Lieberman endorses McCain's wobbly straight talk

He says McCain had the courage to speak out on Iraq when others were "silent."

By Tim Grieve

Published December 17, 2007 3:16PM (EST)

In his endorsement of John McCain today, Joe Lieberman touts the straight-talking courage of the senator from Arizona.

"When others were silent, and it was thought politically unpopular, John had the courage and common sense to sound the alarm about the mistakes we were making in Iraq and to call for more troops and a new strategy there," Lieberman says. "And when others wavered, when others wanted to retreat from the field of battle, John had the courage and the common sense to stand against the tide of public opinion and support the surge in Iraq, where we are at last winning."

"Where others were silent?" "When others wavered?"

Oh, where to begin?

The United States invaded Iraq in March 2003. By late in the summer of that year, most everyone left of Joe Lieberman -- and at least a few on his right -- understood that the war wasn't going well. From USA Today, Aug, 28, 2003: "Calls for more troops cross party lines in the Senate. Longtime advocates of more troops and broader U.N. participation include Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. McCain has called for sending another Army division, or about 18,000 troops, to Iraq. Biden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said 40,000 to 60,000 more troops are needed."

In September 2003, John Kerry -- who wasn't exactly the leading antiwar candidate at the time -- said in a CNN interview that the Bush administration had "rushed to war," that it had not planned properly for the occupation of Iraq, and that it had foolishly and arrogantly rejected Gen. Eric Shinseki's suggestion about the troop levels that would be needed in what we used to call the "postwar" period.

So much for the "silence" of others; Lieberman may not have been "sounding," or even hearing the "alarm" on Iraq, but just about everyone else was when McCain started expressing his concerns.

As for the "not wavering" part?

In a CNN interview in April 2004, McCain said that the United States didn't have enough "boots on the ground" in Iraq and that poor planning by the Bush administration meant it "missed an opportunity during the first six months or so of our occupation of Iraq." "I'm saying it's not an accident that this was the bloodiest month of the war since combat ended," he said, "and we need to adjust."

But when the Republican National Convention came around in August 2004, presenting McCain with a chance to make his case in prime time, he chose to bury his differences with the president instead. "I believe as strongly today as ever, the mission was necessary, achievable and noble," McCain said of the war. "For his determination to undertake it, and for his unflagging resolve to see it through to a just end, President Bush deserves not only our support, but our admiration."

In December 2005, McCain appeared on "Meet the Press" and said he was resigned to the fact that the United States wouldn't be sending more troops to Iraq even though he thought it should. At about the same time, he told the Hill that he thought the United States was on the right track anyway. "I do think that progress is being made in a lot of Iraq," he said. "Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course. If I thought we weren't making progress, I'd be despondent."

In August of this year, McCain said it wouldn't be fair to call him a "huge supporter" of Bush's Iraq strategy because, he said, "I was the greatest critic of the initial four years, three and a half years. I came back from my first trip to Iraq and said, 'This is going to fail.'"

It's like Lieberman says: "You may not agree with John McCain on every issue, but you can always count on him to be honest with you about where he stands."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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2008 Elections Iraq War Joe Lieberman John Mccain R-ariz.