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Posted at 2:00 PM ET, 12/12/2010

Joe Lieberman, foreign policy maven

By Jennifer Rubin

On Friday afternoon I spoke with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) about the array of foreign policy issues that popped up during the week. Through quiet pressure and a series of foreign policy speeches, Lieberman has persistently pressed the Obama administration on a range of issues, but never with fiery or personal criticism of the president. To the extent that the administration is now wising up on several fronts, Lieberman can claim a measure of the credit.

This is especially evident on Iran. Why did he and other senators send a letter to the president urging that sanctions not be relaxed and that the administration not allow Iran to continue limited enrichment of nuclear material? Lieberman explained that one reason for the letter was to help forge a "bipartisan stance" on Iran. But he acknowledged concern that these talks have a way of dragging on without result. He pointed to the secretary of state's chasing down the Iranian foreign minister as evidence that we're making precious little progress. He then shared that at a meeting with "one administration official" after the talks in Geneva, he sensed "some circumspection" about the likelihood that talks would bear fruit and a determination "not only to double down, but triple down on sanctions."

As for the potential for a deal allowing the Iranians' to pursue limited enrichment, he pointed to statements from members of the European Union and the Russians favoring such a deal. He warned, however, that "this is the wrong message" to send to a regime that has "such a pattern of deceit." He insisted that, should Iran get the bomb, "the consequences are so disastrous for us and our allies" that we now must try every means available. In sum, he argued that "it's time to be tough."

The dilemma for Lieberman and other advocates of sanctions, however, is the difficulty of knowing whether they are "working" and whether we are straining the regime (and inflicting hardship on the population) without affecting the regime's decision-making process on nuclear weapons. His expectations appear to be low, but the difficulty will be in pivoting to a more robust approach that may include the use of force.

This past week, the Obama administration finally gave up its effort to induce Israel to offer up a 90-day settlement freeze. Lieberman said he has no particular insight into why the administration finally woke up. He simply said, "There are smart people in this administration and they realized they were in a bad position." He observed that when you are in a hole, the first thing is "to stop digging." His was blunt in his criticism of the administration's Middle East policy. He said that focusing on a settlement freeze "was a mistake," putting both Israelis and the Palestinians in a position in which they could not give in. He recalled that past administrations never demanded a settlement freeze while they conducted far-reaching talks. The entire endeavor -- giving up so much for a 90-day freeze and putting the Israeli prime minister in the position to give up items on "unrelated matters" to his coalition partners (an apparent reference to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's support for the so-called loyalty oath) convinced Lieberman "this was going nowhere good."

In the administration's shift from pure "engagement" to a tough sanctions policy, and in giving up on its flawed settlement freeze strategy, Lieberman sees a positive pattern. "When they try something that doesn't work, then [they realize] it's time to try something else." One might hope, however, that the Obama team would learn at a more rapid pace.

Speaking of failed approaches, I asked Lieberman about Russian "reset." When we spoke, he hadn't heard Sen. John McCain's speech earlier in the day. He noted, however: "John and I have talked a lot. We feel quite similarly. We don't want to go back to a cold war relationship, but it can't be based on dishonesty" or confusion about Russian intentions. As McCain did in his speech, Lieberman said that "one element" in evaluating Russian leaders is "how they treat Georgia." He urged the administration to spell out that "the Georgians are our allies" and to be clear that "we are going to provide arms to defend themselves."

He also expressed sadness that the promise at the time the Berlin War came down of a free and prosperous Russia has yet to be fulfilled. He emphasized that the U.S. and Russia "are very different on human rights." And he observed that while Russia has begun to tap its natural resources, it has yet to "diversify its economy." All of these factors suggest to him that Russia is on a course that "is not good." It remains to be seen, however, whether the administration sees eye to eye with McCain and Lieberman. The White House's frenetic determination to ratify the START deal suggests it is straining, not to re-examine "reset," but to demonstrate that is has been a success.

Finally, Lieberman said he believed that after the tax vote on Monday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would bring "don't ask, don't tell" to the floor. Lieberman, who introduced a stand-alone bill after Democrats lost a cloture vote on a larger Defense Department funding bill, said he "knows there are 60 votes" -- including, he said, some "surprises." He contended that support for repeal of the Clinton-era policy has accelerated since release of the Pentagon report. He cautioned that it is "not going to be easy to get this done," with the tax deal and START votes still hanging out there. In his book, however, there is "nothing inevitable" about the Senate closing for the holidays, since "most Americans work right up to the day before Christmas and our troops work on Christmas."

