Moses said to the people in his final charge "I put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life...Be strong and resolute..for the Lord will not forsake you" Deut. 30 and 31. Former US National Debate Champion and Ordained Rabbi tackles issues of Public Policy, Israel, Islamic Terrorism, Antisemitism, Jewish Wisdom and the Chicago Bears
During Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state, her reputation was that of the tough guy in an administration that was generally predisposed to conciliation rather than confrontation. In the top-down world of Barack Obama’s government, that didn’t give her much influence, but it has allowed her to posture as a centrist even as her successor John Kerry went in the other direction as he ardently pursued a nuclear deal with Iran at any cost. Though she has tilted to the left on domestic issues since beginning her presidential campaign, she appears to think that sounding a more responsible tone about Iran than that of the president makes sense. That was the message she gave today in a speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington in which she endorsed the Iran nuclear deal but suggested that when she was president she would “confront” Tehran rather sit back and hope that the Islamist regime would “get right with the world” as President Obama has anticipated. This more balanced “distrust and verify” approach to Iran sounds sensible. But Clinton’s attempt to disassociate herself from the least popular and most dangerous aspects of the deal was undermined by a story in today’sWall Street Journal that reports that it was the former First Lady who started the U.S. down the road of appeasement of Iran.
I understand the skepticism so many feel about Iran. I too am deeply concerned about Iranian aggression and the need to confront it. It’s a ruthless, brutal regime that has the blood of Americans, many others including its own people on its hands. Its political rallies resound with cries of ‘Death to America.’ Its leaders talk about wiping Israel off the face of the map, most recently just yesterday. And terror against it. There’s absolutely no reason to trust Iran.
She’s right about that, but one needn’t be a neoconservative to note how different this is from the hopes enunciated by Obama and Kerry. But if that makes the clear majority of Americans who oppose the nuclear deal feel better about Clinton, the Journal story takes a lot of the air out of the notion of Clinton being the most responsible member of the Obama foreign policy team. As the Journal reports, it was Clinton who “helped open the door to a dramatic shift in U.S. policy toward Iran: an acceptance that Tehran would maintain at least some capacity to produce nuclear fuel, according to current and former U.S. officials.”
Clinton’s “distrust and verify” mantra — an even tougher version of President Reagan’s common sense approach to diplomacy with the Soviet Union — combined with the reputation as the hawk in Obama’s Situation Room seemingly presents a strong contrast with the current administration. Clinton understands that opposing a nuclear deal that is Obama’s chief foreign policy legacy would be political suicide for a Democrat facing competition from the left. But the way she talks about the future with Iran makes it appear as if she shares the conviction of many of the deal’s opponents that Iran is certain to violate it and push for a bomb one way or another. For her to mention, as Obama used to but no longer does, that force remains an option in dealing with Iran is an acknowledgement that the administration’s promises about the deal are not going to be fulfilled.
Yet this doesn’t jive with the portrait of Clinton’s diplomatic outreach to Iran painted by the Journal. Just like her successor, Clinton was stymied by Iran’s refusal to back down from its insistence on retaining its nuclear options. But rather than hang tough on the West’s demands that Iran give up enriching uranium, Clinton folded. As it turns out, it would be Clinton and not Kerry who would make the fatal decision to bow to Iran’s hardliners and grant them the very concessions on enrichment that the West had previously refused to countenance. As the Journal notes, her aides concede that during her time at the State Department, Clinton went from being a hard “no” on enrichment to a more equivocal stand. From that point on, Iran nuclear concessions became the norm.
This is fascinating because it gives the lie to Clinton’s campaign strategy of posing as a tough-minded diplomat committed to defending Israel and the West from Iran. That has enabled her to work the Jewish community in particular as she seeks support for her campaign. But those who see her as a change of pace from Obama are ignoring her record.
Though President Obama deserves ultimate responsibility for the string of concessions that ultimately convinced Iran that it could sign a deal with the U.S. while retaining its nuclear option, it was Clinton who first steered the nation down that path. Though her zeal for a deal may not have equaled Kerry, his appeasement-oriented diplomacy built on the concessions that Clinton began. It was her aide Jake Sullivan who did much of the negotiating with Iran both during her time and state and later after Kerry replaced her. Even if she now wishes to hedge her bets on the deal, it’s obvious that she deserves a considerable share of the blame for a negotiating strategy shift that made getting a deal the priority rather than stopping Iran’s nuclear program.
Centrist voters who are impressed by her current stance shouldn’t forget this. Rather than a new Reagan, Clinton is as much the architect of appeasement as Obama or Kerry.