Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke today to leaders of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
“Now,” Lieberman said, “I know there are some who are probably wondering — what is a nice Independent Democrat from Connecticut doing at a Republican event like this?”
Read on for a transcript of Lieberman’s speech.
Thank you so much for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be here among so many friends.
Now, I know there are some who are probably wondering — what is a nice Independent Democrat from Connecticut doing at a Republican event like this?
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to reelection last year… And as Rabbi Hillel said, the rest is commentary.
In all seriousness, many of you in this room stood with me last year through the long journey up a winding road that was my 2006 reelection campaign. You came to my side without regard for party affiliation, and you stayed there even after I ran as an Independent but said I would caucus with the Democrats. Your non-partisanship in my race is a model for what our politics should be. I thank you personally and deeply for it. I could not have won without it.
And I pledge to you that I will do everything I can to vindicate your confidence.
We gather at a critical time for the future of our country. The war in Iraq has now become the defining issue for this Congress and for this presidency — although the decisions we will make in the weeks and months ahead about Iraq will have consequences that reach far beyond the terms of anyone now in office.
Part of the disagreement we face over Iraq comes down to a genuine difference of opinion.
On the one hand, there are those who believe, as I do, that the struggle against Islamist extremism really is the central challenge of our time, and that, as General David Petraeus — our commander in Iraq — recently said, Iraq is now the central front of the war against Islamist extremism.
On the other hand, there are those who reject this view — who genuinely believe that the threat of Islamist extremism is overstated, or that Iraq is a distraction from the “real” war on terror, or that the war there is lost, or not worth fighting to win.
It is my deeply held conviction that these people are not only wrong, they are disastrously wrong — and that the withdrawal they demand would be a moral and security catastrophe for the United States, for Iraq, and for the entire Middle East, including Israel and our moderate Arab allies.
Let there be no doubt—an American defeat in Iraq would be a victory for Al Qaeda and Iran… the two most threatening enemies we face in the world today. It would vindicate the hope of our enemies that America is weak and that we can be driven to retreat by terrorism, and it would confirm the fear of our friends—not only in Iraq, but throughout the world—that we are unreliable allies who will abandon them in the face of danger.
The fact of the matter is, you cannot claim to be tough on terrorism while demanding that our military withdraw from Iraq, because it is the terrorists—particular Al Qaeda—that our military is fighting in Iraq.
You cannot claim to be committed to defeating Al Qaeda, while demanding that we abandon the heart of the Middle East to Al Qaeda.
And you cannot claim to be tough on Iran, while demanding the very thing that the mullahs want most of all — the retreat of the American military from the Middle East in defeat, leaving a vacuum that Iran will rush to fill.
I recognize that this war has been controversial, and there are those who oppose it on principle. I respect that.
But too much of the debate we are having today about withdrawal from Iraq has little or nothing to do with principle, or with reality in Iraq.
It is about politics and partisanship here in Washington.
For many Democrats, if President Bush is for it, they must be against it. If the war is going badly, it is bad for Republicans and it is good for Democrats. It is as simple as that, and it is as wrong as that.
For many Republicans, the unpopularity of this war and this President has begun to shake their will. They say that they have no choice but to abandon General Petraeus and his strategy because the American people tell the pollsters they want out. If previous generations of American leaders had allowed their conduct of war to be shaped by partisanship or public opinion polls, we would not be the strong and free nation we are blessed to be today.
Republicans in Congress delude themselves if they think they will be helping either themselves, their party, or their country if they now attempt to wash their hands of Iraq, out of a sudden sense of political anxiety.
Democrats in Congress delude themselves if they think they will not be held accountable for the bloody consequences of the retreat from Iraq they seek.
The fact is, a loss to Al Qaeda and Iran in Iraq would be devastating to our security. These are fateful days and critical decisions we are making about Iraq. We must make them with our eye on the safety of America’s next generation, not the outcome of America’s next election.
It is to the everlasting credit of President Bush that in the war against Islamist extremism he has shown the courage and steadfastness to stand against the political passions of the moment.
I have never hesitated to express disagreement with the President on any issue when I felt he was wrong — and I have criticized his administration many times for the serious mistakes I believe it made in prosecuting the war in Iraq.
But let me tell you this: I believe that each of us should be grateful that we have a commander-in-chief who does not believe that decisions about war should be driven by poll numbers. And each of us should be grateful that we have a commander-in-chief who does not confuse what is popular with what is right for our security as a nation. The public opinion polls may not reflect this today, but I believe history will tomorrow.
My friends, as Ronald Reagan once said, now is the time for choosing.
If we stand united through the months ahead, if we stand firm against the terrorists who want to drive us to retreat, the war in Iraq can be won and the lives of millions of people can be saved.
But if we surrender to the barbarism of suicide bombers and abandon the heart of the Middle East to fanatics and killers, to Al Qaeda and Iran, then all that our men and women in uniform have fought, and died for, will be lost, and we will be left a much less secure and free nation.
That is the choice we in Washington will make this summer and this fall. It is a choice not just about our foreign policy and our national security and our interests in the Middle East. It is about what our political leaders in both parties are prepared to stand for. It is about our very soul as a nation. It is about who we are, and who we want to be.
Will this be the moment in history when America gives up — when Al Qaeda breaks our will, when our enemies surge forward, when we turn our backs on our friends and begin a long retreat from our principles and promise as a nation?
Or will this be the moment when America steps forward, when we pull together, when we hold fast to the courage of our convictions, when—with a new strategy, and a new commander on the ground — we begin to turn the tide toward victory in this long and difficult war?
I know that we can rise above the anger and smallness of our politics. I know we can rise to the greatness that this moment demands of us.
The question is — will we choose to do so?
I would like to close today by sharing with you a story from my last visit to Iraq a few months ago. It was in Anbar province in western Iraq—the center of the insurgency—a part of the country that conventional wisdom last year dismissed as hopeless.
In fact, on September 11, 2006, the Washington Post ran a front-page story reporting that even the chief of Marine Corps intelligence in Iraq had concluded that Anbar was “lost,” and our position there was “beyond repair.”
I was in Anbar last December, on a forward operating base just outside Ramadi, the capital of the province. As one of the briefings with our military commanders ended, a colonel who had been sitting in the back of the room came up to me. He said something that I carry with me to this day—something that I hope you will carry with you as well.
He said: “Sir, I want you to know on behalf of the soldiers in my unit and myself that we believe in why we are fighting here, we want to finish this fight. And we know we can win it.”
Today, five months later, Anbar has been dramatically transformed. Thanks to the bravery, ingenuity, and commitment of our men and women in uniform, shops and schools have reopened, Al Qaeda is on the run, thousands of Iraqis have joined the local police, and— yes — no less than the New York Times reports that we have turned the corner there.
My friends, now is not the time for despair. Now is the time for resolve.
Now is not the time for reflexive partisanship and pandering to public opinion. Now is the time for the kind of patriotism and principle America’s voters have always honored.
I ask you to plead with every member of Congress you can in the days and weeks ahead — Do not surrender to hopelessness.
Do not succumb to defeat.
Do not give in to fear.
Rise above the political pressures of the moment to do what is right for America.
Believe, like that colonel, in why we are fighting in Iraq, and know, as he and his soldiers know, that we can and must win there.”