Does he enjoy the irony that, as the recipient of many barbs from the left, he now stands as the lawmaker most likely to deliver a win on one of liberals' top agenda items? He laughed and confessed, "I enjoy that almost as much as seeing the president calling the left 'sanctimonious.'" In that respect, as in so many others, he is in good company with conservatives.

By Jennifer Rubin  | December 12, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Joe Lieberman, foreign policy  
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"...the Obama administration finally gave up its effort to induce Israel to offer up a 90-day settlement freeze. Lieberman said he has no particular insight into why the administration finally woke up...."

My guess, in addition to the obvious reasons, is WikiLeaks, and not just because of the revelations about what the Arabs think. America finally realized that having Israel as a reliable ally in an era of cyber-sabotage and cyber-war is really important.

Also, the Dems had thirty days to really analyze voter data down to the Election District and precinct level :)

Posted by: K2K2 | December 12, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Barack Obama is way over head and may resign within the next six months. Joe Lieberman will probably be relied on more to keep things under control. His independent status works in his favor. The new Congress must somehow subtly push the president to the side. There is simply no other choice. Alas, elections matter. This should surprise no one who was paying attention during the election cycle of 2008.

Posted by: DavidThomson | December 12, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer is making nice to Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman is a mensch even if he does believe in running up mountains of unsustainable debt for cockamamie programs with other people's tax money. This must be why everyone is applauding a deal which in effect maintains forever unemployment benefits.

Pretty soon we'll have Greek bus drivers moving here.

Posted by: ZoltanNewberry | December 12, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

0bama already resigned, over a year ago, by my reckoning. He simply hasn't stepped down yet. And if Stuxnet (possibly the most important and under-reported and significant story of the year) is of US origin, and it increasingly appears that it is, you can bet 0bama had nothing to do with the decision to release it in Iran. It's got black ops and deniability written all over it. It is the most sophisticated, formidable, and successful weapon used on an enemy since Little Boy. 0bama will take credit for it in his memoirs (and just imagine the amounts of Dramamine that will be required to row through that narcisistic tome).

Him step down? Michelle wouldn't let him. Can anyone imagine her giving up the lifestyle and the status? I call double bacon cheeseburger on that.

Posted by: johnnyramone | December 12, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

It's past Ms. Rubin's deadline for answering the Friday uestion, but Joel Achenbach has an interesting theory about it over at the Achenblog.

Posted by: MsJS | December 12, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse


You and so many others have it backwards. Wikileaks showed that it was the Bush administration that the Arab leaders wanted to takeout Iran, on the same theory that you tell your kids to clean up their own mess they made.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 12, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

"Joe Lieberman will probably be relied on more to keep things under control"

Joe Lieberman is a right wing lapdog with zero influence in either party. The idea that ol' Sad Sack could replace Obama is a joke.

Dubya's buss on Lieberman's cheek will live in infamy. I wouldn't trust that "I stood up to Hollywood" weakling as far as I could throw him.

Who came up with this propoganda?

Posted by: 2229 | December 12, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Joe Lieberman is a religious fundamentalist who is living proof of the old dictum that you can't serve two masters.

Posted by: politbureau | December 12, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse

Joe Lieberman to keep control of things......? Well, yes, him and his 'brother' Avigdor would certainly make a good pair of collaborators.

What a joke!

Posted by: likovid | December 13, 2010 12:04 AM | Report abuse

There is something utterly breathtaking about a city where war is worshipped so unquestioningly that someone like Lieberman who was as spectacularly wrong as he was on the biggest foreign policy decision of this young century, would still be referred to as a "foreign policy maven".

Perhaps more than anyone on Capitol Hill, Lieberman assured the country that Saddam Hussein was a Clear and Present threat, that he would be attacking us any day, and that everything would go well if we launched a full scale invasion of that sovereign country. A million deaths, a billion new earthlings who hate us, and a trillion dollars down the drain later, vapid stenographers like Ms. Rubin sit here and gush over the guy's foreign policy chops.

