HH: This hour, we start with United States Senator Joseph Lieberman of the great state of Connecticut. Senator Lieberman, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
JL: Good to be back, Hugh, thank you.
HH: Thanks for being here. The General Jones report today…
HH: What did that tell us?
JL: Well, you know, like so much else in this war, what you see depends on where you stand, I guess. In one of the papers, it might have been the Washington Post, had a headline saying Iraqi military won’t be ready for at least 18 months. But if you look at the Jones report, it actually says that the Iraqi military has made remarkable progress, measurable progress in the last year, uneven but engaged in the battle as they’ve never been before, and he predicts that they will continue to get better to the extent that they will actually begin to take on more of the responsibilities of American troops. And General Jones told us today that he sees a possible scenario where early in ’08, early next year, the U.S. could either reassign some of our military to other trouble spots in Iraq, or in the Middle East, or to bring them home based on that increasing skill of the Iraqi military. He was less positive about the Iraqi national police. Everybody understands that that’s been a dysfunctional organization, had some good strong recommendations to improve it. But bottom line, this is a report that says the Iraqi Security Forces are getting better, and they’re going to continue to get better.
HH: There’s also Finding 13, which I read…
HH: …that the Special Operations forces are among the most capable. Those are the al Qaeda killers, Senator Lieberman. That’s got to be great news.
JL: This is great news. I mean, look, the question is were these people, were the people that we were building into the Iraqi military committed to the nation, and committed to the security of their neighbors? And there were times over the last year or two where we’d get reports that kind of made you feel the Iraqi military was a ragtag army, and the day they got paid they went home, and so they gave the money to their families, spent a week or two there, and then came back around the time the next paycheck. But not so anymore, and that goes right to the most difficult stuff, which is their Special Operations forces, and you’re right, these are the anti-al Qaeda forces. So it’s part of the reason why al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq today.
HH: I know he’s your friend, but Chuck Schumer had some extraordinary remarks to make on the Senate floor yesterday. Let me give you a slice of them.
CS: The violence in Anbar has gone down despite the surge, not because of the surge. The inability of American soldiers to protect these tribes from al Qaeda said to these tribes, we have to fight al Qaeda ourselves.
HH: Senator Lieberman, despite the surge…
HH: …and the inability of American soldiers? It sounds like he’s blasting our troops as ineffective and failures.
JL: Yeah, I noted that, and as we say in the Senate, with all respect to my colleague from New York, I just, I couldn’t disagree with him more. In some senses, it’s an insult to the American troops. And look, beyond that, because the American troops don’t insult easily, this is just factually wrong. I mean, what’s happened in Anbar is unbelievable. I was there in early June, I had been there six months before, and you know, John McCain and I were there together. We wanted to go into Ramadi, and they wouldn’t let us go in, because it was unsafe. This time, I went in, walked around to the markets, stopped and got some ice cream with a bunch of kids. I mean, it was, thank God, very different. And the reason that happened is one, in my opinion, the surge, because the increase in Marines in Anbar Province said to the Iraqis, most of whom are Sunni in that province, okay, the Americans are not turning tail and leaving. Second, they saw what al Qaeda was doing. They saw that these people are fanatics and killers and their enemy, and they decided if the Americans are willing to stay here and help us a little bit, they’re really much more on our side than al Qaeda is. And of course, they’re right. So it was, it was in fact the bravery of the American troops which encouraged the Sunnis to begin to take, the tribes to take on al Qaeda. And the story is really the most encouraging thing that’s happened in Iraq in a long time, and not in spite of our troops, but in fact because of them.
HH: Well, the good news in Senator Schumer’s remarks is that he at least recognized that al Qaeda is in Iraq.
HH: Now the question is…
JL: Small comfort.
HH: Are there any other Democratic Senators who are going to agree with your assessment, or 90% of your assessment, or are they all following the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Committee, Chuck Schumer?
