Friday :: Nov 9, 2007

The Awesome Differences on Iran Between Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton

by eriposte

On Monday, I wrote this post: The Leading Democratic Candidates - Clinton, Edwards and Obama - on Iraq and Iran. As I mentioned in the conclusion of that post:

IRAQ: Outside of Sen. Obama's prescient and commendable opposition to the Iraq vote/war in 2002, his voting record on Iraq has been virtually identical to that of Sen. Clinton - indicating that his actions on Iraq have been barely different from Sen. Clinton's. There are also no significant differences between Sen. Obama's vision and Sen. Clinton's vision on how they would deal with Iraq as President - the differences are arguably nuances.

IRAN: On Iran, despite Sen. Obama's criticism of Sen. Clinton's support for the toothless Kyl-Lieberman "Sense of the Senate" resolution, his support for a Bill earlier in 2007 that called for the designation of Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, his views on the threat posed by a nuclear Iran and on Iran's support for terrorism inside Iraq, and his views on the options he would consider using to deal with Iran, do not differ in any significant way from the vision of Sen. Clinton.

Hence, Sen. Obama's claim that he is "fundamentally different" from Sen. Clinton hinges almost entirely on the fact that he was against the Iraq war from the beginning. There is little "fundamental difference" between them on how they acted in Congress and how they would address Iraq and Iran going forward.

In response to my post, Geekesque - a self-declared Obama supporter (at least back in early October, I don't know if that is still the case) and prolific critic of Sen. Clinton at Daily Kos - posted a Daily Kos diary (which made it, surprise, surprise, to the Daily Kos Recommended List). I appreciate that Geekesque took the time to respond because this debate is important and healthy for progressives. The title of Geekesque's diary is:

Clinton and Obama:  Real differences on Iran and Diplomacy

In this post, I'm going to address the above diary because Geekesque's diaries are an epitome of some of the unfortunate aspects of the ongoing Democratic presidential campaign. I'm going to separate out my response into the following sections:

1. He Said, She Said

2. In Praise of Cherry-Picking: AIPAC Edition

3. In Praise of Cherry-Picking: Foreign Affairs Edition

4. Once Again, Talk is Cheap

5. Conclusions

APPENDIX: Caveat Emptor

1. He Said, She Said

The summary of Geekesque's argument is the following (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

Some people are still laboring [link to my TLC post referenced above - eRiposte] under the impression that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama share the same policy perspective on diplomacy and the potential use of force towards Iran.

This is simply not true.  Sure, they have said some basic things that match up.  But, you could say the same thing about any Democrat and Genghis Giuliani.  The difference lies in, well, the differences.

Below are some of these differences.

I'm going to discuss the "differences" Geekesque cites - but there is one thing I should say straight off the bat.

Geekesque believes that any Democrat - when you look closely enough - has said the same things that Rudy Giuliani has said. Wow! Now, that sounds like a bit much to me, but here's the implication of Geekesque's assertion: It means that Geekesque's argument - his pitch for Sen. Obama over Sen. Clinton - is based on convincing progressives that we should believe some of the things Obama has said (which are progressive) and not some of the other things he has said (which may not be progressive). In other words, Geekesque is asking people to trust that Sen. Obama means well and that they should not get distracted by the not-so-nice things that he has said. Personally, I would probably have made a better pitch than that for Sen. Obama myself, but at another level Geekesque's argument is that you can't just take some of the words of Sen. Obama at face value, and that you have to trust his other words because it is those other words that will determine how he governs as President. (Naturally, per the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary Rule Book, he never makes the same argument in favor of Sen. Clinton). Geekesque of course ignores the fact that the findings in my original post - the very post that Geekesque was responding to - are, if anything, a direct contradiction to this assertion. Namely, Sen. Obama said he was staunchly anti-Iraq-war when he was not in the U.S. Senate and once he got into a position of power as U.S. Senator, he acted - i.e., voted on Iraq - essentially exactly like Sen. Clinton did (a Senator, who didn't vocally oppose the war in the first place). Strike One against Geekesque.