And that's before we even consider the disgrace that is Fred Hiatt and his war criminal abetting editorial page. Charles Krauthammer, Michael Gerson, David Ignatius, Jackson Diehl and so many more who cheerled us into that disaster are still employed, still "respected", and (worst of all) still writing!

Yes, it's Zero Accountability Decade in the United States of America. No mistake of disastrous proportions will make the slightest dent in your resume. No civil service job in the US Government is as secure as these tenured positions. Help kill a million Iraqis, keep your job for life! It's all good. God Bless America, where every genocidal decision deserves another.

Posted by: B2O2 | December 13, 2010 1:21 AM | Report abuse

There is another Liberman - Foreign Minister of Nethanyau! - and he's a Russian emigre who is principally racist and chose (settled) his home in West Bank!

Me thinks, Senators like Liberman with divided loyalty (Israel/AIPAC interests comes first!), should be pensioned forever (along with McCain and other's who consider Israel as US 52nd state).

Besides he's an orthodox jew who happens to be closer to FM Liberman's orthodox emigre's party in coalition power in Tel Aviv.

Iranian nuclear power development was not a paradigm shift before Israel under GWB made it their principal focus of geopolitical challenge in ME.

Besides Iranian civilization dates back to Roman times and can't easily be cowed by outsider's who refuse to understand Persian culture and development.

In a globalized world, these mavericks are making a total mess of US strategic outlook by constantly putting Israeli (AIPAC) national interests...before American security.

Posted by: hariknaidu | December 13, 2010 5:29 AM | Report abuse

Lieberman is the biggest Israeli centric dirtbag in the Congress! Heart attack, cancer, trip & fall, anything please just get this guy gone.

Posted by: AIPACiswar | December 13, 2010 6:14 AM | Report abuse

Lieberman is indeed dabbling in foreign policy. But his initiatives are all designed to advance the interests of Israel, not the United States, whose citizens he was allegedly elected to serve, and whose constitution he has sworn to protect. Why would anyone think this is a good thing, Ms. Rubin?

Posted by: kstack | December 13, 2010 6:21 AM | Report abuse

I assume this is an editorial as the term "Maven" usually denotes unusual skill in an area, not just interest.

These Mavens of the right are the same types who opposed Nixon's outreach to China and Reagan's to Gorbachev.

More descriptive words for Lieberman and McCain in foreign policy would be Quixotic or unsteady and for McCain 'dangerous' might equally apply.

Posted by: mgferrebee | December 13, 2010 7:31 AM | Report abuse

Lieberman's sworn loaylty is to his racist apartheid jewish occupying entity-the so called 'state of isrl'-and not to the USA.

He is the apologist-in-chief for 'isrl' and always places the occupiers 'jews' and the victimzed occupied Palestinians on equal footing.

Lieberman has no colors:he switched overnight from Democrat to Republican to support GW's war of choice on Iraq for one simple reason cosnistent with his sworn loaylty to 'isl':because he beleived and still beleives that the desturction of iraq benefits 'isrl.'

Posted by: asizk | December 13, 2010 8:05 AM | Report abuse

When Lieberman designated himself an "Independent" it made being an Independent a dirty word, especially when we saw how he was in McCain's back pocket.

Trust Lieberman on anything? Not even if he said the sun rose in the east! The only thing that saved the title of "Independent" was Sanders.

Posted by: Utahreb | December 13, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

lieberman's sworn loyalty is to the racist apartheid jewish colonail settler entity-isrl:that expalins all his politics doemstic and foreign.

Posted by: asizk | December 13, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Since its anomalous creation in 1948 "isrl" has always been a net American libaility:strategic,political,financial and above all moral libability.

Why is 'isrl' is needed in the ME? Any enemies in the reigon were created as a result of the creation of 'isrl' and the jewish induced and blind US bias towards 'isrl.'

Posted by: asizk | December 13, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

I'll never forget the photo of Bush's greatest warmonger Joe Lieberman proudly placing himself in the front and center of a group photo of Democrats in front of the White House after a short visit to Bush, where they very probably got told that, like the latest Republican tax dealers did to Obama, take it or leave it, Shock and Awe is going to happen! Just like the Republican's tax deal is going to happen and Obama and his mouthpieces couldn't be more accomodating.
When Ned Lamont tried to oust Lieberman in 2005, he ran as an Independent, Mayor Bloomburg saw to it with his $$ that Liberman won (what a tragedy).
It is amazing how the forces of evil always win in DC.

