THE BLOG
04/25/2008 05:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

When Hillary Clinton Saber Rattles, America Loses

Maybe the media is too busy slicing and dicing the comments of Rev. Jeremiah Wright to pay attention to the muscle-headed comments of Hillary Clinton a few days ago. On Good Morning America on Tuesday, in a response to a question about a hypothetical attack by Iran on Israel, Hillary Clinton warned that "I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran." She continued by saying that "in the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them." Yes, someone said "totally obliterate," and it wasn't a frat guy yelling it at the TV while playing Halo.

What's wrong with this comment? For one, this blogger finds it very curious but not at all surprising that Chris Cuomo thinks it is good journalism to ask a candidate a one-sided question without also asking what she would do if Israel attacked Iran. This is of course a more likely scenario because while Iran has clearly stated that it has no intention of attacking Israel and hasn't attacked another country in more than a hundred years, Israel has repeatedly attacked its neighbors and issued militaristic blackmails against Iran. Is she going to obliterate Israel if it attacks Iran? How about if Iran attacked another country in the region, like Syria? Is she going to have the same kind of reaction? She might as well have made the comments with the backdrop that said "Jewish Votes This Way."

But sadly, Cuomo's question doesn't isolate him as the only mainstream journalist whose coverage on the issue of Iran's nuclear program is shoddy and shamelessly one-sided. American journalists constantly go out of their way and ask the candidates the questions that would lead the candidates to give assurances on Israel. But the bigger point on this comment has to do with why her comment was baseless. First, she referred to Iran's program as "nuclear weapons program." Iran has repeatedly denied that it intends to develop nuclear weapons, IAEA hasn't found any evidence to believe otherwise and America's own intelligence has been self-reversing and inconsistent at best. In light of these facts, there is no basis for her to adopt Bush's and AIPAC's terminology and refer to the program as a "weapons" program.

Secondly, Iran has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under this treaty, it has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. So far, that's what Iran has been doing. If Iran's exercise of its rights to enrich uranium is unacceptable to the U.S., why did it sit aside and allow Iran to become an NPT member in the first place? It's like giving someone a driver's license and then protest if she drives, offer to give them a ride instead and complain if she insists on driving herself. The U.S. cannot allow countries to become members of NPT and then oppose their exercise of their rights under the NPT. So then what is the point?

Hillary Clinton's comment also highlights another flaw in the continuous international nuclear non-dialogue. While the intelligence on Iran's nuclear program is inconclusive, intelligence on Israel's possession of at least 300 nuclear weapons is conclusive. There is a wealth of information on the topic, the stream of which started in 1986 when Mordechai Vanunu, an Israeli nuclear technician revealed the details of Israel's nuclear program to the British press. Hillary Clinton and neo-conservatives warn of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The arms race has already started, and Israel was the country that started it.

But perhaps the most tragic part of all of this is that Israel isn't even a member of NPT. Yes, the United States has allowed one country that isn't a member of NPT to have nuclear weapons and simultaneously wants to stop a NPT member from exercising its legitimate right to enrich uranium, which for all we know is for peaceful purposes. "Hypocrisy" is the word.

Some ask why oil-rich Iran needs to have a nuclear program. First, NPT doesn't require countries to answer this question, and if Iran refuses to answer, that is not a legitimate basis for stripping them of their enrichment rights. Secondly, Iran may have a lot of oil, but it imports its refined oil because it has far fewer refineries than needed. Last year, Iran had to ration gas, a situation that even America has not had to deal with despite the current energy crisis.

Thirdly, Western countries look at the idea of replacing fossil fuels with cleaner sources of energy as virtuous and environmentally-conscious governance. For instance, France produces most of its electricity from nuclear energy and even the United States is building a growing number of nuclear plants, half of which run on dismantled former Soviet Union warheads. But if Iran - the capital of which intermittently tops the list of the most polluted cities in the world - looks at cleaner alternative sources of energy, the U.S. deems it unacceptable. This is rooted in a subconsciously elitist belief system that says if there is to be a renaissance of any kind - including an energy renaissance - it has to happen in the West first before it can happen anywhere else.

Hillary Clinton's comments were based on a series of baseless premises. But the comments, Cuomo's question and in fact the vast majority of coverage on Iran for the past thirty years demonstrate the biggest flaw in the United States' approach to Iran. The U.S. always selects issues to challenge Iran on which the former can least claim the moral high ground. As demonstrated, the nuclear issue is another example of the U.S. picking an issue on which it has taken the most hypocritical positions. Another issue that the United States has no legitimacy on is Iran's refusal to work cooperatively with international bodies. Why should Iran cooperate internationally when the United States itself has refused to join the International Court of Justice and Kyoto Protocol, constantly vetoes U.N. Security Council resolutions against its allies and its own former U.N. Ambassador, John Bolton, at least once said that the United States and Israel don't have any obligation to subject their security to the will of the U.N.?

Despite torture, Guantanamo and domestic wiretapping, the United States' strongest position on which to challenge Iran continues to be Iran's assault on human rights, women's rights, civil society and democracy in general. In fact, it is this blogger's belief that in light of all the detrimental policies that the U.S. has implemented against Iran throughout the years, from its backing of a coup to overthrow democratically elected and popular Mosaddeq in 1953 to its sales of weapons to Iraq to use against Iran in the 1980s, it has a moral obligation to speak up in support of human rights in Iran as it currently does on China, which is not nearly as repressive as Iran. Picking any other fight with Iran will likely be seen as another hypocritical act by the West to serve its own interests under the disguise of war on terrorism or spreading freedom.