, President Bush himself mentioned you in a speech last week.
LIEBERMAN: Yeah. I wish it were not so. Frankly, I'm surprised that at this moment, I'm in a very small group within the Democratic Party in Congress that's taking the position I am.
BLOCK: Senator Lieberman, thanks for talking with us.
LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Melissa. Have a good weekend.
BLOCK: Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.
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