04/23/2008 03:31 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

How Obama Might Lose

Hopefully Barack Obama is learning that a principle emphasis on style, particularly a post-partisan style, may not be enough to win the nomination without having clear policy differences with Hillary Clinton. But he has squandered those opportunities while Clinton has brilliantly postured herself as seeming to agree with Obama on issues where she is vulnerable, such as Iraq and NAFTA, while emphasizing her signature difference over the popular issue of universal health care. Having erased the issue differences, she has thrown "the kitchen sink" against Obama in order to tarnish his claims to a new political style.

There is little time for Obama to open up a difference on policy that matters to voters. But there is an opportunity. In their last debate, Clinton declared a policy of "massive retaliation" against Iran in the event of a war between Iran and Israel. She extended the same NATO umbrella to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other US allies in the Middle East.

On its face, this was a pledge of unilateral intervention, perhaps including nuclear weapons, if a conflict breaks out between Iran and any American allies in the Middle East. While she was making this pledge, US officials were blaming Iran for masterminding and enabling the killing of American and Iraqi soldiers in Basra and the Green Zone, specifically identifying the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Clinton already had voted to identify the Revolutionary Guard as a "terrorist organization", making an American or Israeli strike on Iran easier to defend.

Clinton was threatening her massive retaliation without a requirement of Congressional consent.

Clinton was using the Cold War code word for atomic or nuclear weapons.

Clinton was extending the NATO nuclear shield to Israel and Arab oil monarchs without Congressional consent.

What exactly would constitute the commencement of hostilities in this case? An Iranian response to an Israeli attack on Teheran's nuclear program? A Tonkin Gulf incident in the Persian Gulf ? What would be the projected casualty levels and costs? What would be the impact on oil supplies and gas prices? What would be the endgame if Iran survived and counter-attacked?

Given this bizarre pandering, Obama could raise the question of whether Clinton has learned anything from the Iraq debacle. Instead, he has been silent for ten days, which implies that he declines to disagree. The media has failed to follow up, implying without the slightest evidence that there is a consensus among Democrats favoring an escalation of the Iraq war. The House and Senate Democratic leadership have been missing in action as well.

Obama has a chance in the next two weeks to question Clinton closely as to what she meant.

None are as important as this one, but there are ample opportunities to sharpen the policy differences:

Clinton still claims that her 2002 Iraq vote was not a vote for war, even though the legislation in question was titled a war authorization bill. Clinton still has produced no documented evidence that she privately opposed NAFTA while First Lady. Clinton still claims late night exhaustion, not outright lying, as the reason she claimed to be under sniper fire at the Bosnia airport. These are not reassuring patterns of leadership in a time of war, recession, and public disillusionment with government.

But Obama's basic problem is that he relies on stylistic differences rather than substantive ones, because he believes he cannot attack Clinton on policy grounds and still maintain his centrist orientation. She senses that, is therefore neutralizing the policy differences, and taking the offensive to demolish his character claims. Between two candidates with personal baggage, she figures the voters will ultimately vote for experience.