Madame Obliterator?

22 04 2008

When asked whether or not the United States should treat an attack on Israel by Iran as an attack against Americans at the ABC News Democratic debate last Wednesday, Senator Clinton gave a fairly well thought out answer even if it was a bit too hawkish for my liking. She began by saying, “Of course I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States, but I would do the same with other countries in the region.”

At these proforma debates you have to get the tough talk out there first to avoid being tagged as a dovish liberal eager to coddle dictators, especially if you are a Democrat.

Fine. I get that.

But to her credit she went on to note what can be achieved through isolating Iran with aggressive diplomacy. Clinton emphasized the need to create what she called an “umbrella” security agreement vis-visa Iran. She claim it would afford the U.S., under her administration, three tools. First, is it would provide leverage if we ever choose to negotiate Iran directly. Secondly, it would send the message that the U.S. is serious about containing the spread of nuclear arms in the region, since a nuclear Iran may ignite an arms race in the Middle East.

And thirdly, it would presumably send a message to states elsewhere that the U.S. is serious about restoring the non-proliferation regime that the Bush administration tore asunder with the one very notable exception of North Korea.

She concluded:

Therefore we have got to have this process that reaches out, beyond even who we would put under the security umbrella, to get the rest of the world on our side to try to impose the kind of sanctions and diplomatic efforts that might prevent this from occurring.

That’s a solid answer in the context of these sound bite driven debates, and quite frankly much better than the bungled response by Obama where he understandably tried to side step the premise of the question altogether. Our Middle East foreign policy is done a real disservice by presuming that U.S. and Israeli security interests should be tightly aligned. In other words, the U.S. should not operate as a guarantor of Israel’s security. It is after all, the sole nuclear power in the region, the most dominant force there, and has been the victor in virtually every war its fought since its inception.

As for the merits of Clinton’s answer, I doubt that what Clinton recommended in terms of a security umbrella is achievable. I suspect other countries in the region are interested in containing Iranian influence, but not necessarily to align themselves with Israeli security interests. And it would be difficult to make that distinction with a U.S. led region wide security initiative intended to knee cap a nuclear armed Iran. Driving a wedge between Iran and Syria, containing Iranian influence among Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon, i.e. Hezbollah, may be more of an immediate concern for other nations in the region.

But whatever. I never served on the National Security Council to any president or on some fancy Iraq Study group with luminaries from the national security establishment. So what do I know?

One thing I do know, however, is that the the National Intelligence Estimate, a document representing the definitive judgements of all the 15 U.S. intelligence agencies, in December stated that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and unlikely to resume them in the next decade. The Bush administration has done its best to dismiss the findings of the NIE and exaggerate the threat posed by Iran by citing its incidenary anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric and support to various insurgent Shiite factions in Iraq.

And during the debate I was eager for either Clinton or Obama to mention something about this. I was hoping that it would be Obama, since he has continuously said he will end the mindset that got us into the war in Iraq. But alas neither he nor Clinton even mentioned the letters NIE in one breath.

After gaining some measure of confidence in Clinton’s response that she put to bed the bizarre hawkishness that lead her to vote for the Kyle-Liberman amendment, a measure that Senator Webb called “Cheney’s Fondest Pipe Dream” Madame Inevitable heads to Good Morning America and turns into Ms. Obliterator.

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.”

Huh? Well, I suppose I spoke to soon.




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