2. In Praise of Cherry-Picking: AIPAC Edition

What are the "real differences" between Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama that Geekesque is enamored about? Well, the #1 reason why Geekesque evidently believes Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton are "different" on Iran is that, "assuming each candidate is being frank and honest" we can compare their statements on Iran when they spoke at AIPAC early this year and Sen. Obama did not sound as hawkish as Sen. Clinton and he more overtly called for diplomacy than Sen. Clinton did. Why pick the AIPAC speech? Well, according to Geekesque:

But, each has given statements in the past in a number of different forums and in front of different audiences--how do we avoid cherry-picking?  One group in front of whom both appeared and both discussed their view of diplomacy towards Iran is that old DailyKos favorite, AIPAC.

In other words, to ostensibly prevent cherry-picking, Geekesque picked the one speech where Sen. Obama sounded less hawkish than Sen. Clinton and left out other occasions where he may have sounded equally or more hawkish (especially occasions when he had not planned to run for President). Positively GWB Orwellian or just an attempt at Self-Parody? You decide.

In fact, the joke's on Geekesque because here's something else Sen. Obama said in the same March 2, 2007 AIPAC speech:

That is why I advocate a phased redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq to begin no later than May first with the goal of removing all combat forces from Iraq by March 2008.

In other words, back in March 2007, Sen. Obama believed we should withdraw all combat forces from Iraq over a period of 11 months (May 2007 through March 2008).

Then, in early October 2007, Sen. Obama said:

I will remove one or two brigades a month, and get all of our combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months.

However, shortly prior to that, he said:

RUSSERT: Will you pledge that by January 2013, the end of your first term, more than five years from now, there will be no U.S. troops in Iraq?

OBAMA: I think it's hard to project four years from now, and I think it would be irresponsible. We don't know what contingency will be out there.

What I can promise is that if there are still troops in Iraq when I take office -- which it appears there may be, unless we can get some of our Republican colleagues to change their mind and cut off funding without a timetable -- if there's no timetable -- then I will drastically reduce our presence there to the mission of protecting our embassy, protecting our civilians, and making sure that we're carrying out counterterrorism activities there.

I believe that we should have all our troops out by 2013, but I don't want to make promises, not knowing what the situation's going to be three or four years out.

Assuming Sen. Obama was being "frank and honest" (as Geekesque asserts), his position on Iraq as viewed through the above statements at different points in time, is as clear and principled as mud. Strike Two against Geekesque.

3. In Praise of Cherry-Picking: Foreign Affairs Edition

Unlike Geekesque, I won't even pretend that I am trying to avoid cherry-picking. However, let me cherry-pick a different and much more recent venue where Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton expressed their foreign policy views on a range of subjects, including Iran. This venue happens to be one that is considered to be somewhat respectable in the foreign policy community - the pages of Foreign Affairs magazine (h/t reader Reference Librarian).

Here's what Senator A said - very recently - in Foreign Affairs (no peeking to find out who; emphasis mine):

The Bush administration has opposed talks with our adversaries, seeming to believe that we are not strong enough to defend our interests through negotiations. This is a misleading and counterproductive strategy. True statesmanship requires that we engage with our adversaries, not for the sake of talking but because robust diplomacy is a prerequisite to achieving our aims.

The case in point is Iran. Iran poses a long-term strategic challenge to the United States, our NATO allies, and Israel. It is the country that most practices state-sponsored terrorism, and it uses its surrogates to supply explosives that kill U.S. troops in Iraq. The Bush administration refuses to talk to Iran about its nuclear program, preferring to ignore bad behavior rather than challenge it. Meanwhile, Iran has enhanced its nuclear-enrichment capabilities, armed Iraqi Shiite militias, funneled arms to Hezbollah, and subsidized Hamas, even as the government continues to hurt its own citizens by mismanaging the economy and increasing political and social repression.

As a result, we have lost precious time. Iran must conform to its nonproliferation obligations and must not be permitted to build or acquire nuclear weapons. If Iran does not comply with its own commitments and the will of the international community, all options must remain on the table.

On the other hand, if Iran is in fact willing to end its nuclear weapons program, renounce sponsorship of terrorism, support Middle East peace, and play a constructive role in stabilizing Iraq, the United States should be prepared to offer Iran a carefully calibrated package of incentives. This will let the Iranian people know that our quarrel is not with them but with their government and show the world that the United States is prepared to pursue every diplomatic option.

