a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Past diminishing and well into negative returns…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on April 24th, 2008

…on the value of this Democratic primary campaign. eRobin (“fact-esque”) and others see it differently, seeing the campaign as giving candidates a chance to hear from more voters:

…the more time they’re out there forced to compete for the votes of the people who want to hear about the candidates’ schemes to reverse the damage of the BushCo years, the better off the Democrats are for November.

In the abstract, I’d agree. Here, now, and with respect, I don’t, because I guess I’m not seeing the campaign they’re seeing.

The campaign I’m seeing features Hillary slingshotting rightward off of questions about flag lapel pins, the Iranian nuclear threat — remember, there isn’t one — and appearances and “toughness” generally. What people are likely to remember from Pennsylvania primary isn’t energy policy or college tuition support, but belligerent statements on Iran, “can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”, and the hideous ABC debate (regardless of the crowd outside). The outcome will be either to bloody nominee Obama, or coronate nominee Clinton by overturning the pledged delegate and popular vote count via party elders… like herself. Yes, that would be nominally legit. No, it wouldn’t be good.

I’m particularly appalled by Clinton’s Iran war drum beating and her bizarre extension of a nuclear umbrella over not just Israel — which has its own nuclear weapons — but other Middle East countries. And for using Good Morning America to do it. I gave her the benefit of the doubt once about falling for hypotheticals (re the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario); no more. Congratulations all around — Charles Krauthammer’s “Slim Pickens” fantasy is only two weeks old and already it’s taking shape as future U.S. policy.

In so doing, Hillary has all but single handedly revived the Iranian hardliner position for getting a deterrent of their own. And here’s the beauty part (if you’re a “Left Behind” fan or a Likudnik, that is): all without even trying to get a nuclear free zone including Israel in the Middle East — the only way I’d want an American president to even consider such a step. But wait, that’s not all: she’s also hemming and hawing about how Iran may be undeterrable — something that was a critical (il)logical* step to getting us into the Iraq War.

I surely won’t be pleased about it, but Clinton being more “likely to be bamboozled into another war” may (unfortunately) turn out to be the most accurate assessment I’ve ever made for the record. For all her vaunted experience, the closer I look at her Iran statements, and the more I think about them, the much worse she looks: like someone who is play-acting tough, and like someone who’s playing with fire.

If this kind of talk is punished at the polls, I’ll stand corrected that the Democratic primaries are serving a higher purpose. As it is, McCain could — if he were smart, and so inclined — flank Clinton from the left and undermine her “experience” bullet point with a variation on the “in your heart you know she’s nuts” strategy. After all, he just joked “bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.” She was in earnest. She was talking about using nuclear weapons. And not even in retaliation for an attack on this country.

I’d like her not to.

* Obligatory “by me too.” NOTE: The embedded video collection above includes four clips substantiating the statements about Iran I’m attributing to Senator Clinton. Re Iranian undeterrability, she says in the Olbermann interview “I don’t buy that”, nosirree, but leaves that qualifier out in the Schaefer interview, inviting those viewers to believe the mad mullahs are all itching for a nucular showdown someday.

UPDATE, 4/25: Transcript of 4/23 Clinton exchange with Andrea Schaefer on “Morning Joe” (4th clip in embedded video above). Also, for how two experts think Iran should be addressed, tune in to this dialogue between ISIS Jackie Shire and Ploughshares Fund’s Joe Cirincione.
UPDATE, 5/4: Transcripts of the key parts of all 3 Hillary Clinton clips above (Cuomo=1st clip, Olbermann=2d clip, Schaefer=4th clip) are now here: Cuomo interview (“obliterate”), Olbermann interview (“would provoke a nuclear response”), Schaefer interview (“facts on the ground have changed”). The note above now specifies which interview is which.
UPDATE, 5/28: The Olbermann clip is no longer available in the video collection embedded above.

26 Responses to “Past diminishing and well into negative returns…”

  1. Paul Says:

    Considering Hillary’s refusal to withdraw from a campaign she’s already lost is a mirror of Bush’s refusal to withdraw from a war he’s already lost, I’d say we’d be in for more of the same should she pull some shady trick to get the nomination — just as Bush did to win the election in 2000. It’s the only reason I can see why she’s still running.

  2. mick Says:

    I usually talk about Hillary’s abominable corporate toadying and long-time conservatism (which started in college and which she’s never really abandoned). But you’re absolutely right about her hawkishness and her vehement pro-Israel stance. Last January, she all but promised the Israel lobby that they had but to tell her what positions to take and they could consider them took.
    She is extremely one-sided and simplistic in her thinking, and that can’t be a Good Thing.

