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The Politics of War

The Journal Editorial Report

Paul Gigot: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," a political thunderclap in Connecticut as a three-term Democrat loses to an antiwar upstart. How does Joe Lieberman's loss frame the midterm election debate? And continuing coverage of the crisis in the Middle East. An in-depth look at the role Iran is playing in the conflict. Plus the latest on the thwarted terror plot in Britain and concern over an upcoming date on the Islamic calendar. How significant is Aug. 22? But first, these headlines.

Gigot: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot. A resurgent political left scored a significant victory Tuesday with the defeat of Sen. Joe Lieberman in Connecticut's Democratic primary. The three-term incumbent was defeated by political newcomer Ned Lamont, who attacked Lieberman for his staunch support of President Bush's Iraq war policies. Republicans were quick to use the result to define the Democrats as weak on national security. How does the Lieberman lose frame the political debate in November and beyond?

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and editorial page deputy editor Dan Henninger, editorial board member Kim Strassel and OpinionJournal.com editor James Taranto.

James, I want to read you a quote from Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman. He said this week that the Lamont victory "reflects an unfortunate embrace of isolationism, defeatism and a 'blame America first' attitude by national Democratic leaders at a time when retreating from the world is particularly dangerous," unquote. Tell us how you really feel, Ken.

[Laughter]

Do you think this is the Republican strategy laid out here that they'll define Democrats as weak on security?

Taranto: I think it is, and I think it very well may work. Now, I don't think that this necessarily reflects the views of national Democratic leaders. It reflects the views that national Democratic leaders are being forced to espouse by the Angry Left wing of their party.

I think Republicans faced a real problem this November, because the election looked like it was going to be about Iraq. There's a lot of dissatisfaction with the way the war has been going, with the way the administration's been running the war. Something like 60% of people in polls say they oppose the war.

So if you frame the question as "Iraq, yes or no," the Republicans lose. If you frame the question as "Iraq, cut and run or stay and win," then the Democrats lose. Only 26% in a recent poll are in favor of pulling out all the troops, which is the Ned Lamont position.

Gigot: But do Republicans really want to debate Iraq, Dan? I mean, as James says, the public is not supportive of the way the war has been going.

Henninger: Yeah, I agree with that. I think, if the Republicans simply leave the Democratic argument on the table, which was articulated by John Kerry, I think just yesterday--he says Iraq is a distraction from the rest of the war on terror around the world. If they leave that lying on the table, I think they're going to be in big trouble, because, as James suggests, people are discomfited by Iraq.

What they're going to have to do is press the argument and force the Democrats to describe why Iraq can somehow be isolated from all the other terror events around the world. I don't think it can. But if they don't argue it, they're going to lose.

Strassel: You know what? Also, not just talk, I mean, they're going to have to do something too. One of the reasons that people are so concerned is that they are worried that there isn't a strategy to win at the moment. The president's going to have to go out and actually do some more in Baghdad and actually show the public that he's making some progress there. That's going to be key as well.

Gigot: On the substance, Dan, would it be a mistake for us to withdraw from Iraq now? What would be the consequences of a withdrawal, setting that withdrawal date? Because that's what Democrats have now asked for. Pretty much all the House and Senate leaders say let's get out on a set timetable. Why is that a problem?

Henninger: I think the biggest problem is that if we were to do that, giving what we now know about the opposition, about the Islamic radicals, it would simply energize them unbelievably. I mean, it would just vitalize the whole idea of suicide bombers. They would say they had defeated the American infidels, and in their mindset, it would be correct. They would be able to recruit people from all over the world, and it would simply raise the stakes in Israel, in Europe and in the United States.

Taranto: And Osama bin Laden has portrayed the pullout from Somalia in 1993 as a victory for his side.

Gigot: Weak horses and strong horses, as he said.

Taranto: Absolutely.

Gigot: Weak horses pull out. Kim, what do you think Lieberman's chances are in November running in a three-man race?

Strassel: No, I think he's got a good shot. You have to imagine that the people that came out for Lamont were very passionate about him. And Lieberman still managed to get very close to winning this election. What he's going to have to do now is--and he'll be free to do this a little bit more--is go back and talk strongly about his positions on Iraq. Now that he's not in the primary, feels he doesn't have to compete with Lamont anymore. And that should help him get some Republicans who'll be looking at their own candidate, who isn't exactly the most high-profile guy, and they'll say, Choice here between a guy who does represent us on national security and a senior senator, or a guy who's new and, you know, maybe not being any better.

