Joe Lieberman Steals the Show (Again)

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It’s a strange day when you are at a panel for the Republican National Convention where the subject is about National Defense and the U.S. approach to global trade, and a high-ranking Democrat shows up to explain how the next Republican administration will likely handle such matters. Though the panel at The University of Minnesota’s  Hubert M. Humphrey’s Institute for Public Affairs had a pretty impressive list of people, including Ambassador Robert Portman, Ambassador Richard Williamson, and no less than Robert C. (Bud) McFarlane, the man behind Star Wars, it was the Joe Lieberman show.

With Portman by his side, he turned up late in the midst of a discussion about how a McCain administration would handle global threats and deal with world trade. Williamson, who is a special envoy to Sudan, explained that there are three areas of focus for the McCain administration: Iran China, and Russia. The relationship with latter two especially have to be, in his words, “recalibrated.”  And, there was a great deal of discussion pertaining to private businesses supplementing the military€”which the panel pointed out that both Obama and McCain are in favor of.

When Lieberman arrived the conversation shifted to how the U.S. could influence the Islamic world through less invasive means. The answer it turned out was schools. Lieberman noted that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a simple suggestion€”to institute an international education fund that governments could contribute to as well as private businesses which would fund the building of schools in Islamic areas. He stressed that they would be “indigenous.” He noted that the schools that are the most appealing are the madrasses, because of they are better-kept, but that serves to educate a teeming mass of people who grow up to hate the West.

The schools are one of the ways he said that could answer the question: “How do you stop the cycle of ideological, theological hatred of our children,” he asked. “There is good and evil in the world and there are some people who just hate us for no reason and hate our allies, ultimately only going to make them less threatening members of the international community by either arousing fear or confronting them.”

McFarlane piped in and explained: “There are a half a million kids, but they are not all Bin Ladens, but they are willing to blow themselves up.”

Lieberman reinforced his belief that a McCain presidency will do wonders for the country on an international front: “Some voters, especially some who haven’t studied his record, will see him as inclined toward military action because of the visibility and persistency on the questions surrounding the Iraq War,” he said. “He has a veteran’s distaste for military conflict, because a. he’s been through it, and he’s seen his friends die, and was a POW for seven years.”

Lieberman said that McCain is one, “a strong believer in the power of our ideas, and two, believes in the importance of economic assistance and three the powerful role that free trade  plays, not only in supporting economic growth in our country, but in elevating literally billions of people in the world out of extreme poverty over the last several decades. John’s a believer in “soft” American power.”

He also said that Obama has changed his tune and isn’t as open to open trade which he believes will hurt us. He pointed out that it was another Democrat who had a forward-thinking outlook on global trade: Bill Clinton. Clinton’s administration, said Lieberman, pointed out that “there’s only so much you can make and sell to each other.”

Lieberman also called John McCain a “reformer.” “He’s going to take a very fresh look at our foreign and defense institutions, agencies. I think you can expect a shake up. The State Dept, USAID, and the diplomacy part of our government will get a lot more support and centrality. We need better public diplomacy to get our case out to the Islamic world.”

As he could only stay for a few minutes, Lieberman left the session with a quip: “This is a remarkably substantive conversation for a political convention,” to which the policy wonks in the crowd laughed wholeheartedly.

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