JL: Yeah, well, I think some will. Look, there have been a couple of votes here, two, three, four votes over the last six months where I was the only Democrat, and it was really disappointing to me, shocking to me. It shouldn’t…you can have disagreements about this war, but they just should never divide on that kind of partisan line. But I’ll tell you something, Hugh, there’s political movement here on the war, and it is a direct result of the military movement, thanks to Petraeus, General Petraeus, our troops, and the surge in Iraq. And I think whereas a lot of people who are against the war felt that in September, things would be so bad that they’d be able to force a deadline for withdrawal of our troops, the votes aren’t there. And now you’ve got some of the folks like Carl Levin, the Senator from Michigan saying that maybe he’d be open to a goal for removing troops sometime next spring, instead of a deadline for removing troops. So this is nothing to rest on, and look, this is, we’re at a crossroads here. I mean, this is, no matter what errors may have been made in the past, the fact is that the President had the guts to say what we’re doing is not working, and he developed a new plan, and put a new general, Petraeus, in charge of it. It is working, and the enemy there is al Qaeda and Iran. And if we get out, they win. And if they win, we are terrible losers, both there, and ultimately here at home.
HH: Some Democrats are preemptively attacking not terrorists or Sunni or Shia radicals, but General Petraues.
HH: …after having confirmed him unanimously.
HH: When you see him in the Cloak Room, what do you say to them about this? This is unprecedented to attack a four-star in a war like this.
JL: Yeah, it’s unprecedented, and it’s totally uncalled for, because I’ll tell you, even though General Petraeus knows where I’m coming from on the war, when I’ve talked to him, or listened to him in public gatherings, or even when I’ve talked to him privately, he doesn’t spin. I mean, he obviously believes in what he’s doing, but he’ll tell you straight out what he thinks is not working just as he’ll tell you with some credibility what is working. So this is a remarkable story. These are, you know, the moments like, well, General Abrams when he was sent to Vietnam to turn things around. But of course, the lesson there is the political will was lost in America. And so by the time Abrams put us on the winning momentum in Vietnam, there was no support at home. We can’t let that happen here.
HH: Now I know you’re a Kennedy Democrat, Senator Lieberman.
JL: J.F. Kennedy.
HH: J.F. Kennedy.
HH: One of those dark days in the Kennedy administration is when Diem was overthrown.
HH: And you know, Bobby and Jack did not intend that he be killed, but he was killed, and we entered into this long period of instability.
HH: The attacks on the prime minister of Iraq, Maliki right now…
HH: Do they remind you of the undermining of Diem from ’62?
JL: Well you know, I don’t know if anybody’s thinking about that, but that’s a very important lesson to take from history. You know, Maliki is operating in a tough climate, politically. And you know, he’s no more perfect than any member of Congress. But he’s, I think he’s trying real hard, and I think we’ve got to be very careful since we’re…part of why we say we’re there, and went in there is to liberate the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator, Saddam, and to give them the opportunity to determine their own destiny. And you know, they elected a parliament which elected Maliki. Well now, he’s got the Sunnis and the Kurds and the Shias, which he’s part of, together in a leadership group, and again, I come back to, you know, what I alluded to a moment ago, Hugh, which is that the choice in Iraq today, politically, is not between Maliki and some perfect Iraqi government. It’s between Maliki and al Qaeda and Iran. And for America, that is an easy choice.
HH: Let me close by talking to you about the FISA reform, Senator Lieberman.
HH: Today, a United States district judge enjoined it. It gave 90 days for the government to appeal this. Do you think the courts understand the importance of the FISA reform the Senate passed with 60 votes just a month ago?
JL: Well, I hope so. I mean, I think everything we did there was justified. And you know, there’s a mindset that is part of the problem, and maybe, I know it’s here in the Congress, and maybe it’s in some of the judiciary, which is that folks are seeing this in more classic law enforcement terms, the war on terrorism, when in fact, it’s a war. And without saying too much, but the basic point of the FISA was to allow the U.S. government, our government protecting us, to listen in on conversations and follow e-mail traffic of people who are not United States citizens. And if they happen, if those happen to lead to U.S. citizens, then they have to go to court to get an order. Now to me, that’s not only Constitutional in the sense of protecting privacy rights, it’s Constitutional in the primary sense of fulfilling our responsibility to provide for the common defense. So I hope that decision does not stand.
HH: Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, always a pleasure to talk to you, sir.
End of interview.