Since her vote for the odious Kyl-Lieberman amendment, Hillary Clinton has been forced to make what appear to be moves in the direction of the position of the vast majority of Democratic voters on the issue of war with Iran. But these moves, aimed at assuaging the anxiety and anger of anti-war voters, fail to address the real question: Does she support an unprovoked military assault on Iran or not?
She has been on the defensive on Iran primarily because she was the only Democratic candidate to vote in favor of the odious Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which approves not only the administration's declared intention to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a "terrorist organization" but administration's carefully crafted and completely unsupported case for war with Iran. Clinton has offered a lame excuse for that vote, telling a campaign audience Saturday that the amendment would give the United States "leverage when we negotiate with them." That position represents an almost perfect political straddling of the issue - invoking both negotiations and toughness toward Iran in the same breath - that allows a Democratic candidate to appeal to all but hardcore antiwar voters.
Even more serious, she told the same audience Saturday that the Iranians "are supporting sending weapons into Iraq right now that are used against our troops". That tortured formulation tells us that Clinton cannot be counted to exercise any independent judgment about the facts surrounding the administration's case for war.
That is why Clinton's co-sponsorship of the Webb amendment requiring the president to seek congressional approval before any military action against Iran should not be taken seriously. Some bloggers have viewed that move as a hopeful clarification of Clinton's Iran policy. But calling for a vote on the issue is not an indication that Clinton is opposed to war with Iran. She has carefully avoided saying anything about her views on that issue except insofar as they can be inferred from her acceptance of the administration's rationale for war.
Her campaign and her Senate office have carefully refrained from issuing any statement about the Webb amendment, much less the bigger issue at stake. The reason for her reluctance to have the spotlight shown on her position is clearly that she is unwilling to state flatly that she is opposed to war with Iran.
In fact, of course, she is one of the leading supporters in the Senate of the Bush administration's policy of threatening war against Iran. In a speech last February 2 to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Clinton said, "U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal: We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons," she said. "In dealing with this threat ... no option can be taken off the table."
The rhetoric of "no option" being taken "off the table" is, of course, the signature of the Bush administration's approach to Iran. It means nothing more or less than that the administration asserts the right to attack Iran unilaterally and without provocation, should it decide that it is necessary in order to deal with an alleged nuclear threat from Iran. It posits no requirement that the intelligence community has reached a conclusion that Iran is actually on the verge of building nuclear weapons and that there is no possibility of reaching a diplomatic agreement with Iran to avoid a confrontation.
That policy line reflects the views of the most extremist leadership the United States has ever known and would expose this country and the entire world to what could be the most incalculably dangerous sequence of events known since World War II.
When Clinton first uttered her "me-too" stance on the Bush policy of threatening war, I was inclined to interpret her position as a reflection of the popular notion among national security specialists that one never gives up a power advantage over an adversary. After all, John Edwards and Barack Obama were falling into line with the "all options on the table" line as well. And the fact of U.S. military dominance has tilted the entire national debate sharply toward the exploitation of threat to get Iran to bend to American will. I hoped that position could still give way to firm opposition to an actual strike when such a plan emerged.
But we now have Sy Hersh's most recent report in The New Yorker, that there has been "a significant increase in the tempo of attack planning" on Iran by the Bush administration. That comes on the heels of a reliable report in August that Cheney had been pushing for a limited strike on bases in Iran that would be aimed at provoking an Iranian response and my own analysis that Lieberman was coordinating his own pro-war amendment in July with the U.S. military command production propaganda supporting war with Iran.
Clinton's failure to utter the slightest protest in the face of a real threat of war must be taken as prima facie evidence that Clinton has no fundamental disagreement with war against Iran. Unless the voters of New Hampshire and Iowa send a signal that they will not accept a Democratic candidate who is not ready to stand up against war with Iran, the chances of preventing such a war recede to the vanishing point.
Unfortunately, neither Edwards nor Obama have done anything to indicate that they will actively oppose war against Iran either. The only hope for reversing the present momentum for war is that Democratic voters will begin a massive shift to a candidate who has been straightforward in opposing war with Iran from the beginning. Bill Richardson declared in an op-ed last February, "Saber-rattling is not a good way to get the Iranians to cooperate. But it is a good way to start a new war -- a war that would be a disaster for the Middle East, for the United States and for the world."
That is the position the voters must rally around decisively in the primary states. And there is no time for dallying over candidates based on other issues and qualifications. The anti-Iran war shift has to happen right now.