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October 15, 2007

Clinton and Iran

What particularly worries me about Hillary Clinton's continued hawkishness on Iran is its basic coherence. Clinton, more so than any of the other candidates, really is speaking, legislating, and voting with her eventual presidency in mind. She's been making a real effort not to offer critiques, or support popular legislation, that will harm her capacity to pursue her eventual agenda. That's fine and well and good. But on Iran, the whole picture is a little worrying.

So we know Clinton is an "all options on the table" type who's repeatedly said that Iran cannot be allowed to achieve nuclear weapons. We know she voted for the Lieberman-Kyl amendment which, in point of fact, was a way of creating an underlying case for attack. I used to be worried that these moves would help give Bush credibility for attacking Iran. Lately, I'm more worried that they help give Clinton an eventual argument for bombing.

To be sure, there's some contradictory evidence here, most notably, the resolution she co-sponsored with Webb to force Congressional authorization of any attack against Iran. It's a good bill, and would, if passed, effectively hamstring Bush. But it probably wouldn't hamstring Clinton, who could almost certainly pull together a coalition of hawkish Republicans and centrist-to-liberal Democrats to authorize an attack on nuclear facilities, and could use such already-passed resolutions as Lieberman-Kyl to make the argument.

I don't want to overstate the case here. I don't know what's in Hillary's heart, nor what she'll do. But her signals have overwhelmingly been in the direction of ratcheting up the rhetoric on Iran and underscoring the impermissibility of a nuclear Iran -- and thus her own implicit promise to use military force is Iran refuses to disarm. Even if she didn't want to attack Iran, she could be backing herself into a corner. But since I think she's too smart to do that, its hard not to conclude that these moves reflect her actual inclinations on the issue.

October 15, 2007 | Permalink


Can anyone come up with a case where the "back yourself into a corner" problem actually came up.

The only one I can think of is Clinton picking up Truman's veto pin and promising to veto anything that didn't offer health care to every American.

But on foreign policy, if anything the reverse is true ... you have Nixon to China, Reagan and detente, Clinton reversing course on Haiti, China-bashing on the right followed by very little in the way of actual tough-on-China policy, etc.

Don't get me wrong, I still would prefer to have President Clinton, because it fails to get out of the current frame on security questions (and its general '90s vintage in other respects). But I don't know how to evaluate these bits of hawkishness.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Oct 15, 2007 4:00:23 PM

A part of my comment at Beutler's place:

I'd say she was intent on leaving no room for the GOP candidates to be left of Cheney/Podhoretz, but instead to force them to join the neo-cons advocating an immediate US attack on Iran.

She's saying she'd negotiate first, but with what looks like (but may taste different than) the same recipe as Bush/Cheney: yield to us on our conditions before we negotiate.

However, it could be that she'd negotiate without conditions being met ahead of time, but is laying out (foolishly) what we'd ultimately accept.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Oct 15, 2007 4:06:27 PM

She's been making a real effort not to offer critiques, or support popular legislation, that will harm her capacity to pursue her eventual agenda.

Um - yes? This should be pretty obvious to anyone watching her voting record, shouldn't it? Clinton is a hawk and has been for some time. She clearly thinks that the President should have a lot of latitude in the foreign policy arena - especially where saber rattling is needed. That's her justification for her vote on the AUMF in Iraq - that the President needed to have his saber rattling threats backed up by a show from Congress that it was willing to "go the distance" against Hussein. She's claimed in the past that she didn't think that Bush would actually invade (and I tend to believe her - invasion at that point was a boneheaded move that only a fool would have made, and she must have assumed that he'd pull together a coalition that included a lot of Arab countries before he did anything, but that didn't take into account the fools in office).

Clinton isn't going to do ANYTHING that hamstrings her foreign policy decisions because she doesn't think that there's anything wrong with American foreign policy as Bush conducted it EXCEPT that Bush conducted it foolishly. She lived through her husband's presidency, after all, and saw first hand the meddling that ideologues in Congress pulled left and right over his interventions in the world. She wants to make sure that the precedent is on her side when she decides to invade - wherever that invasion is performed, be it in Iran or somewhere else in the world.

