By: Jim Meyers
Sen. Joe Lieberman says the world is at a “turning point in history,” and the United States should begin preparing plans to attack Iran’s nuclear program — and use that option if all diplomatic and other means fail.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, the Connecticut independent discloses that he probably will run for re-election in 2012, most likely as independent, and eschew the Democratic and Republican lines, although he notes that “anything is possible.”
He also says Sarah Palin has become a spokeswoman for disaffected Americans – and maintains that the Obama administration has made a mistake in vowing not to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear entity.
In the interview, Newsmax chief Washington correspondent Ronald Kessler noted that a recent CIA report said Iran is capable of starting the development of nuclear weapons at any moment, and asked if the time has come to use military force to halt that development.
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“I don’t think it’s time to use military force against Iran, but I certainly think it’s time for the United States to have plans that will enable us to use force to stop the Iranian nuclear program if the president orders such an attack,” says Lieberman, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
“And I think it’s deeply important that the fanatical leadership in Iran understands that we are very serious about their nuclear weapons program, and when we say it’s unacceptable for Iran to go nuclear, we mean it — that we can and will do everything to stop Iran from going nuclear.
“The next step is tough sanctions, economic sanctions. Frankly it’s a last chance for Iran to avoid giving the rest of the world, including the United States, a hard choice between allowing Iran to go nuclear and using military power to stop them from doing that.
“I cannot stress enough that this is a turning point in history. If we allow Iran to become a nuclear power, the world becomes terribly more unsafe for everybody. It’s the end of the global nuclear nonproliferation attempts. All the work that President Obama’s doing on the START treaty, trying to keep nukes from terrorists — if Iran goes nuclear, that’s over.”
Chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians would also be over, Lieberman adds, “because the clients of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, strengthened by an Iranian nuclear umbrella, will turn more ferocious, not just against Israel but first against their enemies among the Palestinians, which is the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority.
“We’re going to be tested here. All the world is going to be tested, and it’s a test that will affect the future of our children and grandchildren and everybody all around the world.”
Lieberman takes issue with the Obama administration’s declaration that the United States would not use nuclear weapons to respond to an attack with biological or chemical weapons if the attackers do not possess nuclear weapons.
He says he prefers the “appropriate ambiguity” that has been U.S. policy until now.
“Anyone contemplating an attack against us, a nation or a non-state attacker like al-Qaida, wouldn’t quite know how we would respond,” he tells Kessler. “In other words, we reserve the right to use nuclear weapons in response if the attack by biological, chemical or anything else was bad enough.”
But he says the administration’s new stance is “a little bit like Swiss cheese — it’s full of so many holes that if some country attacked us, a serious biological terror attack, there would be plenty of reasons an American administration could find to use nuclear weapons.
“I want any nation thinking about doing anything as extreme as to attack America with biological or chemical weapons to fear that we would respond with a nuclear attack. I hope we never get to that point, but I want our enemies to be uncertain and afraid.”
Kessler asked Lieberman about the Obama administration’s decision to remove the term “Islamic extremists” from the official U.S. National Security Strategy and use “violent extremists” instead.
“I don’t understand it. I think it’s fundamentally dishonest,” the senator said. “I don’t think it gains us anything in the Muslim world. In fact, I think it probably loses us some support in the Muslim world.
“We’re in a war not with some nebulous group of violent extremists. We’re not in a war with environmental extremists or white extremists. We’re in a war with violent Islamist extremists and terrorists. The people who attacked us on 9/11 were not just violent and extreme, they were motivated by an ideology of Islamist extremism which took the religion of Islam and essentially transformed it into a radical political ideology.
“And if we don’t call it what it is, first off we’re violating the first rule of war, know your enemy. Secondly, how do you defeat your enemy unless you describe it as what it is? And third, in many ways this is an ideological conflict between one set of values and this violent Islamist extremist ideology. Most people in the Muslim world reject this ideology. But if we don’t say there’s a difference between most Muslims in the world and the violent Islamist extremists and terrorists, I think we’re disrespecting most of the Muslims.
“Frankly, I think our enemies among the Islamist extremists must be laughing at this word game, and our friends in the Muslim world can’t be encouraged by it.”
Regarding Israel, Lieberman says some of the steps Obama has taken, such as demanding a freeze on the building of Israeli settlements, don’t help the peace process and are in fact “missteps.”
He referred to a speech that Vice President Joe Biden recently gave in Israel, in which Biden pointed out that the only time progress toward peace has been made between Israelis and their Arab neighbors is when there has been “absolutely no space” between the United States and Israel.
“I’m afraid that now there is some space,” Lieberman says.
“And it’s in the interests of the United States and Israel and our Arab allies to close that space, particularly because all of us have a much larger common enemy — and that is Iran with a nuclear weapon.”
Lieberman says Democrats appear to be in trouble with respect to the November elections, because independents who largely supported Obama in 2008 have turned against him due to concerns about the deficit and the economy.
Things could change between now and November, he adds, but he acknowledges that the “momentum” is with the Republicans right now.
Asked by Kessler about the success of Sarah Palin in galvanizing a following, Lieberman responds: “I got to know her a little bit during the 2008 campaign when I was campaigning for John McCain. She’s a very warm and likable person.
“I think Sarah Palin for a lot of people has become a spokesperson. People worried that government has forgotten them, has grown too big, that the deficit is growing too large, and in some sense that we’re not being as strong as we should be in the world — Governor Palin has spoken to those concerns as much as anyone.
“I do disagree with her on some of the specifics that she has said, but I think anybody who underestimates Sarah Palin as a political force in America does so at some peril, because she is speaking for a lot of people out there.
“I don’t know what her future is, but I’m just saying everybody should listen.”
Kessler asked the senator, who lost the Democratic primary in 2006 and was elected as an independent in the general election, whether he could see himself running as a Republican.
“I’ve been a Democrat all my life. I got rejected by the Democratic Party in 2006 and went on as an independent, and thank God and the people of Connecticut, I got re-elected.
“So I’m up again in 2012. I probably will run again. I’ve got to make that decision by the end of this year, I would say. You know, it’s possible. I haven’t decided what banner I would like to run under. Probably independent is the one that suits me best, because that’s what I am.
“In this very partisan time, it’s not my nature or my philosophy to just walk down one party road whether I think it’s right or not. I’m going to, like a lot of Americans, decide what makes the most sense on issue to issue and do what I think is right.
“So right now I’d probably be more inclined to run again as an independent. But anything is possible.”