Like Iran, North Korea responded to the Bush administration's effort to isolate it by accelerating its nuclear program, conducting a nuclear test, and building more nuclear weapons. Only since the State Department returned to diplomacy have we been able, belatedly, to make progress.

Neither North Korea nor Iran will change course as a result of what we do with our own nuclear weapons, but taking dramatic steps to reduce our nuclear arsenal would build support for the coalitions we need to address the threat of nuclear proliferation and help the United States regain the moral high ground. Former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Senator Sam Nunn have called on the United States to "rekindle the vision," shared by every president from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton, of reducing reliance on nuclear weapons.

Here's what Senator B - also recently - said in Foreign Affairs (again, no peeking; emphasis mine):

Throughout the Middle East, we must harness American power to reinvigorate American diplomacy. Tough-minded diplomacy, backed by the whole range of instruments of American power -- political, economic, and military -- could bring success even when dealing with long-standing adversaries such as Iran and Syria. Our policy of issuing threats and relying on intermediaries to curb Iran's nuclear program, sponsorship of terrorism, and regional aggression is failing. Although we must not rule out using military force, we should not hesitate to talk directly to Iran. Our diplomacy should aim to raise the cost for Iran of continuing its nuclear program by applying tougher sanctions and increasing pressure from its key trading partners. The world must work to stop Iran's uranium-enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy. At the same time, we must show Iran -- and especially the Iranian people -- what could be gained from fundamental change: economic engagement, security assurances, and diplomatic relations. Diplomacy combined with pressure could also reorient Syria away from its radical agenda to a more moderate stance -- which could, in turn, help stabilize Iraq, isolate Iran, free Lebanon from Damascus' grip, and better secure Israel.

So, without peeking, can anyone tell me who Senator A is and who Senator B is? All I can say is, Strike Three against Geekesque.

4. Once Again, Talk is Cheap

As it turns out, Geekesque's argument about the AIPAC speech is NOT that Sen. Clinton rejected diplomacy in her speech - in fact Sen. Clinton's speech does specifically say we should consider a diplomatic approach and that the President's approach of not engaging with Syria or Iran is not the smartest approach. It's just that Sen. Obama's words called out diplomacy more strongly, and Sen. Clinton sounded more hawkish. Indeed, Geekesque's #2 reason why Sen. Obama is fundamentally "different" from Sen. Clinton is that Sen. Obama is willing to say we are not hell-bent on regime change in Iran (which is a sensible statement all things considered), but that Sen. Clinton has not yet made this statement. Good for Sen. Obama, but words, as his Senate record shows, are cheap.

Geekesque's #3 reason why Sen. Obama is fundamentally "different" from Sen. Clinton is that Sen. Obama has recently said that he would not use U.S. combat troops in Iraq to beat back terrorism within Iraq that is supported by Iran - something Sen. Clinton has not said. However, I discussed this very issue in my post that Geekesque referenced showing why this is actually a clear attempt at pandering, not sensible policy:

Just a few days ago, Sen. Obama also said the following to the NYT, in which he expressed the view that Iran has been supporting militant/terrorist groups within Iraq and also expressed concerns about Iran's quest for nuclear weapons:

Mr. Obama has also talked about keeping a limited force in Iraq after withdrawing American combat units at the rate of one or two per month. But he insisted in the interview that the mission of his residual force would be more limited than that posited by Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Obama said, for example, that the part of the residual force assigned to counterterrorism might be based outside Iraq. He also emphasized that the residual force would not have the mission of deterring Iranian involvement in Iraq.

I commend Sen. Obama for talking about one of the key root causes for Iran's actions (the U.S. presence in Iraq) and his diplomatic approaches to address Iran's actions and behaviors (not dissimilar to Sen. Clinton's focus on diplomacy with Iran), but his position that he would retain a residual force in and out of Iraq that would be used for counter-terrorism missions in Iraq but not if those missions were for countering Iranian-sponsored terrorism within Iraq makes little sense. If the goal is counter-terrorism within Iraq, why artificially constrain what the American forces would counter? This strained half-measure seems to have been defined solely to maintain a distance from the Kyl-Lieberman resolution. I have a hard time believing that this type of foreign policy judgement is somehow better than the foreign policy judgment that says we will counter all kinds of terrorism within Iraq (Sen. Clinton's position - which has its own problems and limitations).

