Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates sure had it right: Hillary, confronted with the choice between responsible and intellectually consistent foreign policy and the chance to endear herself to the isolationist left in the Democratic Party’s primary base, will choose the latter.
She did on the Iraq surge, and she just did it on Iran sanctions in a letter to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
As President Obama said, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed, while keeping all options on the table. . . [Sanctions] could rob us of the diplomatic high ground we worked so hard to reach, break the united international front we constructed, and in the long run, weaken pressure on Iran by opening the door for other countries to chart a different course.
This is the same twisted logic employed by President Obama and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). She acknowledges that sanctions brought Iran to the table, but she now argues that to keep sanctions as a backstop to force Iran to agree to a deal acceptable to the West would mean war. This, incidentally, is precisely Iran’s line and that of anti-Israel critics like J Street. Moreover, Clinton, like Obama, Rand Paul and Secretary of State John Kerry, ignore the obvious: No sane observer — including members of the Senate — thinks all options are on the table. Long ago this president made clear he has no interested in initiating use of U.S. power. It is either sanctions or Israel that will prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
Former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton tells me, “Clinton has now lashed herself to the mast of Obama’s Iran policy, as Paul did earlier. We’ll see soon enough what happens when the ship sinks.” Unfortunately that sinking ship is either Iran’s attainment of a nuclear arms capability or a war in which Israel is forced to defend itself and the West. It will be scant comfort that it will also include Clinton’s political demise.
Looking at the political angle first, Hillary was unable for very long to hide her true views on Iran. In biding her time, she was once again seen as the opportunist waiting to see which way the wind was blowing. So she coughed up a statement on her own views. That statement, however, leaves her in the hot seat. She can’t deny responsibility for the likely disastrous end to the policy, since she has embraced it entirely. Perhaps the left-wing primary voters don’t care, but having “lost” Iran will for all intents and purposes disqualify her as commander in chief. Howard Dean’s tough on Iran and run left on everything else strategy also becomes attractive for him or other Democratic challengers.
As for the pro-Israel community, it is getting harder to make excuses for Clinton or most of the current Democratic leadership including Obama and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The latter are diametrically opposed to the most critical issue the pro-Israel community has ever had. So the pro-Israel community can hypocritically throw principles to the wind and continue to fete her and Democratic leaders (it wouldn’t be the first time) who are leading us down the road to either war or a nuclear-armed Iran. Or they can acknowledge the obvious, namely that this crowd is entirely undependable on Israel and the Middle East more generally when it matters most. Why would pro-Israel groups invite them to conferences? (Hillary Clinton has the same position as J Street on sanctions.) Frankly, it would be better to invite a representative of the Saudi royal family, which actually understands the Iran threat and is willing to do something about it.
As for the policy, the administration has weakened its own hand while promising a result that does not leave Iran’s program on the threshold of breakout. If it doesn’t get such an agreement, it will be hard pressed to declare victory. The administration might try to tout a rotten deal, but the definition of an acceptable deal has already been set by the U.N. –and by the administration itself. Iran will need to dismantle Fordow and Arak, dispense their enriched material and tens of thousands of centrifuges, allow 24/7 inspections, cease weaponization, etc.
The problem is not sanctions per se but an Iran policy that is completely disconnected to the ends we seek. Barring a miracle, Obama, Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul and other sanctions opponents will have the unenviable distinction of helping to foster either war or a nuclear-armed Iran. That is comfort to some of their critics, but it shouldn’t be. We soon will face the horrible Hobson’s choice the Obama-Hillary Clinton policy was designed to avoid.