Edwards vs. Clinton: Indecision 2008.
BY JAMES TARANTO
The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, February 8, 2007
When NBC's Tim Russert asked John Edwards on Sunday if he, as president, would accept a nuclear-armed Iran, the silver-tongued lawyer got tongue-tied: "I--there's no answer to that question at this moment. I think that it's a--it's a--it's a very bad thing for Iran to get a nuclear weapon. I think we have--we have many steps in front of us that have not been used. We ought to negotiate directly with the Iranians, which has not, not been done. The things that I just talked about, I think, are the right approach in dealing with Iran. And then we'll, we'll see what the result is. . . . I think--I think the--we don't know, and you have to make a judgment as you go along, and that's what I would do as president."
Less than two weeks earlier, Mr. Edwards had spoken by satellite to Israel's annual Herzliya Conference. "Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons. . . . To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep all options on the table. Let me reiterate--all options must remain on the table."
Why did Mr. Edwards's views morph so quickly from hawkish to weaselly? Probably because confrontation with Iran is very unpopular among the Democratic antiwar base. Last week Ezra Klein of The American Prospect, a left-liberal magazine, confronted Mr. Edwards about the Herzliya speech, and the candidate waffled. Although allowing that "it would be foolish for any American president to ever take any option off the table," he offered this criticism of President Bush: "When he uses this kind of language 'options are on the table,' he does it in a very threatening kind of way." Does Mr. Edwards mean to be docile?
Mr. Klein asked if America can live with a nuclear Iran. "I'm not ready to cross that bridge yet," Mr. Edwards answered. There's a world of difference between the unequivocal "under no circumstances" and the coy "I'm not ready." And that "yet" suggests it is only a matter of time before he does cross the bridge.
Mr. Edwards is not the only Democratic presidential candidate without a comprehensible position on Iran. Last week Hillary Clinton spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Heather Robinson of PoliticalMavens.com reported that Mrs. Clinton said: "There are many, including our president, who reject any engagement with Iran and Syria. I believe that is a good-faith position to take, but I'm not sure it's the smart strategy that'll take us to the goal we share. What do I mean by engagement or some kind of process? I'm not sure anything positive would come out of it . . . but there are a number of factors that argue for doing what I'm suggesting." Whatever that may be.
Mr. Edwards and Mrs. Clinton have something else in common: Both voted for the Iraq war in 2002, and both turned against it only after it became unpopular. On Iraq, they followed public opinion; on Iran, they are waiting to be led.
Pandering to public sentiment may be fine for a senator, but the president needs to be able to make decisions in the national interest--which sometimes means shaping public opinion, sometimes defying it. Mr. Bush has done both, whether or not his decisions were wise ones.
Perhaps voters next year, chastened by Mr. Bush's dangerous boldness, will opt for someone more risk-averse. But if a crisis arises and the president proves unable to lead, they may find themselves longing for Mr. Bush's steadfastness. An excess of caution is itself a form of recklessness.
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