Gigot: James, let's talk about what this might mean for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. Do you think this makes it more likely that Al Gore, who didn't vote for the war--unlike Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and John Edwards--for him, that he might get in?

Taranto: I don't know. I've long been of the view that Al Gore, deep down, doesn't really want to be president.

[Laughter]

So I will be surprised if he jumps in, in any case--for reasons having nothing to do with the broader political climate.

[Laughter]

Gigot: That's a psychological profile, isn't it?

Taranto: Yeah, exactly.

Gigot: What about Hillary Clinton? Does this make it more difficult for her in 2008?

Taranto: Hillary Clinton has been doing a delicate dance of being very critical of the administration while not giving up her support of the war. And if the Democrats win with this message, it's going to be much harder for her to do that dance. I think that even though she's formally said she supports Lamont, which she has to do, I think secretly she's hoping Lieberman wins.

Gigot: Dan, can she resist the calls to come out for a formal withdrawal like the rest of the party?

Henninger: I think it's going to be very hard, Paul. You know, Susan Estrich said on Fox the other day that she has got to assume a withdrawal position before we get to the Iowa primary. I think the antiwar left, the bloggers, are going to be in Iowa, softening up that state from now till the primary. And by the time she gets there, there may be nothing for her left to fight with.

Gigot: OK, Dan, last word, thanks. When we come back, Israel says members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard have been found among slain Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon, fueling claims that that country is waging a proxy war against the Jewish state. An in-depth look at Iran's role in the ongoing Middle East conflict when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

Gigot: Welcome back. Iran's Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered Muslims across the world this week to support Hezbollah in its ongoing battle against Israel. He praised the group's jihad against the Jewish state, describing Israel's offensive in Lebanon and Palestine as a bitter phenomenon, and warning other Islamic nations that they could meet a similar fate. Martin Kramer is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He joins me now from Tel Aviv.

Mr. Kramer, thank you for being on the program. We often hear that Iran and Hezbollah are very closely linked. Just how close are they? Can Hezbollah act independently on something like Lebanon without Iran's approval?

Kramer: Well, the link is very intimate, and it goes back a very long way, even to the first days of the Iranian revolution. The Iranians at the time, Ayatollah Khomeini, sent his emissaries throughout the Muslim world, especially among the Shia, to win support. There was a strong pushback in many of the other states because the regimes opposed it. But in Lebanon, there was a civil war at the time and no one to oppose it. So Iran built up Hezbollah really from scratch, and although there have been ups and downs in the degree of intimacy of the relationship, I think it has actually gotten more intimate of late, as Iran approaches a possible crisis with the West over its nuclear capabilities.

Gigot: Do you believe that Hezbollah would have struck Israel the way it did without Iran's approval?

Kramer: I think Iran had given a blanket approval for operations along Israel's border in order to keep that on a simmer. Now, the precise modus vivendi in any given situation--when to attack, when to strike--was pretty much left to Hezbollah.

I think that actually, in this respect, it might have been an Iranian mistake to have not corrected their standing instructions to Hezbollah, because they effectively provoked Israel into launching a large-scale offensive, which from Iran's point of view is badly timed. I think Iran wanted to use the capabilities of Hezbollah that you see on display now--the rockets and the guerrilla fighters--at a later time and a megacrisis over Iran's nuclear capabilities. But Israel chose the time for this war, not Hezbollah, effectively. And so, to some extent, it's been a strategic step-back for the Iranians.

Gigot: But there are some people who've said that the timing was actually appropriate for Iran, that they would have liked it to happen when it did because of the G-8 summit, which was going on and focused on Iran's nuclear program. And this attack has really changed the world's discussion about the Middle East for the last month or so. Wasn't the timing helpful for Iran?

Kramer: I think that in the scale of things, it would have been much more advantageous for Iran to have had this kind of war in the very midst of tremendous U.S. pressure, perhaps even U.S. military action, against Iran. That's exactly what Saddam Hussein tried to do. He tried to turn a confrontation over his WMD into a general conflagration in the Middle East. I think that would have been Iran's goal, in the midst of a crisis to say, Here, it's not just the United States and the Arab states against us. We're going to undercut the Arab states by bringing up popular support for resistance to Israel. So in a way I think it made sense for Israel to say, Look, we want to split this campaign against Iran into its parts. First, deal with Hezbollah, and later, at another stage, deal with Iran, and not have those two campaigns waged together.

Gigot: All right, well, this conflict has now been going on for roughly a month. There doesn't seem to be a clear-cut military victor, although Hezbollah's been damaged militarily. We don't know when it will end. What lessons do you think Iran is taking from the conflict so far? Do they feel more assured in their nuclear ambitions or maybe a bit more cautious?

