Lieberman a Wild Card in Iraq Policy

By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 13, 2006

Voters seemed to be speaking loudly and clearly about Iraq last week when they elected war critics such as Bernard Sanders of Vermont, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and James Webb of Virginia to the Senate.

Yet they also gave a fourth term to Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a staunch supporter of the war, and in the narrowly divided Senate that will convene in January, the veteran Connecticut Democrat is positioning himself to become a key figure in discussions about U.S. policy in Iraq.

Yesterday, Lieberman -- who won as an independent last week -- spelled out his vision for a congressional working group of Democratic committee chairmen and senior Republicans to monitor the course of the war and work with President Bush to bring it to a successful end.

"We're not going to fix this and succeed in Iraq without working across party lines," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

As Congress returns this week to Washington for a post-election session -- the final stint with Republicans in charge -- Lieberman is already asserting his status as a self-described political freelancer, beholden to neither party.

He has pledged to "sign up" with the Democrats for the 110th Congress but has made it clear that his motives are at least partly practical. By organizing with the party, even though he lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, Lieberman will retain his 18 years of Senate seniority and rise to the chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Both sides are seeking to please this political wild card.

Republicans and the White House are indebted to Lieberman for supporting the unpopular war throughout his tough election campaign. They view him as a valuable bridge to their Democratic adversaries on national security issues.

Many Democrats remain angry with their former vice presidential nominee for not bowing out after his primary loss to the more liberal Lamont. Still, they recognize that he is crucial to their one-seat Senate majority.

Pro-war in an antiwar state, Lieberman is one of the few prominent war defenders to survive a tough challenge on Nov. 7, and with his victory comes a measure of validation.

Speaking in Hartford last Wednesday, Lieberman remained unwavering in his opposition to Democrats' calls for withdrawing troops from Iraq. "What we are doing now there is not working, but that doesn't mean in any sense that it is time for us to retreat," he said. "This is a test in a very difficult and dangerous hour in our history."

But his victory also was something of an aberration, and whatever the fate of Lieberman's proposed bipartisan group, which he pledges to introduce in January, his continued support of Bush's stay-the-course approach places him well outside the Democratic mainstream.

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