Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice once said.
While running for the White House on a pledge to end the war in Iraq, Senator Hillary Clinton has just voted to brand Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization -- even before the Bush administration has done so.
Well now, is she's racing to outflank the president on the right, or implicitly authorizing another war? Oh no, she assures us. When asked about her vote during a campaign stop in New Hampton, Iowa, on Sunday, she said that it simply gives the president authority to impose penalties.
Interesting. Back in 2002, when she voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq, she did so only ON HER OWN UNDERSTANDING that the president would first get approval from the United Nations. But she voted against an amendment -- moved by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan -- that would have required the president to do precisely that.
Now she claims that she's authorizing only penalties, not war.
A lovely distinction. But if Iran's Revolutionary Guard is indeed a terrorist organization, as Hillary's vote says, doesn't the War on Terror compel us to fight it with everything we have? Where are the brakes on the car that Hillary has just boarded?
There aren't any. But as Seymour Hersh has just shown in the NEW YORKER, Hillary's new car has a 500-horsepower engine all tuned up by Pentagon planners. Bored to tears with the futility of fighting in Iraq, not to mention Afghanistan (remember that one?), and overloaded with soldiers who have absolutely nothing to do after eighteen grueling months of combat, they're just itching to open a third front in Iran.
Even if sanity somehow stops us short of bombing Iran, invading it, or both, the Senate vote offers yet another example of what our Middle East policy has become. We have replaced diplomacy with demonization. Even though Hamas won the most recent election in Palestine and will be crucial to its future, we have branded it a terrorist organization. Even though we now know that the war against Iraq's insurgents cannot be won on the battlefield, and even though we must also see that Iran is absolutely crucial to any diplomatic or political resolution we might hope to achieve in Iraq, we are doing everything possible to demonize Iran.
Does it deserve to be demonized? Some say yes. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust and Israel's right to exist. He's reviled as a dictator by students at Tehran University, where students have been jailed and tortured for speaking out against him. And it may well be true that Iran's Revolutionary Guard is furnishing bombs to anti-American militia forces in Iraq, and are thus indirectly responsible for killing American troops.
Inconveniently, it's also true that the Shiite majority who now largely govern Iraq (insofar as it can be governed at all) have close ties to the majority Shiites of Iran, where many of the most influential Iraqis (such as Moktada al-Sadr) lived in exile during the reign of Saddam Hussein. In case you hadn't noticed, our very own man in Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, regards Ahmadinejad as a partner. But now General David H. Petraeus has accused Iran's ambassador to Iran, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, of membership in the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard. Thanks in part to Hillary's vote, that makes him a terrorist.
So what do we do now? Since killing him would violate diplomatic immunity, do we simply get the Iraqis to deport him? And just how would that help us?
In a recent debate, Hillary and Barack Obama both declared that in quest of peace they would talk to anyone, even our enemies. (The press made much of a minor tactical difference between them, but the main point was their common commitment to seek diplomatic solutions to international conflicts.) Within Iraq itself, our commanders have already been wooing men it once regarded as terrorists: Sunni shieks in Abnar and Diyala who have soured on al-Qaeda and are willing to help us fight it. Why then don't we try talking to the Iranian ambassador instead of simply branding him a terrorist?
Yes, I know the answer: we don't talk to terrorists. And we know they're terrorists because we've branded them as such, just as we know that Guantanamo detainees are "enemy combatants" -- and therefore ineligible for anything remotely approaching a fair trial -- because the president has branded them as such.
Branding is the worst possible way to reach a verdict on a suspect or to conduct foreign policy. As a Democrat who admires Hillary for many things, I'm dismayed to find her wielding a brand. If we want diplomatic solutions to international conflicts (which is what we finally seem to have achieved in North Korea, once part of the "axis of evil"), we will never get them by demonizing the very people who might be able to help us. Instead of branding the Iranian ambassador a terrorist, why don't we test the hypothesis that he might just mean what he said in a recent interview -- which is that Iran wants security and stability in Iraq?