Hillary and the Iran Hypothetical

I can still pinpoint the moment when my opinion of Hillary Clinton had officially soured. It had done so with a single vote cast by her, one that had put her closer towards a foreign policy stance that I have a difficult time reconciling.

The vote was the decision to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a “terrorist organization,” and Hillary cast her vote in the affirmative. It was and, I maintain, continues to have been a vote made in poor judgment given its uncanny similarity to the vote that ultimately led to the invasion and occupation of the Iraq war.

Indeed, prior to this vote, I had my doubts about Hillary. There was her vote on the Iraq war, but unlike many, I can forgive that vote assuming an appropriate amount of hand-wringing and navel gazing takes place. And there was the addition of Michael O’Hanlon as one of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy advisors. O’Hanlon, as many of you should know, is the Brookings Institute Neocon/Bush cheerleader that many on the right tried to advertise as a leftist who supported the war.

Between Iran and O’Hanlon, Hillary lost me, and I am reminded of this as she now answers a foreign policy hypothetical when months earlier she refused to address such questions throughout the course of the campaign:

Clinton further displayed tough talk in an interview airing on “Good Morning America” Tuesday. ABC News’ Chris Cuomo asked Clinton what she would do if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons.

“I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran,” Clinton said. “In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”

All of the presidential candidates are a little too hawkish for my liking; this is true. But Hillary’s hawkishness bothers me the most. To be fair, I think that McCain is more dangerous, but that is to be expected from him. His neoconservatism is worn on his sleeve, and indeed his entire bid for the presidency seems heavily dependent upon the hope that the American people have only soured on Iraq and not on the flawed ideology that put us there.

I can imagine only two possibilities as to why she does what she does. In the first, she simply is exactly that hawkish, and has turned against our occupation in Iraq when the political mood turned away from it. In the second, she isn’t as hawkish as advertised, but she puts forth that image for the sake of political exediency.

Neither answer is particularly good.

In the case of the former, we see a propensity to believe that Iraq was a unique case, that essentially neoconservatism can work but, because of mitigating circumstances in Iraq, or because of the incompetency of the current administration, it failed in this one instance. If we were to redouble our efforts elsewhere, it is sure to work next time. This isn’t the case, however, and plays directly with the slow slog to war that we are on with Iran. Iraq was a failure on many levels for many reasons that will undoubtedly reproduce themselves as long as we think it is okay to pursue the aggressive and militaristic foreign policy that put us there in the first place.

in the case of the latter answer, there can hardly be much silver lining there either. While I would appreciate it if Senator Clinton was not as aggressive on foreign policy as she portrays herself to be, there is little solace there when you understand that all she is doing is perpetuating a problem in our political culture.

It is little more than Democrats shying away from debates that we absolutely have to have if we ever want to make headway in this country. Even if she isn’t as hawkish as she advertises, her portrayal of herself undermines a progressive approach to foreign policy, one that we believe would be both far more effective, and result in less loss of treasure and life. Her attempts to skirt around this argument, however, prevent our arguments from even seeing the table.

I suppose one could say that if this is indeed the case, she’ll bring it to the table once she is president, but that’s not likely to be the case either. Not by the time of her first four years, anyway; she’ll have another election to win, and therefore more posturing to go on.

Further, I just don’t think it’s good politics. We’ve seen what happens when we try to act as “tough” as the other guys, I watched with horror when Kerry tried to be a tough talker back in 2004. It doesn’t work; Republicans are better at that. We have to get it through our heads that we are never going to enjoy long term victory in politics for as long as we try to be like them. If people want a Republican, they’re going to vote for a Republican as opposed to the Democrat that is trying to emulate the Republican.

Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, right?

Instead, until we have politicians that offer real alternatives to Republicanism, we’re going to continue to lose elections unless the GOP really screws up, and we’ll be called in to clean up their mess, and with that work accomplished, we’ll be told to kindly get out of office again while the Republicans take back over.

Some may ask, well, how should Hillary have answered? I’m not exactly sure; I’m not running for president. But she could have taken the easy out and refused to address the hypothetical as she has done in the past, or she could have discussed the likelihood of Iran actually nuking Israel, or addressed any other number of issues regarding the region that would have begun to build up an alternative narrative on foreign policy.

But she didn’t; she bit hard on the tough talker bait.

The election this fall must be about contrasts. It must be about differences of opinion, and it must be about their way, our way, and how their way has failed and our way provides a glimmer of hope for progress and a better way of life at home and abroad. When it comes to foreign policy, that contrast can’t be limited to simply Iraq War is good vs. Iraq War is bad, but instead that the entire mindset that put is in Iraq is bad. That things aren’t going to be much better if we do the same thing elsewhere. That we need to change the game and fundamentally alter our approach in how we view national security and our relationships with other nations.

For everyone’s sake, I hope that Hillary comes to this conclusion as well, especially if she becomes the candidate that I have to support this fall.

More at Memeorandum: Ben Smith’s Blogs, The Mahatma X Files, Brilliant at Breakfast, The Plank, Oliver Willis, Blue Crab Boulevard, AMERICAblog and Political Punch

(edited by DrGail)

2 Responses to “Hillary and the Iran Hypothetical”

  1. Margo Schulter says:

    Thank you for a comment about the Iran remark that reflects my own reaction also, if from a somewhat different political perspective.
    What I say to myself is: “This is a good reason to be glad that I am a member of the Green Party, and can vote in November for a candidate who reflects my own values.”
    Of course, there are all kinds of reasons to be critical of the government of Iran, not least the role of that state as one of the leading executioners in the world. How regrettable that both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have made statements in favor of the death penalty, thus ironically placing the United States in the same camp when we should be joining the civilized world (emphatically including South Africa) in opposing this elementary human rights violation through deeds and words.
    In my view, the “hawk syndrome” that plagues both major parties — which some honorable exceptions over the decades from Senator Wayne Morse to Representative Barbara Lee, is what Senator William Fulbright called _The Arrogance of Power_.
    If a Democratic Party candidate for President would take a position in favor of basic human rights (e.g. a moratorium on executions), and for a sane reappraisal of foreign policy, I would be delighted to support that candidate.
    Senator Obama does often approach this kind of reassessment, a hopeful sign. If he could follow his more progressive statements on the flaws of capital punishment as actually implemented (or likely to be implemented) in the real world, and call for a moratorium on executions to last for at least the duration of his first term, then I would be ready to support him.
    There are lots of things to discuss here; but I deeply appreciate your voicing of sentiments which speak for many of us.

  2. Kyle,
    you’re exactly correct about HRC’s hawkishness, and the Iraq war authorization vote, she’ll take — and regret that — to the grave (no matter how often she refuses to apologize for it).

    However, HRC’s “Good Morning America” comments (and what a way to wake up over coffee and a muffin) were exactly the right position to have. To see if you agree, check out my post Who would be a better Commander In Chief, Barack or Hillary? At This Point, Hillary Pulls Ahead: Defining Reality for Iran.

    The bottom line is HRC knows the cost of war with Iran would be horrifically high, so she’s hammering down on the deterrence option, the only viable option. She knows, and she’s right, that Iran is going to get the bomb, so — start scaring the hell out of them now. If Iran is deterrable, and I think they are, then define reality for them — scare the living the shit out of them and let them know in absolutely no ambiguous uncertain terms that utter and complete destruction awaits any really dumb stupid thing they could do, like attack the U.S. or an ally with a nuclear weapon. This has got to be absolutely clear. If they don’t get that, if they don’t believe that, then hundreds of thousands if not millions of Middle-Eastern peoples are more likely to face living and dying in a real nightmare someday.

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