5. Conclusions

Contrary to the claims of Daily Kos diarist Geekesque, the evidence that Sen. Obama has some "real" or significant differences with Sen. Clinton on Iran is weak to non-existent and if anything, such "evidence" is based on the cherry-picked words of Sen. Obama, which don't mean much especially when you compare his words and his voting record. Geekesque's diary, more importantly, reveals the fundamental problem I have with some of the progressive advocates for Democratic campaigns who are writing diaries or comments or blog posts. You are supposed to be the Reality-Based Community, folks. Not simply the stenographer of the latest or most favorable talking points from one campaign or the other. Each candidate is trying to reach specific interest groups or demographics. There's going to be varying degrees of pandering involved and if you are not smart enough to see through this BS, you shouldn't consider yourself any more informed or intelligent than the 33% of the population who still support George Bush.

I have been very clear on my position ever since I started blogging on Election 2008. I do not claim that any one candidate is fundamentally better than the others because all have or have had some serious flaws in some areas. I will support the eventual Democratic nominee because, as Sen. Clinton previously observed, every one of the Democratic candidates for President would be a better President than their Republican counterparts.

APPENDIX: Caveat Emptor

For what it's worth, as has become customary for some of those who have a deep aversion for Sen. Clinton, I should note that Geekesque's anti-Clinton cherry-picking and misleading goes beyond one diary. Geekesque has a special interest in Iran and has penned additional Daily Kos diaries such as:

Clinton's Kyl-Lieberman vote:  Worse than you thought


Clinton's Kyl-Lieberman vote:  Still awful

Let's take the first of these two - starting with this statement from Geekesque:

S.970 [eRiposte note: This is the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007 - the Bill that Sen. Obama co-sponsored, which also supported the designation of Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist entity] is about diplomacy and international cooperation.  Kyl-Lieberman is about staying in Iraq and bombing Iran.

In other words, according to Geekesque, a Bill (S.970) that said the following was aimed at diplomacy:

The Secretary of State should designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189) and the Secretary of the Treasury should place the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists under Executive Order 13224 (66 Fed. Reg. 186; relating to blocking property and prohibiting transactions with persons who commit, threaten to commit, or support terrorism).

In fact, this is the very argument that Sen. Clinton made when she was criticized on Kyl-Lieberman. Her critics charged that her support for the designation of Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist entity was an encouragement for war, not diplomacy. Any guesses whether Geekesque or Sen. Obama valiantly jumped out in front on this to defend Sen. Clinton from attacks from Sen. Edwards or others?

Geekesque then goes on to say:

Here is some language from S.970 that you won't find in Kyl-Lieberman:

(7) The United States should use all political, economic, and diplomatic tools at its disposal to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.

(8) Nothing in this Act should be construed as giving the President the authority to use military force against Iran.

Let's talk about (7) first. Here's a statement directly from Kyl-Lieberman - a statement that was inserted in the final Bill before it passed:

(17) Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated on September 16, 2007 that “I think that the administration believes at this point that continuing to try and deal with the Iranian threat, the Iranian challenge, through diplomatic and economic means is by the preferable approach. That the one we are using. We always say all options are on the table, but clearly, the diplomatic and economic approach is the one that we are pursuing.”

Incidentally, that was the last paragraph under the section:

(a) FINDINGS. - The Senate makes the following findings

In other words, one of the findings of the Senate recorded in Kyl-Lieberman was that Sec. Robert Gates and the Bush administration believed that "continuing to try and deal with the Iranian threat, the Iranian challenge, through diplomatic and economic means is by the preferable approach. That the one we are using. We always say all options are on the table, but clearly, the diplomatic and economic approach is the one that we are pursuing.” Now, you may choose not to believe Sec. Gates, but it is not acceptable to claim that Kyl-Lieberman says nothing about using diplomacy or economic approaches as the preferable way to deal with Iran. Perhaps Geekesque subsequently realized this claim was false, since in a follow-up diary (s)he made the new argument that Kyl-Lieberman does mention diplomacy but makes it clear that diplomacy is not working and we should therefore go down a military path. Again, a wrong claim easily disputed by simply reading Kyl-Lieberman. Just because Amb. Crocker said that one or two rounds of discussions with Iran have not produced results to our liking, that doesn't mean Amb. Crocker or Sec. Gates were advocating attacking Iran. If Geekesque seriously thinks that the meaning of diplomacy is that you get another country to agree to our terms in one or two meetings - and if not, war should be the preferred approach - then we are definitely living in different planets.

