Remembering a Great Senator Who Put His Nation Ahead of Politics

I was greatly saddened this week when I heard the news that former Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman had passed away due to complications from a fall. Although I disagreed with him on some domestic political issues, there was no daylight between us on national security.

Senator Lieberman was a patriotic American and a good family man. He was also a man of principle who always put protecting the security of the United States and standing firmly with the State of Israel ahead of partisan politics. Senator Lieberman also worked closely with many Republican senators, especially the late John McCain and Lindsey Graham, on national security matters.

As much as we want to keep politics out of commemorations of the senator’s life and accomplishments, it is impossible to avoid drawing comparisons between him and leading Democratic officeholders of today who have not followed in his footsteps of putting U.S. national security ahead of U.S. politics.

The most dramatic example of this occurred earlier this month, when, in a speech from the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an obstacle to peace and called for new elections in Israel. Schumer also echoed criticism by the Biden Administration on how the Netanyahu government has conducted the war against Hamas and for its opposition to a two-state solution peace plan, which Schumer said will make Israel a “pariah.”

There was a time when such over-the-top criticism of a U.S. ally and overt meddling in the politics of a friendly state would attract strong bipartisan criticism. Unfortunately, we live in a different era when Democratic politicians march in lockstep and will do anything to hold onto power. In the case of President Biden and Senator Schumer, this means ignoring America’s historic and crucial friendship with Israel to throw it and Prime Minister Netanyahu under the bus because the Israel-Hamas War is so unpopular with the Democratic Party’s progressive wing that it is hurting Biden’s reelection chances.

So it wasn’t a surprise that the only major Democrat to speak out against Schumer’s shocking criticism of Netanyahu was Senator Lieberman, who wrote a scathing op-ed that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on March 20 titled “Schumer Has Crossed a Red Line over Israel.” In his op-ed, Lieberman said, “while Mr. Schumer’s statement undoubtedly pleased American critics of Israel, for the Israelis it was meaningless, gratuitous, and offensive.” Lieberman also lamented that Democrats used to be the more pro-Israel party, but now Republicans are. A partisan divide, he said, is not good for Israel, which needs broad bipartisan support from the United States, and also undermines America’s need for strong alliances.

Lieberman took similar action in 2015 with his principled opposition to President Obama’s disastrous nuclear deal with Iran, the JCPOA. Although it was well known in Washington at the time that this agreement was a fraud that would do little to stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, most Democrats went along with it anyway or offered token opposition. This was largely due to a massive Obama Administration deception campaign run by former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

Senator Lieberman was not fooled by this and aggressively campaigned against the JCPOA, stating repeatedly that there could be no legitimate nuclear deal with Iran that allowed Tehran to enrich uranium. Although Lieberman was unable to stop Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, he spent the rest of his life speaking out against the nuclear threat from Iran. This included bipartisan efforts, such as his leadership of United Against a Nuclear Iran, an organization he headed with Mark Wallace, an American ambassador to the UN in the George W. Bush administration.

Senator Lieberman did not let domestic U.S. politics or pressure from anti-Israel elements of his party sway his solid support of the U.S.-Israel relationship and the State of Israel. Lieberman supported President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA. He also supported President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and was the sole Democrat to attend the opening of this embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018.

It is despicable that no current or former Democratic official at the time other than Senator Lieberman had the integrity to put their personal politics and hatred of President Trump aside to witness this historic event.

Senator Lieberman also strongly opposed the Biden Administration’s efforts to revive the JCPOA and the extravagant concessions that Biden officials offered Iran to accomplish this. Except for New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, these attempts by the Biden Administration to appease Iran received only muted opposition from a handful of Congressional Democrats.

Although he occasionally supported Trump administration policies, Senator Lieberman had major differences with President Trump. Despite toying with a “No Labels” third-party presidential candidate, Lieberman made clear that he would vote for Biden in a 2-man Trump-Biden race this November.

But at the same time, Lieberman never demonized Trump or other Republicans. Unlike top Democrats of today like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, members of the other political party were fellow Americans to Lieberman who he could work with and sometimes disagree with, not “MAGA Republicans” or enemies.

Also, unlike today’s Democratic leaders, Lieberman demonstrated his interest in talking to and working with Republicans by frequently appearing on conservative news outlets like Newsmax TV and Fox News. I was honored to be on a Newsmax TV panel with Senator Lieberman in January to discuss growing threats from Iran’s nuclear program.

Senator Lieberman will be sorely missed for his integrity, independence, and patriotism. We need more politicians in Washington like Joe Lieberman who will put the interests of our country and standing with America’s close friends like Israel ahead of power and partisan politics.

May his memory be a blessing.

Fred Fleitz is vice-chair of the America First Policy Institute Center for American Security. He previously served as National Security Council chief of staff, CIA analyst, and a House Intelligence Committee staff member.

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Photo: Senator Joe Lieberman posing for a portrait in Beijing on October 15th 2023. (Gilles Sabrié for The Washington Post via Getty Images)