During the Democratic primary season, Hillary Clinton was quite the hard-liner on Iran, or so she said. At one point, candidate Clinton vowed to “totally obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel. And during at least one of the debates, Clinton hammered Barack Obama for his willingness to talk to Iran’s leaders without pre-conditions.
Now, the New York Times reports that, “with. . .efforts to reach out to Iran having failed to produce a response,” the Obama administration, “is shifting to a more confrontational strategy that is tailor-made for Mrs. Clinton, a longtime skeptic of the value of engaging with Tehran.” According to the Times:
It is a measure of how much things have changed that Mr. Obama, who clashed repeatedly with Mrs. Clinton about how to deal with Iran during the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, has assigned her to drum up international support for a package of United Nations sanctions against Iran.
This makes for a good story, but I agree with Jonathan Tobin that the Times has missed the real significance of Clinton’s expanded role with respect to Iran. For one thing, “Obama’s year of engagement has done more damage than can be repaired by a couple of tough-sounding speeches by Hillary.” The president’s “futile campaign of outreach strengthened Tehran and undermined, perhaps fatally, any support for tough sanctions, as the mantra of outreach from the White House propped up a growing Iran-appeasement lobby while undermining the forces for change inside that country.”
Moreover, Clinton’s “tough talk is not backed by even a hint of the use of force.” If an Iranian nuclear weapon really is unacceptable, one would think that we must at least keep the option of force on the table. But Clinton’s speeches do not include a credible threat of force. To the contrary, she has pretty much excluded the possibility of an attack on Iran as a means of preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapon. This week she explained that our approach to preventing a nuclear Iran consists of two tracks – diplomacy and pressure – and does not include the third track that force would represent.
Tobin shrewdly suggests that “the handoff of Iran to Clinton” means the White House understands “it is playing a losing hand and wishes no longer to be the face of a policy headed for disaster.” In all likelihood, “the administration is transitioning from a policy of failed engagement to one predicated on learning to live with Iranian nukes,” while Hillary Clinton “is being set up for failure.”