Lieberman, neoconservatism and Iran -- the need for more, not less, democratic debate
On Friday, the Senate rejected a bill proposed by Rick Santorum to take a harder line against Iran by, among other things, funding Iranian groups devoted to regime change, significantly increasing punishments for companies which do business in Iran, and requiring the President to determine if such companies should be banned altogether from U.S. markets. The Bush administration opposed this legislation (likely because it committed the sin of Congressional "interference" in presidential foreign policy decision-making). And all but four Democrats voted against the hard-line Santorum bill. Joe Lieberman was one of the four Democrats to vote in favor of it.
This effort by Santorum (and Lieberman) to push the administration into a more aggressive posture against Iran preceded by one day this story in The Washington Post, which revealed that in 2003, Iran attempted to engage the U.S. in comprehensive negotiations to resolve all significant disputes between the two countries, including Iran's nuclear activities and its position on Israel. The Bush administration flatly refused the offer to negotiate, and even attacked Switzerland for agreeing to pass along the Iranian offer and vouch for its authenticity.
Just as was true with Iraq, most hard-line Iran war agitators are completely uninterested in inducing Iran to disarm. What they really crave is a change of government as soon as possible, something which is attainable most effectively by war. They don't want to pursue diplomatic measures that could result in a cessation of Iran's nuclear activities because a non-nuclear Iran with no regime change does not even remotely satisfy their goals. Anything less than forcible regime change will be perceived by them as dangerous "appeasement." Exactly as they viewed the first Gulf War, achieving concrete goals while failing to use our military to get rid of governments we dislike is weak and misguided. Government-changing war is the only solution that works.
Does anyone doubt on which side of this Iran debate Joe Lieberman will fall? He did not become one of the most vigorous supporters of the Iraq war because he has unique views about Iraq. He supported that war -- and still does -- because he subscribes almost completely to the neoconservative world-view that the Middle East must be re-made and re-created in our image, using as much military force as necessary, in order to rid that region of anti-Israeli and/or anti-U.S. governments and replaced with more compliant ones. Here is what Lieberman told then FOX News analyst Tony Snow back in 2003:
SNOW: Do you believe Iran is ripe for a regime change?
LIEBERMAN: Well, yes. I mean, I think it would be in the interest of the world, and most particularly of the Iranian people, to have a regime change in Iran.
I'm not suggesting military action by us, but Tom Friedman of The New York Times, I believe, said recently -- or a while ago that there's no nation in the world where the government is more anti- American and the people are more pro-American than Iran, and that's the equation we have to flip.
Lieberman's foreign policy views compel support for war in Iran every bit as much as they compelled support for the Iraq invasion. That's because, as much as any other national politician in either party, Lieberman embraces neoconservatism at its core, and is one of the leading advocates of its principles.
One of the most absurd arguments currently being circulated is that there is something misguided or even unethical about supporting a primary challenge to Lieberman. These complaints often include the supremely ironic accusation there is even something anti-democratic about the primary challenge, because it somehow signifies that diversity of opinion is prohibited and dissent punished. But as Roger Ailes points out: "Seems to me that having a pro-war candidate and an anti-war candidate running against each other within a party is about accepting diversity of opinion."
Iran has been lurking on the political agenda for some time and -- in a sure sign of things to come -- there have been outbursts of frenzied media coverage in short segments here and there. It is hard to imagine that Iran won't play a very significant, if not dominant, role in the lead-up to the 2006 elections. The warrior/appeaser dichotomy has worked wonders for Karl Rove in two straight national elections and it seems clear that he intends to prominently feature it again. Whether we should militarily attack Iran is a debate that, one way or the other, this country is going to have.
Joe Lieberman is a neoconservative whose foreign policy philosophy is inevitably going to lead him to support whatever hard-line policies against Iran which this administration wants, including a military attack. To the extent Lieberman is willing to deviate at all from the administration's Iran policy, he will likely be more hard-line than they are, just as was the case with the Santorum legislation.
It would be incredibly irresponsible for the Democrats not to have an all-out debate about whether they want to be represented in the Senate by someone whose foreign policy views are more or less identical to the most militaristic ideologues in the administration. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that the primary challenge against Lieberman is motivated almost exclusively by his support for the Iraq war (an obviously false claim given that numerous Democrats who supported the war are still supported by most Democrats), Lieberman's neoconservative world-view is squarely at odds with the views of most Democrats (and most Americans), and that, among other things, is what is at issue in his primary challenge.
It is highly revealing that those who view the Connecticut primary challenge as being some sort of anti-democratic affront -- such as those geniuses at The New Republic for whom the only more important goal than Middle Eastern wars is Lieberman's re-election -- do not attack the specific views of Ned Lamont, but instead attack the existence of the democratic contest itself. As was true with their advocacy of the invasion of Iraq, neoconservatives don't want to win a debate over whether further war-mongering, this time in Iran, makes sense. They once again want to squelch meaningful debate entirely, even if it means advancing that blatantly inane claim that a primary challenge to a highly controversial Senator with extremist foreign policy views is inappropriate and even anti-democratic.
The one lesson which I believe Americans (if not the national media) have learned from the Iraq debacle is that we cannot engage in a military action again of that significance without having a real debate and without engaging in intense skepticism over claims made by the government. Joe Lieberman is clearly going to advocate the hardest line possible against Iran. Few things are more constructive than a democratic election where that view gets openly debated and then resolved by voters. That is how our country is supposed to work.