Geekesque's claim that the following statement does not appear in Kyl-Lieberman is also misleading:

(8) Nothing in this Act should be construed as giving the President the authority to use military force against Iran.

An Act (like S.970) states the Law according to Congress. A Sense of the Senate Resolution does not define Law because it is toothless and has no binding authority. A President cannot use a "Sense of the Senate" resolution to claim that it legally supports an invasion of another country (even if misguided Democrats keep repeating this falsehood). So, just because Kyl-Lieberman did not have such a statement, does not mean it permits the President to use this stuff to attack Iran.

Geekesque, is by now, on a roll. (S)he references various paragraphs from Kyl-Lieberman which say that Iran is funding or supporting terrorist or insurgent activity inside Iraq - sometimes against the U.S. armed forces stationed in Iraq. One can certainly ask whether all of these statements are factual, but qualitatively speaking, Sen. Obama himself has made statements that match these sentiments in a general form, even if he has not claimed that the specific details in Kyl-Lieberman are all true. As Sen. Obama said recently:

Mr. Obama said that Iran had been “acting irresponsibly” by supporting Shiite militant groups in Iraq. He also emphasized that Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program and its support for “terrorist activities” were serious concerns.

But he asserted that Iran’s support for militant groups in Iraq reflected its anxiety over the Bush administration’s policies in the region, including talk of a possible American military strike on Iranian nuclear installations.

In other words, like Kyl-Lieberman, Sen. Obama has stated that Iran supports terrorism and militant groups inside Iraq. Sen. Obama also supported the designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. So, if Bush is likely to use any claims of Iranian supported terrorism in Iraq as justification for war with Iran, he is equally likely to use Sen. Obama's statements as justification for an Iranian invasion, because Bush doesn't care about the Law. He doesn't need to cite Kyl-Lieberman.

To cap this off, Geekesque cites these two passages from Kyl-Lieberman:

that the manner in which the United States transitions and structures its military presence in Iraq will have critical long-term consequences for the future of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, in particular with regard to the capability of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to pose a threat to the security of the region, the prospects for democracy for the people of the region, and the health of the global economy;

(2) that it is a critical national interest of the United States to prevent the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran from turning Shi'a militia extremists in Iraq into a Hezbollah-like force that could serve its interests inside Iraq, including by overwhelming, subverting, or co-opting institutions of the legitimate Government of Iraq;

and uses those passages to claim the following:

There you have it.  Iran is killing US soldiers.  Iran is killing Iraqis.  Iran is the enemy.   Diplomacy isn't working.  We must structure our military plans around the mission of countering Iran.  

What a horribly misleading claim - "Diplomacy isn't working"! Despite the specific inclusion of Sec. Gates statement in Kyl-Lieberman that diplomacy is the preferred path to dealing with Iran! Not only that, Geekesque claims that according to Kyl-Lieberman "We must structure our military plans around the mission of countering Iran". What Kyl-Lieberman said is that "the manner in which the United States transitions and structures its military presence in Iraq will have critical long-term consequences for the future of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, in particular with regard to the capability of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to pose a threat to the security of the region". That's a true statement and it doesn't overtly say that our military should be structured to counter Iran; however, even if we infer that it says so indirectly, we are already structuring our military presence in Iraq to counter the militants and terrorists supported by Iran! I pointed this out previously:

KLA does not even directly suggest that the US Government should structure the presence of the US military in Iraq to act against Iranian-sponsored terrorism within Iraq. Even if it does, this is an absurdly silly issue to get hot over because the US Government is *already* acting against Iranian-sponsored terrorism inside Iraq! We have ~160,000 military members in Iraq and guess what, they are fighting Iranian sponsored terrorism within Iraq *today*!

I can go on and on, but I don't have the time. I think it's pretty clear how fair and balanced Geekesque is. Caveat emptor.

eriposte :: 7:22 AM :: Comments (9) :: Digg It!