Altitude Drop For Lieberman the Hawk

Similarly, his prospective defection to the Senate G.O.P. seems less likely now – again because of Iraq. One after another, the Senate’s moderate Republicans are now making a break from the Iraq policy championed by the Bush administration and Mr. Lieberman. By September, it seems more and more likely, the President will either take the hint and reduce troop levels or watch as those fed up Republicans side with the Democrats to impose a withdrawal timetable. Indeed, Mr. Lieberman’s interview was preceded with a clip of Senator Richard Lugar’s time-to-junk-the surge floor speech last week. If Mr. Lieberman were to flip to the Senate G.O.P. now, he’d probably still be surrounded by colleagues intent on ending the war.

There was actually a moment, in the aftermath of the 2006 elections, in which his triumph was the rare exception to a profoundly anti-war national tide, when a remarkable redemption story actually seemed possible for Mr. Lieberman, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 2000. However foolishly, it was believed back then that President Bush would respond to the election results – and the report of the Iraq Study Group report – with a rethinking and scale-back of the war, which might have significantly deflated the issue’s primacy in the ’08 race. Had Mr. Bush done so, Mr. McCain may well have sustained his front-runnerhood on the G.O.P. side – raising the possibility that as the nominee he’d offer his Number Two slot to his friend Mr. Lieberman, capitalizing on the cross-party appeal of someone known primarily for his political independence.

But Mr. Bush dug his heels in and Mr. McCain and Mr. Lieberman cheered him on, and now both of them are identified almost exclusively with the unpopular war (with a little immigration thrown in for Mr. McCain). Now, as he drops to single digits in Republican polls, it seems ludicrous to imagine Mr. McCain as the ’08 G.O.P. nominee, and inconceivable that he’d round out his ticket with someone so intimately attached to such an unpopular war. Not very long ago, both men had enviable reputations as courageous political mavericks; in a few short months, they have become bullheaded apologists for a policy that has fallen into deep disfavor with the public.

In discussing the melting Congressional support for the war, Mr. Lieberman said on Sunday that “You might say that in Iraq we’ve got the enemy on the run, but for some reason in Washington a lot of politicians are on the run to order a retreat by our troops even as they are beginning to succeed.”

Those politicians are on the run to catch up with the public before November 2008. Mr. Lieberman should probably consider himself lucky that his seat was up last year – and not next year.