Posted by: NonyNony | Oct 15, 2007 4:09:56 PM


Do you have any information or evidence that states that Clinton WILL bomb Iran rather than the evidence you provide which says Clinton if after exhausting all other options peaceful options and backed into a corner will make a tough choice to bomb Iran nuclear facilities rather than risk the proliferation of nuclear weapons?

Because in all honesty, you're engaging in the poor reporting you typically blame the mainstream media in doing.

Posted by: Phil | Oct 15, 2007 4:10:42 PM

sorry I butchered the grammer in my post above. Im just lurking for a second before I go back to studying for my test. Oh to be a slacker!

Posted by: Phil | Oct 15, 2007 4:12:20 PM

Phil, don't you know that Ezra, like everyone else, need not find proof of their negative assertions about Hillary? Assume the worst no matter what. Downplay the positive. That's the de facto rule by the left and right when discussing Hillary. Everything she does is "calculating" or "triangulating".

She explicitly rejects torture several times and the left still don't think she has rejected torture. There'd be a lot of critiques on the right if they behaved so absurdly, but it's alright if it's about Hillary.

Posted by: gq | Oct 15, 2007 4:18:30 PM

Good point, Phil.

Further, could we Democrats please allow our candidates to sound strong on security issues so that we can at least try to win one of these Presidential elections for a change?

Posted by: JoeCHI | Oct 15, 2007 4:18:56 PM

But this is my point: Not that she would quickly attack the Iranians, but if the choice comes down to that or have them achieve nuclear weapons, she will bomb them (which is to say, go to war). That's what scares me -- not some lower level distortion of her position.

Posted by: Ezra | Oct 15, 2007 4:30:33 PM

Ezra, Ezra, look what she's just said:
"I would engage in negotiations with Iran, with no conditions, because we don't really understand how Iran works. We think we do, from the outside, but I think that is misleading," she said at an apple orchard.She characterized her recent vote to label Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization as a way to gain leverage for those negotiations.
If I'm not mistaken this reverses US policy going back almost a generation. Even if it doesn't it surely shows a greater willingness to engage the Iranians then to bomb them. the Nixon goes to China mode rather than the Nixon Christmas bombing mode.

Furthermore as Marc Ambinder shows Kyl-Lieberman does virtually nothing, certainly far less than an actual act of Congress stating:The Secretary of State should designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189) and the Secretary of the Treasury should place the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists under Executive Order 13224 (66 Fed. Reg. 186; relating to blocking property and prohibiting transactions with persons who commit, threaten to commit, or support terrorism)."
This was co-sponsored by, among others, by one Senator Barack Obama.
By the way, you might strengthen your case a bit by explaining why Senators Durbin and Levin, who both voted against the 2002 Iraq AUMF resolution have suddenly turned into hawks by voting for Kyl-Lieberman. And it would also help your argument immensely by demonstrating why your perceptions of Clinton’s potential Iranian policy is superior to that of Joe Wilson’s or Wesley Clark’s. See Clark’s October 14 op-ed in the Manchester Union Leader.

Posted by: Ben F. | Oct 15, 2007 4:33:29 PM

"In contrast, most of the Iranian fear-mongering takes place in a mental world devoid of numbers. That Iran's GDP is about 1/20th of ours, that their installed base of post-1978 aircraft and tanks is paltry, that they have virtually no offensive capability to seize territory where the local population doesn't support them, and that they have been spending a no higher percentage of their limited GDP on their military than we spend (and possibly less), suggests Iran is not a major threat to conquer the Middle East. "

Posted by: Floccina | Oct 15, 2007 5:17:59 PM

So we know Clinton is an "all options on the table" type who's repeatedly said that Iran cannot be allowed to achieve nuclear weapons.

We also know Edwards and Obama have both repeatedly stated the same things, including in their most recent Foreign Affairs articles.


"Iran and North Korea could trigger regional arms races, creating dangerous nuclear flashpoints in the Middle East and East Asia. In confronting these threats, I will not take the military option off the table."


"The world must work to stop Iran's uranium-enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy."


"Unfortunately, the situation in Iran has only worsened under this administration. With a threat so serious, no U.S. president should take any option off the table -- diplomacy, sanctions, engagement, or even military force."


