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Senator Joseph Lieberman on the attacks on John McCain, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, and on Israel.

Thursday, April 10, 2008
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HH: Today, [General Petraeus] is in front of various House committees. One of the participants of yesterday’s hearing joins me now, Senator Joseph Lieberman from Connecticut. Senator Lieberman, welcome back, good to have you on the program.

JL: Thanks, Hugh, good to be back.

HH: You made the news yesterday with your comment that many of your colleagues hear no progress in Iraq, see no progress in Iraq, and most of all, speak no progress in Iraq. Did you get a few jabs in the Cloak Room, Senator, over that one?

JL: (laughing) Well, I stayed away from the Cloak Room today, you know, self defense.

HH: (laughing)

JL: (laughing) I was on the floor, though. No, that’s the way it seemed. I mean, look, this is Petraeus and Crocker, obviously not politicians, great general, great diplomat, they’re reporting the facts. And the facts show progress, militarily, politically in Iraq, and economically. And those of my colleagues on the Armed Services Committee have been consistent critics of the war, just refuse to acknowledge it. So that’s why I said what they did. My hope, which I knew was a fantasy, was that at least even if we disagreed on some things, we could agree on the facts as presented by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. But that was not to be.

HH: Well, I think your line cut through a lot of the smoke, and I’m glad you delivered it.

JL: Thanks.

HH: You also focused in on the facts about Iranian-backed militias, Iranian interference in your questioning of Ambassador Crocker. You were just in Iraq. What’s your understanding of the level of interference that Iran is exercising in Iraq right now?

JL: Yeah, the level has been great for a period of time now. The most outrageous aspect of it, which makes me want to scream every time I say it, is that we know, the American military knows, we have evidence, that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, the Quds Force, is training Iraqi Shia extremists who are going back into Iraq, and they have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers, and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians. General Petraeus, in response to a question I asked him yesterday, confirmed that. But what’s going on, Hugh, is that Iran is trying to put its hands into just about every pocket it can, that will allow it to, in Iraq. They’re positioning themselves for, frankly, what would happen if the opponents of the war had their way, and Congress was able to force, or the next president was able to force a withdrawal of American troops. Iran is ready to take advantage and fill the vacuum. That’s what Ambassador Crocker told us yesterday. And who is this Iran? It’s Ahmadinejad, who leads the mobs in shouting death to America, death to Israel. And you know, that’s the question that’s before us. Are we going to let that happen?

HH: Now Senator, we’re rapidly getting back to where we were in, say, 1969, ’70 and ’71, where an enemy operating from a sanctuary does whatever they want to kill Americans, and we don’t do anything about it. What’s your advice to this administration about how to deter Iran from this continued killing, as you said, of hundreds of Americans?

JL: Yeah, you can’t deter these people…you know, some people say sit down and talk to them. I mean, Senator Obama has said if he’s elected president, he’d sit down and talk with Ahmadinejad without preconditions. But that will be taken as such a sign of weakness, that they will just increase their attacks against us. Honestly, I wish that this administration would specifically and clearly warn the Iranians that we know that they’re continuing to train terrorists who are killing American soldiers, we know that they’re bringing large caches of arms into Iraq, and unless they stop it, we’re going to take action. And you know, I’m not talking about all out war. We know, and I’m not revealing anything here, Hugh, the American military spokespeople in Iraq have said this over and over again publicly. We know that there are three training camps in Iran where they’re training the Iraqis who go back and kill our men and women in uniform. And if they don’t cut it out, they ought to believe that we’re going to hit those training camps. That, to me, is an act of self defense.

HH: Let me play for you a comment by your colleague, Senator Clinton, about the campaign that’s unfolding in front of us, Senator Lieberman.

JL: Right.

HRC: I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002.

HH: Senator Lieberman, what do you make of that?

JL: (laughing) Well, it’s an endorsement of my candidate, John McCain.

HH: (laughing) Yes, it is.

JL: That’s a…that’s stark. But you know, there is some truth to it. I mean, obviously, I think John McCain has enormously more experience than either of the other two. And it’s just not experience in war and in public service, but two things, and that’s a big reason why I’m endorsing him. One is I think he’s been right just about every time on national security issues. Secondly, he’s got the guts to do what he thinks is right for America. And third, I know him very well. He’s got toughness and coolness under pressure, and that’s what we want a president to have.

