THE BLOG
11/05/2007 12:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Note to Joe Wilson: Good Defense of Hillary but "Together We Can Do Better" on Iran

Joe Wilson has penned an interesting essay at Huffington Post defending Hillary Clinton's complex stand on Iran and challenging Obama with some soft gloves.

In one section of the piece, Wilson writes:

As one who practiced diplomacy on behalf of our country for decades, including as the acting ambassador in Iraq during Desert Shield, where I personally confronted Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, Senator Obama's approach seems to me to misunderstand diplomacy. Needless to say, profound distrust of Bush and the administration is more than merited. I yield to nobody in my own efforts to bring their lies to public attention. But the Durbin version of Kyl-Lieberman and the November 1 letter are clear in drawing lines in not granting the Bush administration authority it does not have.

The administration has rightly been criticized for its refusal to use the broad array of tools at our disposal other than military action in the conduct of national security. War has been its first, second and final option -- its preferred option -- with disastrous results. Successful policy-making requires the use of complex diplomacy, carrots and sticks -- incentives, such as structured talks, and disincentives, such as sanctions against rogue elements. Coping with the Bush administration should not cause us to ignore at our peril very real adversaries that would do us harm. These clearly include Iran and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

I have a few reactions.

First and foremost, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Richard Durbin, James Webb, and the rest would do the country a great favor by actually 'passing' the Webb-introduced legislation barring monies spent on military action against Iran without explicit Senate consent. A resolution that languishes in the Senate that has Hillary's co-sponsorship but that has not benefited from her ascending political weight does not change the political facts as they are now.

Joe Wilson is correct to note that Hillary Clinton, Durbin, and others have made statements that their support of Kyl-Lieberman do not, in their parochial view, authorize the Bush administration to take military action against Iran.

However, that's not the point. The problem is that the Bush administration exploits opportunities that the Congress gives. The administration manipulates, obfuscates, distorts, seduces, and deceives when it comes to rationalizing controversial actions it wants to take. If the Bush adminstration does bomb Iran, it won't be much help that Durbin and Clinton will hit the airwaves then to accuse the administration of foul play.

Thirty signatories on a letter to Bush are not enough. The Dems control the Senate and the House. It is time that they won something big in the national security sphere. Senator Hagel is a good trade-off with the war-hugging Joe Lieberman. Make a statement of Senate intent with a majority.

Lastly, I think Hillary Clinton is sincere in her view that designating the IRGC a terrorist entity helps diplomacy. I disagree -- but I get her point. She needs to know that the IRGC, however, is not a small entity within the Iranian military. It essentially is Iran's military -- the former veneer of which is inconsequential today in military or security matters as the IRGC has hollowed Iran's army out.

But while I can agree to disagree with Clinton's intent on the IRGC, I'm surprised that she doesn't see the imbalance in her actions. She tends to always tilt towards the military edge of diplomacy, the get-tough edge.

Why not draft a resolution that suggests the outline of what the Iranians suggested to us in 2003 -- which was recently profiled in Esquire Magazine's profile of Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann? Why not draft a resolution promising an end to regime change policies if Iran took some some kind of constructive steps. Why not draft letters and resolutions that show the Iranian people some constructive face and an outreached hand if they move their government forward -- rather than relying on tactics that primarily bully and humiliate?

Hillary Clinton is looking more and more like the Democratic nominee -- and it is important that she think this imbalance through. It's not enough to rest on either a Kyl-Lieberman vote or a withering Webb resolution. She has a huge Senate staff and campaign staff that should be drafting the legislative outlines for a bigger picture approach -- if in fact it is the full spectrum of diplomacy with that she really supports.

I hope (and sort of think) she does.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note