Hillary Clinton appeared on “Meet the Press” today. With respect to Iran, she attempted to make the case that (1) Israel should rely on the Obama administration’s attempts to pursuade Iran not to go nuclear, rather than taking matters into its own hands by attacking Iran and (2) U.S. negotiations with Iran would not betray those in Iran who are pressing for democratic reform.
On the first point, Clinton offered only mush:
We believe as a matter of policy it is unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons. The G-8 came out with a very strong statement to that effect coming from Italy. So we are united in our continuing commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. What we want to do is to send a message to whoever is making these decisions that if you’re pursuing nuclear weapons for the purpose of intimidating, of projecting your power, we’re not going to let that happen. First, we’re going to do everything we can to prevent you from ever getting a nuclear weapon. But your pursuit is futile, because we will never let Iran–nuclear-armed, not nuclear-armed, it is something that we view with great concern, and that’s why we’re doing everything we can to prevent that from ever happening.
If this doesn’t make Israelis feel safe, nothing will.
On the second point — whether negotiating with Iran notwithstanding its latest repression would betray those pushing for democratic reform — Clinton said this:
I don’t think so because you can go back in history. . .where we have negotiated with many governments who we did not believe represented the will of their people. Look at all the negotiations that went on with the Soviet Union. Look at the breakthrough and subsequent negotiations with communist China. That’s what you do in diplomacy. You don’t get to choose the people; that’s up to the internal dynamics within a society. But clearly, we would hope better for the Iranian people. We would hope that there is more openness, that peaceful demonstrations are respected, that press freedom is respected. Yet, we also know that whoever is in charge in Iran is going to be making decisions that will affect the security of the region and the world.
In other words, negotiating with Iran at this time would indeed betray the protesters, but we’ve done this before and want to do it again now.
Fair enough, perhaps. Our experiences with the Soviet Union and China do establish that we have at times negotiated with repressive regimes. But it doesn’t follow that we should negotiate with Iran at this time.
In any event, this much is certain: our negotiations with the Soviet Union and China did not cause either power to eschew nuclear weapons. Indeed, to my knowledge negotiations have never induced any nation that was aggressively pursuing nukes to change its mind. That kind of persuasion takes a massive show of force (Libya and arguably Iraq) or regime change.
Thus, while the administration may have its own motives for negotiating with Iran, there is no reason for Israel to believe that such negotiations will protect Israel’s interest (potentially a life-and-death one) in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Clinton’s case that Israel should rely on U.S. attempts to pursuade Iran not to go nuclear, rather than taking matters into its own hands by attacking Iran, is not a powerful one.