Lieberman then pulled out all of the stops to support warmonger McCain.
I expect Obama to give Lieberman the Medal of Freedom and yet again spit in the face of Americans, as he has done so often.
To call him a maven, MAVEN?? is disengenous to say the least!

Posted by: mizkitteh | December 13, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Joseph Lieberman (I-ISR) is AIPAC's maven in the US Senate.

Posted by: whocares666 | December 13, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

lieberman actively works against the best interest of our country, he's a zionist neoCON with an outsized sense of entitlement.

Posted by: calif-joe | December 13, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Nobody DOESN'T know Lieberman isn't an Israeli firster.

That's That's what zionists like Rubin think 'foreign policy' means.
AND she plans to teach us Yiddish

WHAT IS the Washington Post, anyway? A mainstream American newspaper still?

Posted by: whistling | December 13, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Couldn't BELIEVE this column,
read Rubin's statement about her goals,
read her other offerings

AND WONDER WHY SHE DOESN'T TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT HER GOAL IS. But it isn't as though WaPo needs an Israeli voice...that's all it has/is.

Posted by: whistling | December 13, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Could the WaPo just have ONE editorial writer who wasn't working for Israel? Just one please? Just a token American, for appearances sake is all I ask.

Fred Hiatt is a disgrace to this town. People I talk to can't believe what the Post has turned into.

One million dead in Iraq. One million. That number doesn't go away just because you turn a blind eye to it, Hiatt&Co.

Posted by: B2O2 | December 13, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Holy smoke, Jen! The anti-semite moron brigade came out of the woodwork on this one! From milk and honey to "Jewish cabal runs WaPo" in 10 comments. I like Senator Lieberman OK; he's a decent Democrat, a rare thing these days. It took me a long time to forgive him for being a sonorous accessory to the "We just want to count all the votes" attempted theft of a presidential election. But hey -- he's redeemed himself, showed he is a patriot first, and a power-hungry liberal second. What's not to like, schmucks?

Posted by: johnnyramone | December 13, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: 54465446 | December 12, 2010 8:03 PM
"K2K2: You and so many others have it backwards. Wikileaks showed that it was the Bush administration that the Arab leaders wanted to takeout Iran, on the same theory that you tell your kids to clean up their own mess they made."


Posted by: K2K2 | December 12, 2010 3:38 PM
"My guess, in addition to the obvious reasons, is WikiLeaks, and not just because of the revelations about what the Arabs think. America finally realized that having Israel as a reliable ally in an era of cyber-sabotage and cyber-war is really important. ..."

Ummm, 54465446, where exactly did you learn how to read? I made no distinction about WikiLeaks "revelations about what the Arabs think."

As far as I have read, mostly in Der Spiegel, the Arabs have been consistent in expressing their concerns about Iran to both the Bush43 and Obama administration.

I certainly NEVER supported the W's Iraq catastrophe, at any time, anywhere, unlike so many Democrats in Congress who allowed themselves to be fooled by false intelligence that a regular reader of the New York Times knew was false.

Democrats like you make it very difficult for Democrats like me to want to remain a Democrat. America's anti-war left is unusually virulent when it comes to anything about Israel, as this thread proves.

J-Ru's blog highlights the dilemma, where anyone who supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State (with Jews of every race and national origin from Ethiopia to China) can only find rational discourse amongst conservatives, with who I do not agree on very much else, which anyone would know if they read my comments elsewhere.

I never made Israel an issue in deciding my vote until 2008, when exposed to the virulent Jew-hatred INSIDE Obama's campaign.

If the anti-war left needs a cause against post-WW2 colonial evil, I highly recommend re-focus on the Kurds, or the Chechens, or Tibet. Plenty of violations of international law and ethnic cleansing by Turkish, Russian, and Chinese nationalist imperialists who make Israel's Avigdor Lieberman look more liberal than ANY American president. Take your pick: Thomas Jefferson expanding slavery with the Louisiana Purchase, Andrew Jackson expelling the Cherokee from their homelands, Woodrow Wilson RE-segregating the Federal workforce... oops, those are all Democrats...

Posted by: K2K2 | December 13, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

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