Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Hillary Clinton on Iran

There's something about Hillary's promise to 'obliterate Iran' if it launched an attack against Israel that I find deeply concerning. Surely the one thing that we've learned about international conflict is that to escalate rhetoric unnecessarily is hugely dangerous? Just such an escalation day by day made the Iraq conflict more and more inevitable.

A more lithe and sophisticated politician would surely make the important point that Iran does not have nuclear weapons as the latest CIA National Intelligence Estimate shows and is at the very least a number of years away from acquiring them, that America would work with its international allies in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere as well as with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons, and if we found ourselves in a situation where Iran had nuclear weapons and was threatening Israel with them that would be a monumental and avoidable failure? There are just too many 'ifs' in the question of what would you do if Iran launched a nuclear strike against Israel. The politician might also say that to accept those hypotheticals is to escalate a situation unnecessarily which is ultimately against US security interests. It is grossly irresponsible to play rhetorical or political games with people's lives or the national interest.

I am worried that Hillary Clinton feels the need to prove herself in the national security arena (particularly following her Tuzla 'sniper fire' political humiliation.) That could have severe consequences.

Whatever Hillary may say about withdrawal from Iraq (which she is in favour of), there has to be a question about whether her election would mark a continuation of a Bushite foreign policy. Sure, there has been criticism of Barack Obama for saying that he would launch strategic air strikes should he receive actionable intelligence even if those camps were based in an ally's territory (i.e. Pakistan.) Actually, Obama's policy doesn't sound so mad. Besides there is a slight difference between shelling terrorist camps and 'obliterating' a nation.

The rest of the world is thirsting for a definitively post-Bush foreign policy (not just on Iraq.) There are now question marks about whether this is what Hillary Clinton is offering.

Postscript: A great 55-45 win for Hillary in Pennsylvania last night at the upper end of expectations. What does it change? It changes two things and emphasises another. It puts the momentum back with her and that will be maintained if she can snatch Indiana on May 6th. Secondly, it means that she is ahead of the popular vote if Michigan and Florida are included. At the very least that undercuts Obama's popular vote argument.

Finally, it emphasises that he is still have a lot of difficulty with less affluent, working class, white voters. As the race proceeds in this bitter fashion the chances that these Democrats will automatically fall behind Obama as a nominee recedes. So Obama still ahead but a very good night for Hillary indeed.

Postscript 2: It appears that Simon Jenkins covered a similar topic in his Guardian column this morning. I am pleased to say that we came to the same conclusion, i.e. that only Barack Obama is likely to mark a decisive break with recent US foreign policy.

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