Lieberman calls for Rumsfeld’s resignation

Sen. Joe Lieberman, attacked by fellow Democrats as being too close to the White House on the Iraq War, on Sunday called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign but said the United States cannot “walk away” from the Iraqis.

Lieberman, the one-time Democratic vice presidential candidate, is running as an independent in his bid for a fourth term since losing the Democratic nomination to newcomer Ned Lamont, who harnessed voters’ anger against the war in Iraq.

Lieberman, an early supporter of the Iraq war, said he had called for Rumsfeld to step down in 2003.

“With all respect to Don Rumsfeld, who has done a grueling job for six years, we would benefit from new leadership to work with our military in Iraq,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Lieberman said the Bush administration should have sent more troops into Iraq “to secure the country.”

“We had a naive vision that the Iraqis were going to embrace us and then go on and live happily ever after,” he said.

Lieberman said the administration must “put severe pressure on the Iraqis to contain sectarian violence.”

“There is still hope in Iraq and as long as there is we cannot just pick up and walk away and leave them to the sure disaster that would follow and would compromise our security in the war on terrorism,” he said.

The Lamont campaign issued a statement Sunday criticizing Lieberman for trying to “paint himself as courageous for clinging to the failed ‘stay the course’ policy in Iraq and not listening to the voters of Connecticut on the need to change course.”

“His new found ‘criticism’ of the war won’t convince Connecticut voters after so many years of stubbornly rubber-stamping Bush’s failed policies,” the statement said.

The war in Iraq was the hallmark of Lamont’s primary campaign. He calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from what he often refers to as “a bloody civil war,” and says he believes that those who got America into the conflict should be held accountable.

Lieberman accused Lamont of distorting his stance on Iraq.

“He made me into a cheerleader for George Bush and everything that’s happened,” Lieberman said. “And the record shows that, while I believe we did the right thing in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, I’ve been very critical over the years, particularly in 2003 and 2004, about the failure to send enough American troops to secure the country, about the absence of adequate plans and preparation to deal with post-Saddam Iraq.”

“As bad as things are now — and they’ve gotten worse in the last six months — it would be a disaster if America set a deadline and said we’re getting all of our troops out by a given date,” Lieberman said. “That’s a position Ned Lamont has taken.”

Tom Swan, campaign manager for Lamont, said Sunday the campaign stands by its criticism of Lieberman as being too close to President Bush.

Asked about Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who was quoted as saying that Lieberman echoes Republicans, Lieberman said it was “just plain politics by somebody who has ambitions of his own.”

“I voted 90 percent of the time with a majority of Democrats in the U.S. Senate,” he said.

“I’m worried that my party may become what we’ve accused the Republicans of, a kind of litmus-test party,” he said. “If you don’t agree with us 100 percent of the time, you don’t agree with us. I’m devoted to the Democratic Party.”

A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Lamont is trailing Lieberman by 12 percentage points among likely voters. It said much of Lieberman’s advantage comes from his popularity among Republicans and unaffiliated voters, the largest voting block in Connecticut.