Kramer: Well, as in any conflict, it's a mixed picture. I think from the point of view of public relations and their stature in the Muslim world and Arab world, Iran has gained. There is a lost of hailing of Iran helping Hezbollah to be the only Arab-Muslim force standing up to Israel. But as Iran knows deep down inside, you can't take the Arab street to the bank. There's not a lot you can do with the Arab street in the midst of a crisis. Saddam Hussein discovered that. Yasser Arafat knew it. Even Nasser knew it.

So there is a PR gain. I think, in the longer term, though, they have to wonder whether a card has been taken from their hand. Because even if it's not a decisive defeat--an elimination of Hezbollah from the Lebanese landscape--a regime is going to put in place on the Israeli-Lebanese border, and perhaps even deeper within Lebanon, which will make it much more difficult for Iran to mobilize and play the Hezbollah card in a bigger crisis. So I think that what Iran is going to do in the aftermath of this is say, Well, if we can't do it in Lebanon, where else can we do it? And I would not be surprised to see Hezbollah bolster its support--for example, for Moqtada al Sadr and the extreme Shiites in Iraq, is another card to replace the Hezbollah card.

Gigot: All right, Martin Kramer, thank you for those very interesting insights. When we come back, word this week that British officials disrupted terrorist plans to blow up planes heading to the U.S. It gave both Republicans and Democrats an opportunity to emphasize their positions on national security. We'll highlight the differences facing voters. And a significant date on the Islamic calendar has a prominent Middle East scholar warning of Iran's potentially cataclysmic plan. We'll have the details when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

President Bush: This nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom.

Gigot: President Bush, reminding Americans of the ongoing nature of the terror threat. A plan to blow up airliners en route to the U.S. from the U.K. was uncovered late this week, thwarting what British officials described as a plot to commit "mass murder on an unimaginable scale." This news comes as a one prominent Middle East scholar warns that Iran could be planning a cataclysmic attack to coincide with a significant date on the Islamic calendar.

We're back with Dan Henninger and Kim Strassel. Also joining the panel is Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist Bret Stephens. Dan, we haven't had a terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. Now, we get this word of an antiterror success. What lessons do you draw from it?

Henninger: Well, the first lesson I draw from it is that Americans are indeed not living in Never Never Land.

[Laughter]

The terror threat is real. This is a reality check.

I think the first lesson I draw from it is that we should probably, as a people, revisit the issues that were raised in the controversies over the warrantless wiretaps and the Swift financial transaction thing. As a result of most of that, the government's ability to monitor potential terrorist groups in the United States has been narrowed. I think perhaps this whole subject of civil liberties has got to be rethought.

Gigot: So surveillance of communications, surveillance of--

Henninger: Surveillance, exactly.

Gigot: --these things works.

Henninger: Because that's what the Brits were doing.

Strassel: Yes, we know that that's what happened in England.

Henninger: The Brits have showed it worked. A, they showed it worked. B, the threat is obviously real. And we can't blink that fact.

Stephens: Well, I would say that it's not entirely clear that Americans aren't living in Never Never Land. The Brits aren't.

[Laughter]

They were able to uncover what appears to be a massive plot by using methods and sources, which appear to be much more intrusive than anything that American authorities are allowed to do, and things that would probably raise hackles with the civil-liberties crowd and probably the bulk of the Democratic Party. But it's a good thing they're using it, because 4,500 people aren't dead over the North Atlantic.

Gigot: Kim, I want to read you a quote from Harry Reid, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, who said, "This latest plot demonstrates the need for the Bush administration and the Congress to change course in Iraq and ensure that we are taking all the steps necessary to protect Americans at home and across the world."

Is this about Iraq?

Strassel: Well, being in Iraq is about taking the necessary steps to protect Americans and other things around the world. I mean, the whole reason we went in there was to actually get rid of a playground for terrorists. And that's why we have to stay the course. The thing that Harry Reid hasn't made the connection between is that, if you actually cut and run, which is what many in his party are doing, you do send a message, as we were talking about earlier, that this is a way to get to America. And you'll see more of these attacks, and we won't catch all of them.

Gigot: Joe Lieberman made precisely that point in his remarks on Thursday about this, saying if they follow Ned Lamont's path, this is going to encourage the terrorists all across the world. Is this an opening for the Republicans to have a real debate on national security this year?

Stephens: Well I think it--I mean, look, no one wants to politicize terror, these kinds of events, but it is an opening.

