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Iran Debate: Clinton Steps Up To Oppose The Demagogues

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Iran Debate: Clinton Steps Up To Oppose The Demagogues


When Sarah Palin joins Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and a motley crew of crazies in Washington this week to rally against the Iran nuclear deal, the speeches are likely to reflect the incoherence of the opposition. None of these right-wing celebrities appears to comprehend its terms, how it was negotiated or – most important – why its failure would probably lead to yet another horrific war.

On that same day, as Cruz, Trump, and Palin blather on about their love of Israel, their hatred for Barack Obama, and their determination to “make America great again,” someone else will step up to support the agreement – someone whose diplomatic efforts laid the groundwork for successful negotiations with Tehran.

That would be Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former Secretary of State and leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Scheduling a major speech on the Iran deal for the same day as the Washington event, Clinton is plainly determined to display her mastery of its details as well as her defiance of the right-wing opposition.

But this speech — which could become one of the best moments in public life — will also prove just how far she has come since the last time she ran for president.

That’s because Iran was the subject of one of the most troubling moments in her 2008 campaign, when she promised to “totally obliterate” that country (and presumably its 70 million-plus population) if the mullahs ever attacked Israel with a nuclear weapon. Having uttered that genocidal threat in response to a provocative question, she reiterated the same bluster a few days later on ABC News’ This Week.

“I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran [if they attack Israel with nuclear weapons]. And I want them to understand that. … I think we have to be very clear about what we would do,” she told host George Stephanopoulos.

At the time, in early May 2008, it wasn’t clear why the Iranians needed to “understand” any such ultimatum, since our own intelligence showed that they neither had nuclear weapons nor were likely to possess such weapons any time soon – and that the Israeli military was (and is) fully capable of nuclear retaliation. Clinton’s harsh rhetoric seemed to be aimed more directly at Obama, her primary opponent, whose aim of negotiating with traditional enemies like Tehran she had denounced as “naïve.”

Those who expected better from her pointed to her Mideast advisors, who advocated an opening to Iran, and to her own previous remarks about the imperative of talking with “bad people” as a sign of strength, not weakness. But at that moment, she seemed to echo John McCain and the “bomb Iran” chorus among the Republicans.

Much has changed since 2008, of course – including the leadership of the Iranian government. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the aggressive Holocaust denier who held the Iranian presidency back then, gave way in 2013 to Hassan Rouhani, a reformer who wants to end his country’s international isolation. Thanks in part to Clinton’s work as Secretary of State, a powerful and unprecedented international alliance enforced real sanctions that finally pushed Iran into serious negotiations. And since those negotiations began, Rouhani’s government has heeded the required limitations on its nuclear activities.

Perhaps Clinton hasn’t changed. After all, she has always believed that diplomacy, aid, and other aspects of American power are just as fundamental to our security as military force. But she has found a balance and a voice that are more vital than ever in a contest against irresponsible politicians, whose demagogy points us again toward war.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses a panel on healthcare in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 4, 2015. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers. Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003). Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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  1. Dominick Vila September 8, 2015

    Why did she wait until enough Senators declared their support to provide enough votes to sustain a presidential veto, until some Republicans, such as Colin Powell, declared their support, and until all our allies ratified the agreement and foreign leaders are already negotiating contracts with the Iran leadership to declare her support? Sorry, but I am not impressed.
    What the Israeli servants in the U.S. Congress, and what so many Republicans are doing to our credibility for political gain and to deny a man they hate a major foreign policy triumph is embarrassing, not to mention obtuse. Hillary should have declared her support several weeks ago.

