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ARLINGTON, Va. — Former vice-presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman called Tuesday for the formation of a bipartisan “war cabinet” to provide counsel to the Bush administration in its efforts to secure a democracy in Iraq.

“It’s time for us to set aside arguments about how we got involved in Iraq,” the Connecticut Democrat said during a Capitol Hill briefing sponsored by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.

Neither White House nor Pentagon spokesmen were able to reply in time for deadline when contacted for comment on Lieberman’s proposal.

“The lives of 160,000 Americans in uniform are on the line there every day, and it is urgent … to put the national goals we hold in common ahead of partisan goals,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman decried the often-contentious debate that erupted in Congress over Thanksgiving in the wake of a call for a U.S. withdrawal by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa.

But few Democrats in Congress endorsed Murtha’s views, and among the American people, polls show he is in the minority, Lieberman said Tuesday.

Instead, he said, “the rest of us believe that our goal is not to withdraw, but to win with the mission accomplished.

“There is broad, bipartisan agreement on the goals,” Lieberman said, “there is disagreement on the tactics.”

And tactics is where a “bipartisan ‘Victory in Iraq’ working group,” made up of members of Congress and experts in military security issues could offer assistance to the Bush administration, Lieberman said.

In addition to advising the president, the existence of such a group “would raise popular support at home” for the Iraq mission, offer troops a morale boost, and “help strengthen the resolve of the Iraqi people,” Lieberman said.

The group would “meet regularly, perhaps weekly,” to discuss the progress of the war in Iraq, Lieberman suggested.

Lieberman said the actual size and composition of the group would “be up to the bipartisan leadership.”

The senator, who first announced his plan for the war cabinet at Tuesday’s briefing, said he would follow by “sending letters and circulating text of the proposal to bipartisan leaders and the White House.”

Lieberman conceded that finding Democrats and Republicans who could cooperate in manning the “war cabinet” would be difficult at this point.

“The distrust [on both sides] is deep and I know it will be difficult to overcome,” he said.

Also Tuesday, Vice President Dick Cheney argued forcefully against an early withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, saying that would be “unwise in the extreme” and increase the risk of terrorist attacks in the United States and other nations.

“On this both Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree: The only way the terrorists could win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission,” Cheney said at Fort Drum in New York, where the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and the New York Army National Guard’s 42nd Infantry Division gathered for a rally.

“I realize some have advocated a sudden withdrawal of our forces. This would be unwise in the extreme — a victory for terrorists, bad for the Iraqi people and bad for the United States,” Cheney said to cheers from the troops. “To leave that country before the job is done would be to hand over Iraq to car-bombers and assassins.”

The vice president’s appearances, which include a rally and a sit-down with troops, was part of a series of speeches by top administration officials intended to spell out U.S. goals in Iraq more clearly in the run-up to Iraq’s Dec. 15 elections to pick a permanent government.

Cheney’s words to the troops were not as biting as two speeches he made late last month, one to a Republican audience and the other to the conservative American Enterprise Institute, in which he lambasted Democratic lawmakers who voted to authorize the war in October 2002 and are now among the most outspoken war critics.

The vice president called them “dishonest and reprehensible” and “corrupt and shameless.”

He also praised Lieberman for supporting the U.S. mission, and underscored divisions within the minority party.

“Some have suggested by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein we simply stirred up a hornet’s nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq in September 2001 and the terrorists hit us anyway.”

If the U.S. suddenly pulled out of Iraq, “that nation would return to the rule of tyrants, become a massive source of instability in the Middle East and be a staging area for ever greater attacks against America and other civilized nations,” the vice president said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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