Gigot: But there are policies that are, to deal with--

Stephens: But it is an opening for people like Joe Lieberman, or responsible Democrats or Republicans who are worried about national security, to say, If we give the terrorists a victory in Iraq, that serves as a kind of lesson to them about--that it will embolden them and it will encourage attacks like this.

Furthermore--and it's important to say this--this attack that was apparently just prevented this week, is a replay of something that Islamists were planning as far back in 1995, long before Sept. 11, certainly long before the Iraq war. So the suggestion that this is all somehow to do with Iraq is--

Gigot: Let's go with this--move to Bernard Lewis' comments about Aug. 22. Bernard Lewis--a tremendous Middle East scholar, a rational man, a careful man--he wrote a piece for us in the Journal saying that Aug. 22 may be a day to pay attention to, because it has some meaning on the Islamic calendar. It's the anniversary of one of Muhammad's trips memorialized in Islamic memory, and that the Iranians have this kind of apocalyptic vision, that they might react to a date like that. What do you think is going on?

Henninger: Yeah, an August surprise. I think Bernard Lewis probably did the world a big favor by writing that article in that now he's focused everybody on that date, and one of the most valuable things we can do in this war is try to deter it. I mean, I've talked to FBI officials who say a city like New York, for instance, is very heavily surveilled by cameras and such, because the people engaged in these plots do not like to be seen. They do not like to be watched. Clearly the Brits were watching. And so on Aug. 22, you can be sure that they're going to be a little less likely to go out in public and try to do something like this.

Gigot: It's not the debate, per se--though that is interesting--but it's also about the nature of the Iranian leadership and their kind of apocalyptic view of the world--that they may not be deterrable in the same way that the Soviets were deterrable during the Cold War.

Stephens: That's the key point. The Soviets could have 20,000 nuclear missiles or more, but they were abiding by a rational balance of power, a calculus of terror. The Iranians aren't. That's why one atomic bomb in the hands of the Iranians is much more frightening than 20,000 were in the hands of Soviets. Because they might just be willing to use it, because they have religious ideas that are very different from the way the Soviets operated.

Gigot: All right, Bret, thank you. We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Gigot: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses," it's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week. Item one, Iranian scientists are keeping busy, and not just at nuclear plants. Dan?

Henninger: Yes, well, the Iranians announced earlier this week that their scientists had actually cloned a sheep. Now, the good news is that the cloned sheep died within two minutes. Now of course this is going to generate all sorts of jokes, like maybe these are the same scientists who are working on their nuclear bomb. Or what? They're going to now clone suicide bombers--though it seems as though they already have.

They then said that they're going to do more genetic research. Well, there is such a thing known as dual-use technologies. Good science, bad science: good nuclear energy, bad nuclear bombs; good biology, bad biological weapons. And there are protocols in the world to suppress that sort of thing. But over the long term, it's really hard to stop this sort of science. And I think I'm going to put in a plug here for the Bush doctrine. It's democracies that are less likely to use science in evil ways than dictatorships like that in Iran.

Gigot: All right, thanks, Dan. Next, Reuters might not be the only news organization peddling phony pictures. Bret?

Stephens: Well, they say the first casualty in war is the truth. And this war in Lebanon is no exception. You have the Reuters Photoshop. You have the inflation of the casualty figures at Qana. What I think is one of the more interesting instances is what happened with a New York Times photograph of an Israeli bombing in the city of Tyre. The New York Times photographer captured what seemed to be a dead or gravely injured man in the rubble of Tyre. And they put this photograph under the headline "Tyre Reels From Attacks That Never Fail to Shock."

Well, what's really shocking is that you see in other photographs taken in the same place, this man, who was supposedly dead, running around the rubble looking very much alive. I think what's shocking here is the way the Times is portraying this story.

Gigot: All right, Bret. Finally, a "hit" for the voters of Georgia. James?

Taranto: Yes, this is a "hit" in more ways than one, because it involves Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who was last in the news for hitting a Capital policeman.

[Laughter]

She lost her primary runoff this week by a landslide to a man named Hank Johnson. And she is the most crackpot member of Congress. I don't have time to go into the whole litany, from anti-Semitism to 9/11 conspiracy theories, so I'll give one example. In 2002, Congress passed a resolution praising Tony Blair for his support in the war on terror, 408-1. The "1" was Cynthia McKinney. Good riddance.

Gigot: All right, James, thanks. That's it for this week's edition of "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot. Thanks for watching. We hope to see you next week.


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