HH: Senator Lieberman, when I listened to Senator Obama yesterday quizzing General Petraeus, I mean, he’s a nice guy…

JL: Right.

HH: …but he’s in way over his head on this stuff. This is complicated, and I don’t hold myself out as a foreign policy expert, but I just didn’t get the sense that he was aware of a great deal of the nuances involved with Iran and its various entities. Do you have confidence that he really gets the war on terror?

JL: Well, look, he’s a smart individual, and he’s very well-spoken. But you know, he doesn’t have the experience. That’s why I get so angry when people try to give John McCain a hard time. They keep trying to play gotcha with him. Trust me, he knows the difference between Sunnis and Shias, McCain does, and he knows the enemy we’re fighting. What worries me about Obama is that he has…not just that he’s not experienced in the way McCain is, but he has a naïve view of the enemy. These…you know, McCain will always want to use diplomacy and economic sanctions before he goes to military power. But there are some people in the world who’ll never stop attacking us, and trying to go after our allies, unless they fear us. That’s unfortunately the case, and I think Ahmadinejad and the Iranian fanatics are a group like that. So for Obama to say he’s just going to sit down with them, and you know, have a Kumbaya moment, it’s not going to work.

HH: You made reference to the fact on his trip that you were with him to Jordan, he called into this show, and he said that the Iranians were bringing some Sunnis in, and al Qaeda in, and training them.

JL: Yeah.

HH: And the left wing has gone crazy about this. A) We’re not certain that all al Qaeda have not been in Iran, and in fact, some came from Afghanistan into Iran. We know that for a fact.

JL: Right.

HH: But generally speaking, what are they trying to do? Are they trying to actually sell us on the idea that John McCain doesn’t know the war on terror?

JL: I think so, and look, there are some al Qaeda in Iran.

HH: Yes.

JL: And Iran has supported some Sunni terrorist groups. Mostly, and John knows this, of course, that the damage being done, mostly by groups that Iran is backing, are Shia groups, Shia extremist groups, militias. And when I bent over to whisper in his ear, it’s because I know he knows the difference, and basically, I said John, you accidentally said that they were supporting al Qaeda. I know you mean the other, and he corrected it right away. So I mean, this is a kind of strange gotcha moment. This guy has lived this, he’s been to Iraq eight times, he knows the intricacies of this. And most important of all, he knows the difference between right and wrong. And he knows a friend from an enemy. He knows what we have on the line in Iraq, and you know, he put his whole campaign and career on the line when it wasn’t very popular. And to me, that’s the kind of guy you want as president.

HH: What do you make about the Senator Rockefeller sort of slashing attack on Senator McCain as dropping missiles from 35,000 feet?

JL: Yeah, you know, unbelievable, and I can’t understand it. I said that story could be the part of a book that somebody could write called Why In American Politics Do Good People Do Bad Things, because Jay Rockefeller’s a nice guy. I disagree with him on some stuff, but that was such a…just, it was so really vicious, and not like him, and that’s why I’m glad he apologized, because you know, McCain has made clear, as most soldiers will, that they draw no joy from war. They do it as a responsibility and a sense of duty to their country, and to each other and the military. And you know, to say that McCain didn’t care when he was dropping bombs on people in Vietnam, it’s just not him. And if you, if Rockefeller or anybody else read any of John’s books, or heard the speeches he gave, particularly last week on his so-called Service To America tour, you’d see how he feels about it. So it was really a shocker, and I’m glad that Rockefeller apologized. I have no idea why he did it.

HH: We’ve got about a minute, Senator Lieberman. You were just in Israel. They’re running Operation Turning Point 2 right now. What’s the level of angst in Israel about Iran, and the Syrian ambitions toward it right now?

JL: The level of angst in Israel about Iran is extremely high. You know, they deal with threats from Palestinian terrorists, from Hamas, from Hezbollah. Incidentally, both are supported by Iran. But the great fear is that Iran will get a nuclear weapon. And that represents a threat to the very existence of Israel. I tell you the other thing, Hugh, they’re sick and tired of those rockets coming in on the average of one every two hours, with fifteen seconds warning, into the towns and cities near Gaza, being fired by Hamas rockets, supplied by Iran. And I would not be surprised if they take some action to defend themselves pretty soon.

HH: Senator Joseph Lieberman, always a treat, thanks for joining us, Senator, We’ll talk to you again soon on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

End of interview.

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