When Hillary speaks…


Shmuel Rosner made the case last week in Slate that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would prove to be a bad match:

Only a true believer can envision Obama and Clinton making a good team. You have to believe in Obama’s ability to control Clinton’s independence, believe in Clinton’s capacity to execute someone else’s policies, believe in the ability of these two rivals to suddenly become close, believe that knowledge and experience are not crucial for the job, believe that the complicated Clinton family drama will not be a problem, believe that policy differences can always be bridged, and believe that it’s possible to be both an ambitious politician and an honest-to-God civil servant. Most of all, you have to believe that "change" can come not to nations alone — but also to people, even to politicians.

Rosner might ultimately prove correct, but he’s off the mark when describing Clinton as a “latecomer” to Obama’s view that more engagement with Iran is needed (he’s not alone, which is why I mention it). Back on February 1, 2007, in a speech to AIPAC members in New York, Clinton made a nuanced – and gutsy, given the setting — case for stepped up talks with Tehran.

Here’s an excerpt from the Forward artilce, headlined "Hillary to Aipac: Talk to Tehran, But Keep All Options Open":

In a speech before a packed pro-Israel crowd in New York, Senator Hillary Clinton made a forceful, if measured, case for the need to engage with Iran and Syria, while reaffirming her commitment to denying Tehran nuclear weapons.

“If we are having to pursue potential action against Iran, then I want to know more about the adversary that we face,” Clinton told the 1,700 people gathered for the February 1 Northeast regional dinner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “I want to understand better what the leverage we can bring to bear on them will actually produce. I want to get a better sense of what the real power centers and influentials are, and I also want to send a message, if we ever do have to take more drastic actions, to the rest of the world that we exhausted all possibilities.”

Clinton, a Democratic frontrunner for the 2008 presidential nomination known for her methodical, lawyerly approach to complex problems, built her case for engagement carefully. Acknowledging that “there are no easy answers to the complex situation we face today,” she called President Bush’s steadfast rejection of talks with Iran and Syria a “good-faith position to take” that was, nevertheless, perhaps not the “smartest strategy.” She had “no expectations whatsoever,” she admitted at the outset, that “anything positive would come” from talks.

Still, Clinton argued, engagement is a way to gain more information about a formidable adversary, as it was with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In addition, she said, opening a diplomatic track could make it easier to build support among allies should America decide that military action is needed.

Clinton’s balanced approach stood in sharp contrast to the schizophrenic comments of John Edwards, then believed to be her main challenger for the Democratic nomination. Later in the primary race, Obama and Clinton would spar over his willingness to meet with the Iranian president and her support for a congressional resolution backing U.S. sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Since then, however, Obama’s people have attempted to hedge on the talk-to-Ahmadinejad pledge and Obama himself has repeatedly insisted that while he opposed the wording of the particular congressional measure in question, he backed the decisoin to label the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

So… as it turns out, despite the campaign fireworks, Clinton and Obama have never been that far apart on the issue of Iran — and, if anyone’s been doing some shifting, it’s been Obama.

And while we’re on the topic of Clinton getting a bum rap… Back when she was the First Lady, Clinton took some political hits over her suggestion that the creation of a Palestinian state would be a good thing. Just a few years later, however, a Likud prime minister and a Republican president came to the same conclusion, with Ariel Sharon ordering the dismantling of settlements in Gaza and George W. Bush making the creation of a Palestinian state a public goal of U.S. foreign policy.

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