Lieberman Goes Off the Rails

082307 lieberman web Lieberman Goes Off the RailsWhere did it all go wrong with Joe Lieberman?

Not so long ago, the then-Democratic senator seemed to represent the most mature and worldly strand of his party, especially on foreign policy. Now, his drift to the right seems to accelerate with every passing week and his public pronouncements become ever more bizarre.

The latest example came in an article on the editorial page of Monday’s Wall Street Journal. Of all the multitude of challenges facing the United States, Mr. Lieberman zeroed in on a peculiar target: Damascus International Airport.

The airport, Mr. Lieberman asserted, was “the central hub of al Qaeda travel in the Middle East.” Each month, 60 to 80 suicide bombers were traveling through Syria, he claimed.

He proposed two remedies: that Congress should send “a clear and unambiguous message” to the Syrian government that this “is completely unacceptable and it must stop”; and that “responsible air carriers should be asked to stop flights into Damascus International.”

Such moves, he contended, would help shut “the supply line” to al Qaeda in Iraq.

Given Mr. Lieberman’s belief—and it is a more than justifiable one—in the nefariousness of the Syrian regime, he failed to explain why an expression of displeasure from Congress would bring Damascus into line.

The notion that, in the current fraught climate, American diplomats should prioritize an effort to influence foreign airlines is eccentric at best.

There is a more fundamental problem, however. Mr. Lieberman, who once talked often about the importance of winning hearts and minds in the Middle East, seems to have forgotten such sentiments, replacing them with undiluted muscularity.

He hypothesizes that the key challenge for the U.S. is to choke off the supply of foreign fighters entering Iraq. In fact, an infinitely bigger, more important challenge is finding a way to counteract their desire to do so. Asking British Airways and Air France to tinker with their schedules will make no difference on that question.

Perhaps this latest blast from Mr. Lieberman, odd though it was, should not have come as much of a surprise. In recent months, even as the U.S. armed forces have been stretched taut, the Connecticut senator has been enthusiastic about opening new fronts and exacerbating existing antagonisms.

In June, he announced on Face the Nation that the U.S. should consider a military strike on Iran. “We’ve got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians” he told Bob Schieffer, including “a strike over the border.”

The idea that such a strike could be made without further fuelling the conflagration in the region seems closer to outright delusion than mere wishful thinking.

Mr. Lieberman’s most enduring critics would charge that he has often suffered from this delusional tendency. Certainly, he has a record of following up trips to Baghdad with remarkably cheery pronouncements. Back in November 2005, Mr. Lieberman returned from one such trip to report “real progress there.” The savagery of the conflict remained undimmed in the months that followed.

This week’s Wall Street Journal article duly commenced with the observation that “the United States is at last making significant progress against al Qaeda in Iraq.” Added to all that, Mr. Lieberman has shown an increasing tendency to impute dubious motives to Senate colleagues who oppose his view of the war, whilst mixing in odd company himself.

Earlier this year, he incited Republican senator Chuck Hagel to the point of apoplexy during an appearance on Meet the Press.

“I want to do everything I can to win in Iraq,” Mr. Lieberman said. “And I think that’s what my oath of office requires me to do.”