"President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a dangerous radical and a strong supporter of Hezbollah and Hamas. He has said repeatedly that Israel should be "wiped off the map" and last December sponsored a conference for Holocaust deniers in Tehran. Iran cannot be allowed to possess nuclear weapons."

Posted by: Partially Impartial | Oct 15, 2007 6:46:20 PM

Oh for Gosh Sakes, this is just too much:


>>>>>>>"Further, could we Democrats please allow our candidates to sound strong on security issues so that we can at least try to win one of these Presidential elections for a change?" - Posted by: JoeCHI | Oct 15, 2007 4:18:56 PM<<<<<<<<

Whomever the Dems run this year will win. The Nation is yearning for change.

Clinton's supporters who try to conflate Clinton's [Murdoch supported] right wing candidacy with the Democratic party really need to shove off. If she wins the nomination you can start your dogmatic jingoism, but until then let's pretend we have a nomination process in the Democratic Party.

Why is it Clinton supporters try to sound like Karl Rove?

Just because the right wing Republicans are supporting Clinton doesn't mean her supporters have to sound like Kool-Aid drinking DittoHeads.

Posted by: S Brennan | Oct 15, 2007 6:48:24 PM

But this is my point: Not that she would quickly attack the Iranians, but if the choice comes down to that or have them achieve nuclear weapons, she will bomb them (which is to say, go to war). That's what scares me -- not some lower level distortion of her position.


The problem is that that's NOT the debate that the public is having.

The argument that people like you in the media are pushing is "Should we attack Iran or not"

The obvious problem with this, as stated above, is that no democrat is saying lets go bomb bomb bomb Iran. Everyone, minus some in the far right, believes the Bush adminstration's policy of virtually no diplomacy is foolish and counterproductive to US interests.

The problem with this framing is that it allows those who do oppose bombing Iran to avoid any responsibility for the negative repercussions of a nuclear Iran. Its one thing to acknowledge the costs of a nuclear Iran and argue that the benefits of NOT attacking Iran outweigh. Its another to pretend that there are no disadvantages to the stances you propose.

I think that you as someone who is typically a responsible media person, have an obligation to hold anti airstrike Iran advocates to responsible for the full implications of their stances.

Posted by: Phil | Oct 15, 2007 6:58:32 PM

and hillary's supporters can be summed up as "don't believe what she says or votes believe what i want to believe." clinton is showing you who she is. believe it. and by the way- please stop confusing everyone who doesn't trust her at this point with either the far left or right. some of us are in the middle of the political spectrum, but having just gone through one presidency based on belief, aren't willing to do the same without proof again.

Posted by: akaison | Oct 15, 2007 7:14:45 PM

I read the whole thing and I don't see anything in it to start this hyperbole. Did you even read it before writing this post?

Posted by: RalphB | Oct 15, 2007 9:06:12 PM

yes b/c there isn't any surrounding context beyond this article from which we can draw conclusions.

Posted by: akaison | Oct 15, 2007 9:33:48 PM

Clinton is about as right wing as Eleanor Roosevelt. Her lifetime Senate voting record puts her slightly to the left of that arch reactionary Edward Moore Kennedy. She has been committed to constructive progressive social change and reform since she was in college. See the current issue of New York Magazine "When They Were Young" a profile of Clinton and Obama when they were in law school. http://nymag.com/news/features/39321/
What the Anti-Hillary crowd is saying could have (and was) said about Al Gore. Indeed, the leftist case against Gore was arguably stronger. He was founder of the DLC, a long time hawk who supported every American military intervention in the past decade. He was also Clinton Administration's leading advocate of NAFTA, and thanks to his 1993 debate with Ross Perot may have been more responsible for getting passed than anybody else. Now today in this real world we all live is there any self-identified progressive who still thinks there wasn't a real difference between Gore and Bush? So by calling her a right winger, Bushlite, a Republican-lite, aren't you making the same colossal moral and intellectual error that the Nadar voters made eight years ago? Or do you really think, that despite all the evidence to the contrary, there's really no difference between Clinton and Giuliani, or McCain or Thompson, or Romney. I guess you agree with Ronald Reagan "Facts are stupid things."

