Hillary Clinton isn’t a fool, but you wouldn’t know it from this statement:
People say to me all the time, what happened to Iran? … When President Obama came in, he was very clear that he wanted to engage, and that’s what he’s been trying to do — reaching out to the Iranian people, reaching out to the Iranian leadership. And you have to ask yourself, why, when so many experts thought that there would be a positive response to President Obama’s outreach, has there not?
To be sure, it’s quite a mystery why Ahmadinejad didn’t respond in kind to Obama’s fellowship, as liberal experts expected him to. But Clinton thinks she has the answer: the power of the Revolutionary Guard has been growing. Thus, the administration’s line is (in the words of Rick Richman) “don’t blame us for the failure of our ‘engagement’ policy — it was thwarted by the triumph of the Iranian hardliners.”
But why did the hardliners triumph? Richman argues that their victory was the predictable result of Obama’s soft-line policy. In fact, this result was predicted by Bill Kristol. Though Kristol is probably no “expert” by Clinton’s reckoning, he did say this in 2006:
One of the bad side effects of our looking weak and hesitant is that in the last year Ahmadinejad’s been running around provoking everyone, behaving like a madman, thumbing his nose at the U.S. and the West — and he pays no price. And if one were an opponent of Admadinejad in Iran — not a dissident, but someone in government who is kind of a more cautious type, and you’ve been warning, “gee, this will get us in trouble” — and [Admadinejad] gets in no trouble at all — it’s very bad for the internal dynamics in Iran. I think we have inadvertently helped to strengthen [hardliners] in Iran by not responding vigorously.
This seems like a better explanation of the rise of the hardliners than Clinton’s which is, what, bad luck?
As I said, Clinton isn’t a fool. She just sounds like one when she apologizes for the foolish policy of her boss.
UPDATE: In fairness, it’s certainly possible that the gains of hardliners in Iran are related to purely internal developments. It’s not always about us — a reality typically overlooked by left-liberal critics of American foreign policy.
For example, the rise of the dissident movement in Iran may have contributed to the triumph of the hardliners, though Obama was already getting the cold shoulder before the Iranian elections that signaled the heightened threat to the regime posed by dissidents.
In any event, Hillary’s “experts” notwithstanding, it was entirely predictable that Obama’s hat-in-hand approach to Iran would help the hardliners. Thus, it’s reasonable to believe that it has played that role. And keep in mind that the closest we have come to moderating Iranian policy was in 2003, when the U.S. was at its most assertive and formidable as a hardline force in the region.