Commentary Magazine


FPI Conference (Part One)

At the second day of the Foreign Policy Initiative’s 2010 forum, the administration’s representatives were there to soothe and to stress bipartisanship, which they carried out with mixed results. The day began with an assist from Sen. Joe Lieberman, who emphasized bipartisanship on Iraq and Afghanistan. Returning from a trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, he asserted that although “the U.S. has never been as engaged as we are today across the Middle East,” there is nevertheless “heightened uneasiness… about America’s staying power.” He voiced optimism about the newly formed government in Iraq, stressing the need for the U.S. to remain engaged and to ensure the government “reflects the will of the Iraqi people” and not foreign governments, especially the Iranian regime. He urged the administration to accept any invitation by the Iraqi government to extend our presence beyond the 2011 date set forth in the Status of Forces Agreement.

Lieberman was heartened by progress since his last visit in July to Afghanistan. He observed that we have begun to “turn the tide” and emphasized the improved strategy and command structure implemented in the last two years. “Simply put, America has gotten its act together,” he explained. However, he was sharply critical of the July 2011 withdrawal deadline, which, he explained, “exacerbated the central strategic problem,” namely that individuals and groups “continue to hedge their bets” with Taliban forces as long as they are uncertain about American resolve. He noted with approval the administration’s recent effort “to begin to downplay the 2011 date.” He urged the development of a long-term security pact that might include an American airbase in the country.

In response to questions posed by moderator Bill Kristol, he expressed confidence that the administration would not squander gains in Iraq. But he also expressed some fear that, on Afghanistan, there would “emerge an unusual alliance of the anti-war Democrats and isolationist… or fiscally hawkish Republicans.” As for the administration, he believes “they are in it to win it.” On Pakistan, he explained the dilemma: we get more anti-terrorism information from that country than any other, yet its security forces continue to have links to the Taliban.

On Iran, Lieberman sounded hopeful on congressional bipartisanship; “not tomorrow,” but soon, he hopes for a resolution calling on the White House to use all available sanctions, to continue sanctions even if talks resume, and to express that if sanctions fail, we will use force to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. As to the last item, the problem remains not Congress but the administration.

Lieberman’s theme was: “The Obama story is as much about continuity as it is about change.” We need to hope he is right.