For Clinton's voting record see Progressivepunch.org

Posted by: Ben F. | Oct 15, 2007 10:21:18 PM

and if clinton weren't willing to sell anything and everything down the river when it suits her then that argument might actually matter. but since we are discussing character rather than simple regurgitation of voting records, your argument falls flat.

Posted by: akaison | Oct 15, 2007 10:29:17 PM

It is hard to know how else to judge her Iran policy: she supports Lieberman on Iran,she gives again Bush the support he desires should he launch attacks on Iran; her foreign policy experts include Pollack and O'Hanlon; Mark Penn is a noteworthy hawk; she maintains her vote in 2002 was correct. A vote for Hillary seems to me to be a vote for war and more war. There is nothing she has said that I find seriously counters this assessment. I really do not think I can vote for her in the general election if she is nominated.

Posted by: della Rovere | Oct 15, 2007 11:00:49 PM

Ben F,

This is a lie, but pretty typical of the Hill & Bill gang.

"case against Gore was arguably stronger...a long time hawk who supported every American military intervention in the past decade."

Gore did not support going into Iraq, Hill & Bill did and still supports keeping troops there.

As I said above:

Clinton's supporters who try to conflate Clinton's [Murdoch supported] right wing candidacy with the Democratic party really need to shove off."

Murdoch supports Hill & Bill.

As I said before:

Hill & Bill managed to bring about Republican majorities in both the house and senate. Hill & Bill's supporters keep trying to blame Gore...note to Hill & Bill supporters...Bill Clinton was President, not Gore, NAFTA belongs to Hill & Bill.

Pathetic BenF

Posted by: S Brennan | Oct 15, 2007 11:16:05 PM

She is pandering to the "ethnic paranoia in NYC" that Josh Marshall talks about today.

Posted by: bob h | Oct 16, 2007 8:30:56 AM

Unfortunately, she's right: Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. If nothing else works, then, unfortunately, war is (and should be) very much on the table.

Posted by: Aaron Baker | Oct 16, 2007 9:45:16 AM

Aaron- what country do you live? What planet areyou on that you really think that war is an option? Let's talk practicality- our military right now is devastated with Iraq. We don't have the troops or resources to do this. What delusionville are you living in even if you are a hawk that this is at all feasible beyond posturing.

Posted by: akaison | Oct 16, 2007 12:10:52 PM

Gore voted for the first Gulf War and he was leading advocate of military intervention in the Balkans. The decade I was referring to was the 1990's the one proceeding the 2000 election, which was when the anti Gore case by Nader et al was being made. Gore was Clinton's VICE PRESIDENT and the Administration's point man on NAFTA. His debate with Ross Perot, NAFTA's most potent opponent (he did after all get 19 million votes in the previous election) probably did more than anything to secure its passage. I think Gore was right on all three policies as he was right about this Iraq war, while Clinton, along with Senators Kerry, Edwards and other, were wrong. My point was that the left wing case Clinton is no stronger, and IMHO, good deal worker than the left wingnuts' arguments against Gore in 2000, Ed Muskie in 1972 and Humbert Humphrey in 1968. In each case the left wingnut demand for purity resulted in an electoral and national disaster. Given what we know about the next GOP foreign policy team, ( See Josh Marshall at http://talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/056028.php)a Republican victory would be a catastrophe of the first magnitude. Based on my life time study of foreign policy (I have two degrees in the subject) a tough minded realist with a wide spectrum of advisers, including Wesley Clark and Vali Nasr, both very knowledgeable doves on Iran,is infinitely preferable.

Akaison, when has Clinton sold anything or anyone down the river. Give dates and particulars. Because what you've posted is simply a Rovian smear, which I suspect is about the limit of your intellectual capablities.
"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir" J.M. Keynes

Posted by: Ben F. | Oct 16, 2007 5:42:50 PM

riiiiight. rovian smear. Ben -- just so everyone can know- is probably one of a group of CLinton supporters that roams the various A list bloggers with the exact same talking points.

Posted by: akaison | Oct 16, 2007 6:21:05 PM

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