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Lieberman Wins Republican Friends, Democratic Enemies With Support for War

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, shown speaking at a Capitol Hill news conference in September 2004, has scolded other Democrats about not supporting the war.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, shown speaking at a Capitol Hill news conference in September 2004, has scolded other Democrats about not supporting the war. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

Lieberman reached the peak of his popularity as Al Gore's running mate in 2000. But his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 flopped, in part because he was out of step with most party politicians on the war.

The latest flap began after Lieberman traveled to Iraq last month. He returned to write a Nov. 29 Wall Street Journal column in which he contradicted a core Democratic criticism -- that the administration has no strategy for victory in Iraq. "Yes, we do," Lieberman wrote, brushing aside calls from Democrats and some Republicans for Bush to set a timetable for bringing troops home.

"What a colossal mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous phrase, to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory," Lieberman wrote. Bush repeated the statement in a speech meant to bolster sagging public support for the war.

Then, at a Tuesday news conference on Iraq, Lieberman gave his party a tongue-lashing for pressing Bush too forcefully.

"History will judge us harshly if we do not stretch across the divide of distrust to join together to complete our mission successfully in Iraq," Lieberman said. "It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril."

Many Democrats were appalled by Lieberman's comments, although few were willing to reprimand him publicly.

"Senator Lieberman is past the point of being taken seriously in the caucus because everything he does is seen as advancing his own self-interest, instead of the Democratic interest," said a senior Senate Democratic aide, who described discontent in that chamber as "widespread."

The liberal antiwar group is weighing whether to back a challenger to Lieberman. MoveOn Washington director Tom Matzzie called Weicker "a very attractive candidate" but added that "the easiest way to take out Joe Lieberman would be in a Democratic primary."

Weicker was a Republican when Lieberman ousted him from the Senate in 1988. Weicker is facing some pressure to enter the race as a Democrat but says he is not much happier with that party on Iraq.

"The Democratic silence has been deafening on this for the past two years," Weicker said in an interview. "I have no more respect for them." But if Lieberman doesn't begin to distance himself from Bush's war policies, he said, "that's it -- we go to the mat."

Lieberman said the backlash against him deepens a concern that he has harbored for much of his political career: the lack of civility in Washington. In war matters in particular, he said, "politics should stop at the water's edge."

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