Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates sure had it right: Hillary Clinton, 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., chairman of the Armed Services Committee:
“As President Obama has said, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed, while keeping all options on the table . . . (New 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 could mean war. This, incidentally, is precisely Iran’s line. Moreover, Clinton, like Obama, 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 interest in using U.S. power. It is either sanctions or Israel that will prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
From the political angle, Clinton, biding her time, 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 left-wing primary voters don’t care, but having “lost” Iran will for all intents and purposes disqualify her as commander in chief.
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 problem is not sanctions per se but an Iran policy that is completely disconnected from the ends the United States seeks. Barring a miracle, Obama, Clinton, Paul and other sanctions opponents will have the unenviable distinction of helping to foster either war or a nuclear-armed Iran.
Jennifer Rubin is a columnist for The Washington Post. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.