    1. charleo1 September 8, 2015

      Good point, and well said. You’re not impressed with what you’ve seen so far out of Hillary, I’m sure not. And judging from her falling poll numbers in the early primary states, neither is much of the Democratic Base impressed with Hillary. So here we are. Summer’s over, and the campaign season is well underway. And Hillary, which started with this huge lead, and tons of excitement, seems to be standing still. Her finger to the wind, Clinton-esk, to be sure. But if comparisons to Bill are fair, looking very un-Clinton like, and unsure of where to plant her flag. That’s if she has one. And in not coming out early on in support of the Iran deal, and the President she served for 4 years, IMO, she punted on a huge opportunity to show her courage, and leadership qualities. And just as important to her base, demonstrate that she has the willingness to take on a reckless, and quit frankly dangerous Right Wing. So we don’t find ourselves once again up to our ears in yet another horrendous Mid-East War. Ironically, all the kerfuffle, and non-stop coverage over her e-mails, that she can’t quite seem to make any declarative statements about, without also adding some disclaimer, or accompanying qualifier, in said denial. Has partially disguised the fact that her campaign itself may be in danger of stalling. With the latest polling showing Sanders within 5 points in Iowa, and winning by a similar margin in New Hampshire. And this is in the face of a very “curious” attempt by the major media outlets to freeze out Sanders from the get-go, while promoting Hillary at every turn. Evidenced by the fact that efforts to draft a Joe Biden run have gotten more press coverage, more mentions on social media, for weeks. Than has Sanders’ actual, and unexpectedly successful campaign.

      1. Dominick Vila September 9, 2015

        Did you watch Hillary’s interview on CNN, her acknowledgment of having made a mistake, and saying sorry? It almost sounded like a concession speech.
        The problem for her at this point is not that she will not get a single conservative vote, but that she has lost much of the support she enjoyed just few months ago. The sad part is that this could have all been avoided. There is no doubt in my mind that she was the best and most qualified candidate in the field. Unfortunately, she mishandled the relentless attacks directed at her, waited too long to be candid and honest about what she did, and by doing that she let her candidacy be destroyed by an issue that should have been irrelevant. Today, her image is wrapped in a shroud of betrayal, convictions of poor judgment, and an affirmation of ineptitude.
        Biden-Warren or Biden-Sanders

    2. Proud Liberal September 9, 2015

      She didn’t. She came out in support of it early, on July 14.


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  3. fortunev September 8, 2015

    I think Hillary Clinton is right on. Who cares if she waited. She is there for the country she will soon lead. The nitpickers just want to poke and deny her intelligence on the world stage. What is the alternative? The likes of weasel brains like Walker, Cruz, tRump, Huckleberry, ¡Jeb! the failed harpy from HP, Palin, Romney fer chrissake? Get on the boat folks. Hillary Clinton is the cream of the crop. Her world-class knowledge and statesmanship should relegate the sour grapes comments to oblivion. With Bernie’s gentle pushing and influence garnishing the progressive wing she will be one helluva a prez who will change the country for the better.

    1. Snobalzzzz September 10, 2015

      Too funny the shyt the grifters Clinton toss at random to the sheeple like you, who gobble up every morsel. HaHaaaaa.

  4. Gloria Lucas September 9, 2015

    I need to show this@ fantastic internet freelancing opportunity… three to five hours of work daily… Payments are weekly… Bonuses…Earnings of 6-9k /monthly… Just few hours of spare time, a computer, most elementary knowledge of internet and reliable connection is what is needed…Get more information by visiting my page

  5. Snobalzzzz September 10, 2015

    Hillary the queen of the Demagogues calling out others. Oh the Irony!
    She will own the ultimate failure of this unpopular Deal.

  6. Paul Kent September 12, 2015

    We signed a deal with Iran because their spiritual guides share the same view of America that Obama’s spiritual guide Jeremiah Wright has: “It’s not God bless America, it’s God damn America.”

    1. JPHALL September 13, 2015

      Where do you right wingers get this nonsense? Your racial hatred has blinded you to truth and reality.

      1. Lynda Groom September 13, 2015

        Funny how these types always forget to mention the rest of the major powers who signed and helped craft the agreement. Blind hatred of the President clouds everything in their daily lives.

  7. docb September 14, 2015

    It is good to see a candidate really deal with policy, security, and Peace…instead of rhetorical BS!

  8. cspanjunkie September 17, 2015

    Hey folks, Conusagain doesn’t read your pithy comments. He’s a Manhattan silly lib; a misfiring neuron in the dying tissue of the Left’s brain. Think of it: PP is ubiquitous throughout America. PP kills tiny humans and sells their organs. Hillary is OK with this. Conason is free, white and 21 with two kids; what’s he care if there’s a industry out there making bucks killing-off Black infants? Hillary is his final solution.


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