Lieberman may lead foreign policy reform
ST. PAUL, Minn. | The McCain campaign on Sept. 3 promised a “shakeup” of U.S. foreign policy that would bolster agencies such as the State Department and USAID, saying that the Republican candidate will “reform” and “rebuild” American diplomacy.
But in a surprise move that hinted at a large foreign policy role in a McCain administration, the message was delivered by the man who was the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2000, Sen. Joe Lieberman.
Mr. Lieberman appeared on a midday panel in the place of John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, and spoke authoritatively on what a McCain presidency would look like.
“John’s a reformer,” said Mr. Lieberman, Connecticut independent. “One of the things I don’t think people think of John as a reformer on, but it will happen, he’s going to take a very fresh look at our foreign and defense institutions. I think you can expect a shake-up here.”
“The net result of it is that the State Department and USAID and the public diplomacy part of our government will get a lot more centrality and a lot more support in a McCain administration.”
Though he did not criticize President Bush by name, the comments were a clear repudiation of the president’s conduct in foreign affairs over the past eight years.
One of the McCain campaign’s priorities is to separate itself from Mr. Bush. He is one of the more unpopular presidents in modern his- tory in part because he is perceived as isolating America with a unilateral approach in his first term.
The White House declined to comment.
Mr. Lieberman studiously avoided any mention of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Mr. McCain’s running mate, and her lack of foreign policy credentials, on the day that those at the Republican convention could not think of anyone else.
The conversation about Mrs. Palin’s grip on global affairs took place at a press conference held by senior female Republican leaders, who angrily denounced Democrats and the press for what they perceived as a sexist bias against Mrs. Palin.
Senior McCain adviser Carly Fiorina said she found questions about Mrs. Palin’s qualifications “stunning,” and defended the idea, expressed by other McCain surrogates, that Mrs. Palin would learn from Mr. McCain and rely in the meantime on his advisers.
Mrs. Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, said that Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama is “clearly [. . .] a person who has relied heavily on his campaign staff to advise him on foreign policy matters,” ridiculing the idea that “somehow it’s all so different for Sarah Palin.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift said that Mrs. Palin’s “toughness” as governor in challenging special interests and oil companies would transfer into her diplomatic approach.
Mr. Lieberman spoke hours after delivering a speech on Sept. 2 in support of Mr. McCain that angered several Democratic leaders because of its attacks on Mr. Obama, who he said “has not reached across party lines to accomplish anything significant.”
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs called Mr. Lieberman’s speech “pa- thetic,” accused him of telling “lies,” and said the senator “ought to be ashamed of himself.”
Mr. Lieberman, for his part, explained why he left the Democratic Party after being nominated to the top of its ticket, saying he was dissatisfied primarily with its positions on trade and terrorism.
“On some critical issues [. . . ] the Democratic Party has changed. It’s only eight years ago that the ClintonGore administration was deeply committed to free trade,” Mr. Lieberman said.
Mr. Obama has opposed freetrade agreements with South Korea and Colombia.
Mr. Lieberman also said that the main difference between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama is that Mr. McCain understands “there is good and evil in the world and there are some people in the world who just hate us for various reasons,” and that such threats must be dealt with forcefully.
But Mr. Lieberman sought to balance that strong posture with his emphasis on diplomacy.
“We need a lot better public diplomacy to get our case out in the Islamic world,” he said. “We’ve tried, but we still haven’t figured out how to do it.”
At the same time, Mr. Lieberman also tried to soften his criticism of Mr. Bush by saying that the U.S. “image in the world is a lot better than we think it is.”
He said specifically that under Mr. Bush, America’s stature in Asia has been enhanced.
“It’s always dangerous to say something in public that’s positive about the Bush administration, but I’ve been hanging around Senator McCain so much I believe in straight talk.”