Sitting in the back room of Naples Pizza and Restaurant, at a table with six microphones and no pizza, Democratic Senate candidate Ned Lamont SOM ’80 said the Iraq War is making America less safe.
Lamont led a roundtable discussion Monday with Vietnam veterans and Yale students about the reasons for pulling American troops out of Iraq. His discussion came just half an hour after Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 — who lost August’s Democratic primary and is now running as an independent — had finished a major speech outlining his Iraq policy and criticizing Lamont’s support for a quick withdrawal from the fighting.
“As bad as the terrorist situation on the ground is now in Iraq and all over the world … it will only grow exponentially worse if we follow the Lamont plan and rush our troops out to meet an arbitrary, politically pre-set deadline,” Lieberman said in a speech delivered at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in East Hampton.
Behind the two candidates’ most recent sparring over Iraq policy lay the National Intelligence Estimate, a classified document prepared by 16 U.S. intelligence services, which argues that the invasion and occupation of Iraq have increased the worldwide terrorist threat, according to an account of the report leaked to The New York Times late last week.
Though both candidates agreed that the NIE underscored the need for America to change its strategy, their agreement ends there as the two disagree dramatically on what change is necessary. Lieberman, in his speech, argued that removing troops from Iraq would worsen the situation there, while Lamont argued the opposite — that the United States needed to send a message to the Iraqi government that it needs to take on more responsibility for its own security.
“I don’t care if it’s six months, 12 months, 18 months,” Lamont said of troop withdrawal. “What’s important is that there’s a process.”
The participants at the Naples discussion, which lasted approximately 45 minutes and was taped by TV channels including CNN, seemed to agree with Lamont’s message. In addition to School of Management Associate Dean Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, one Yale Law student and four Yale undergraduates participated, including Yale College Democrats President Brendan Gants ’08, Andrew Cox ’07 of the Roosevelt Institute, David Price ’08 of the Liberal Party and Matt Du Pont ’10 of the Party of the Left. Three Vietnam veterans were also part of the discussion.
The tone of the conversation reflected the shared liberal backgrounds of the participants, but the undergraduates in the discussion focused many of their comments not on the specifics of the timetable for withdrawal, the topic which has been a flashpoint in the disagreement between the candidates, but instead on the need to recognize the war’s impact on the generation of people currently serving in Iraq or studying in college.
“Our failure or success will dominate our foreign policy for decades to come,” Du Pont said.
Cox spoke of a friend who had enlisted in the war, saying that while he respected his peer’s decision, he was terrified that his friend would be killed in the violence.
“What we need out of our leadership is respect for the generation serving,” Cox said.
While many of those who participated in the discussion said they welcomed Lamont’s candor and willingness to answer questions — Sonnenfeld said Lamont reminded him a bit of former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 — some students who attended as audience members said they thought the discussion was too staged, as all the participants were Lamont supporters.
“The discussion didn’t move, but that’s what happens when you have a roomful of people who agree with each other,” Amira Valliani ’10 said.
One current poll by the American Research Group places Lieberman ahead of Lamont by two points with 5 percent of voters undecided. The two will face each other in a debate Oct. 23.