The Republican Jewish Coalition Leadership Conference attendees meeting in Washington on Wednesday, May 16, 2007, received U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) with tumultuous applause and a standing ovation. The 160 Republican Jewish leaders who assembled at the Washington DC Chamber of Commerce building, a block away from the White House, were visibly moved by Senator Lieberman’s principled stand on the Iraq war and national security, and delighted in his victory last November over Ned Lamont, a wealthy businessman who was supported by the Democratic party, and his Democratic colleague from Connecticut, Senator Christopher Dodd.
Senator Lieberman expressed his gratitude to many in the audience for having supported his 2006 race for re-election. Injecting dry humor, he said, “I know there are some who are probably wondering what a nice independent Democrat from Connecticut is 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.”
Assuming a more serious demeanor and quoting President Ronald Reagan, Lieberman’s message to the audience was “Now is the time for choosing.” He continued: “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.” He added, “That is the choice we in Washington will make this summer and this fall. It is a choice not just about our foreign policy, 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.”
Interrupted by repeated applause, Senator Lieberman went on say that the Iraq war has become a “defining issue” for both Congress and the presidency” and that the consequences of the decisions made in the next few months will have an impact “far beyond the terms of anyone now in office.” He asserted that part of the disagreement we face over Iraq is a genuine difference of opinion. Lieberman provided the prevailing views on Iraq and the threat of Islamic extremists: “There are those who believe as I do, that the struggle against Islamic extremism 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 Islamic extremism.'” Others (mostly Congressional Democrats, J.P.), Lieberman said, believe that the threat of Islamic extremism is “overstated” and that Iraq is simply a distraction from the “real” war on terror, and that the war in Iraq is either lost or not worth fighting to win.
“It is my deeply held conviction,” Lieberman said, “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 U.S., for Iraq, and the entire Middle East, including Israel, and our moderate Arab allies.” An American defeat in Iraq Lieberman said, would be a victory for Al Qaeda and Iran, two of the bitterest enemies the free world is facing. It would vindicate our enemies’ perception of America as “weak” and as easily driven by the threat of terrorism. Moreover, it would confirm the fears of our friends - not only in Iraq, but also throughout the world – “that we are unreliable allies who will abandon them in the face of danger.”
Lieberman admonished the politics of partisanship, calling on the Democrats to end their spiteful attitude towards President Bush. “For many Democrats, if President Bush is for it, they must be against it. If the war in Iraq is going badly, that is bad for him and good for Democrats. It is as simple as that, and it is as wrong as that.”
Lieberman then turned to the Republicans saying that the unpopularity of the Iraq war has begun “to shake their will.” He criticized Congressional Republicans for thinking that they have no choice but to abandon General Petraeus and his strategy because “the American people tell pollsters they want out.” Lieberman added, “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.”
Citing the transformation of the Anbar Province in Iraq, deemed by the Washington Post as “lost” five months ago, Lieberman, who recently returned from Iraq and visited Anbar, said, “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-the New York Times reports that we have turned the corner there.”
Concluding his address, Lieberman stated, "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 – 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.”
Scott M. Feigelstein, Director of the Pennsylvania/NJ chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition had this to say about Lieberman speech, “I have known Joe Lieberman for a long time and his appearance and remarks were historical, statesmanlike, highly principled and totally in character with who he is as a person and a leader. Senator Lieberman, like President Bush, recognizes the serious threat facing our nation and the world emanating from radical Islamist forces. Making tough policy decisions without regard to political polls is a hallmark of leadership and the Senator is one of the few members of his party demonstrating such quality. It was an honor to see and hear his remarks.”
Philadelphian Lance Silver, founder of the Forum for Middle Eastern Understanding (FFMU) and Board member of the Interfaith Taskforce for America and Israel (ITAI) who also attended the conference added, “It is obvious that the Senator knows the difference between right and wrong in today’s world, and to that I can only say Amen.”
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