The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Can She Pull the Trigger?

I like Hillary Clinton. She’s a smart and competent politician who has her eye on the prize. She works hard to navigate Democratic party politics, throwing a bone to the angry left base of the party, but always scurrying back to the center (well, maybe left-center), recognizing that the Presidency cannot be won with sophomoric, far left rhetoric or ideas.

But Hillary is falling into the same trap that did in the Democrats in 2004. In recent speeches, she panders to the hate-Bush crowd, arguing that the Bush administration is ”the worst” in history. Okay, that’s politics, but it might be a good idea to suggest how the Dems could do better. Specifically, unequivocally, and without abstraction. She (and every other Democratic leader) simply takes a pass on constructive criticism. This does not inspire confidence.

Unlike John Kerry, who only looks backward (he’s still castigating the administration for not capturing Osama in Tora Bora in 2001), Hillary does look at current domestic politics and international challenges, but her comments offer little in the way of new ideas. The New York Times (19 January 2006) quotes Hillary:

"I believe that we lost critical time in dealing with Iran because the White House chose to downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations. I don't believe you face threats like Iran or North Korea by outsourcing it to others and standing on the sidelines…

"Let's be clear about the threat we face. A nuclear Iran is a danger to Israel, to its neighbors and beyond …

"We cannot and should not - must not - permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons. In order to prevent that from occurring, we must have more support vigorously and publicly expressed by China and Russia, and we must move as quickly as feasible for sanctions in the United Nations."

It’s encouraging to hear a Democrat talk tough about Iran, although it’s ironic that a major figure in Democratic party (a party that roundly criticized the Administration’s go-it-alone international strategy) now criticizes Bush for allowing the EU to take the lead in diplomatic efforts. Okay, that’s just more politics.

What troubles me is Hillary’s naïve reliance on the UN as an effective mechanism for dealing with the Iran problem. (It’s only fair to note that at the moment the Bush administration is doing that as well.)

As The Belmont Club Blog correctly notes:

Perhaps one of the reasons the US adopted the military approach against terrorism and struck at targets amenable to the application of force was that it was obliged to use the only instruments of national power which reliably worked. They had a bureaucratic repertoire which in any case was all they could play. All the talk about "nuanced" or "sophisticated" approaches evaded the fact that there were no effective policy instruments between a diplomatic note and sending in the Marines.

Is Hillary being nuanced here? Does she honestly believe that this problem can be resolved through the UN? If she does, then I’m worried. If she’s as smart as I think she is, she realizes that the “bureaucratic repertoire” won’t work in this situation, but she’s kicking the can down the road, not willing (politically or emotionally) to pull the trigger (pun intended).

As Ruel Gerecht notes in The Weekly Standard:

It's a very good bet that the U.S. officials now running America's Iran policy would rather see the clerics go nuclear than deal with the world the day after Washington begins bombing Iran's atomic-weapons and ballistic-missile facilities. ...

I believe that Hillary (and every other Democrat) feels exactly the same way. I also believe that when only bad options exist, you have to choose the least bad and move forward, not sideways. If the Dems (and Hillary) want to lead at a national level, they’ve got to convince many of us that they have the will to pull the trigger while there’s still time to do so.