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Sen. Lieberman Goes His Independent Way

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) supports an increase in American troops in Iraq, saying,
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) supports an increase in American troops in Iraq, saying, "Unless you believe all is lost, we've got to do everything we can to win." (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 7, 2007

Standing under the grand dome of the Library of Congress on Friday, the three top Senate Democrats bitterly condemned sending more U.S. troops to Iraq, as President Bush is now considering.

"A bad idea," said Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.).

"A huge mistake," warned Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.).

"Makes no sense whatsoever," fumed Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.).

Across town an hour earlier, at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman shared his own thoughts on Bush's plan. "We need an increase in troops there now," he asserted before an audience of military experts and academics. "It must be substantial, and it must be sustained."

Lieberman was sworn in last week as the chamber's one and only "independent Democrat," with the emphasis on "independent." On most issues, including big domestic priorities, he expects to vote as he has for the past 18 years, as a loyal Democrat. But on Iraq, Lieberman is more in sync with Bush than are many Republicans. He is a passionate defender of the war as a death struggle against Islamic terrorism.

The November election swept Republicans out of power in Congress and signaled that voters are deeply unhappy about the course of the Iraq war. The asterisk is Lieberman, who won a fourth term in an antiwar state with strong support from Republican and unaffiliated voters.

That has given Lieberman a mandate to be the man in the middle, an essential player to both parties while beholden to neither. Lately he has dropped the "Democrat" half of his affiliation, describing himself at the Friday event merely as an independent. He even holds out the possibility that he would back a supporter of the Iraq war, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), in the 2008 presidential race -- although his Connecticut colleague, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D), also may be running.

"I've had a very political two years, so I'm staying out of it for now," Lieberman demurred after his AEI address. "But you know, I'm independent, and I'm just going to watch it develop for a while. I'm going to support who's best for the country. But I wouldn't exclude the possibility" of endorsing McCain.

Bush is considering a temporary increase in U.S. force levels as he prepares to deliver a major speech on Iraq policy this week. Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the president in a letter Friday that they oppose the idea.

"There is no military solution in Iraq, only a political solution," Reid said. "Adding more combat troops to this civil war undermines our efforts to get the Iraqis to take responsibility for the future."

Lieberman got a hearty laugh at the AEI event when asked to comment on the Reid-Pelosi letter. "Speaking as an independent," he said with a smile, "needless to say, I respectfully disagree."


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