  3. eRobin Says:

    I disagree! You are all racist. No, wait – I’m racist. You hate women. How do you feel about African American women and which of us hate America?
    Seriously, re: war and peace
    I’m more dismayed by this ad, which entrenches the American war economy and therefore does more to ensure endless war than Clinton’s comments about Iran. I can only hope that she’s talking about green economy jobs on the trail as she did consistently in PA. I’m hoping that Obama is doing the same.
    I thought the Iran comments clearly pandered to hawks and certainly AIPAC (obliterate!!!) but were also sadly sensible in today’s overheated, misinformed climate. I guess the bottom line for me is that I think we’ve got the same odds of President Obama and President Clinton attacking Iran – which are very small. My vote was based on domestic issues where she runs rings around him. Plus I hate women, no wait …

  4. Nell Says:

    also sadly sensible in today’s overheated, misinformed climate.
    Sorry. Can’t accept someone whose response to an overheated, misinformed climate is to overheat and misinform it further.
    Even if what they end up doing is very, very similar — which I expect — promoting it in the divisive, Republican-talking-points way she’s going at it is bad for the party and bad for the country.

  5. eRobin Says:

    Sorry. Can’t accept someone whose response to an overheated, misinformed climate is to overheat and misinform it further.
    Fair enough although I don’t think she was misinforming – she was operating w/in the context of a dopey question, which, of course, was her choice. The only way she could have gotten out of the question would be to have denied the premise. I saw a congressional candidate in PA do that exact thing and he paid for it for the rest of the campaign. He also won in the end.
    I’d like to hear what Obama has to say about what she said. Staying quiet shouldn’t be an option if this is such a big deal.

  6. Thomas Nephew Says:

    I don’t think she was misinforming
    Well… I guess I do. I’ve transcribed her 4/23 exchange with Andrea Schaefer on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show here; that’s the 4th of the items on the embedded YouTube link in the post. Starting around 5:50 minutes in to that clip, Schaefer reminds Clinton she’d talked differently about Iran last October in a different Philly debate, and asked what changed. (Emphases added.)
    –CLINTON: Well, Andrea, the facts on the ground have changed. You know, I have made it very clear that I would immediately engage in diplomacy on behalf of our relations with Iran to see whether there are any ways that we can work with Iran. Obviously it will the highest priority of mine as President to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons. But if you remember I was asked this question in the debate last Wednesday about what we would do if Iran launched a nuclear attack against Israel. Since October, Iran is stronger; clearly they continue to try to throw their weight around in the world; there’s no doubt that they will pursue if they can, figure out how to obtain a nuclear weapon, and I think we need to practice what worked in the Cold War, namely deterrence. And for that you’ve got to be very clear, because there’s been a number of commentators who’ve speculated that maybe Iran is not deterrable, that if it gets nuclear weapons, they might have some kind of a, you know, martyrdom complex that would actually encourage them to use them against Israel or others, and I think they have to know from the very beginning that that would be a grave, grave error.
    Clinton is overturning the NIE, which says Iran is open to persuasion on nuclear weapons, and has not been developing them for many years. She’s reviving, at least for credulous public consumption, the canard that Iran in particular and Muslims generally aren’t deterrable. The former is a fairly exact rerun of her thinking on Iraq; the latter reprises an important element of Ken Pollack’s arguments about Saddam.
    Staying quiet shouldn’t be an option if this is such a big deal.
    If? I realize it’s not making the headlines much, or the A-list much. (Yglesias mentioned it, but is +/- OK with it. I’m not.) But this isn’t about finding equivalencies, this ought to be about drawing the line at nuclear saber rattling as a campaign tactic. Obama hasn’t done that — quite the opposite. Clinton jumped down Obama’s throat a while back when he (rightly) took nuclear weapons off the table as an anti-Al-Qaeda tactic.
    It seems clear to me that what’s changed since last October is mainly that she’s behind Obama in the delegate count. If so, it’s reprehensible. Clinton is buying into the view that Iran is “throwing its weight around” in its own region, and is willing to coolly discuss nuclear attacks to spank them for that. This is all without even going into the loose talk about extending nuclear umbrellas to Bahrain, and without going into her notion of “testing” Iran on that.
    [return to “Past diminishing and well into negative returns“]

  7. eRobin Says:

    So we agree that she could have denied the question but chose not to. It’s the question that denies the NIE. Answering it at all is what gets people into trouble.
    Obama was smarter – or perhaps cagier. Did he take using nuclear weapons off the table or did he say that he wouldn’t address the hypothetical?
    “I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance” in Afghanistan or Pakistan, Obama said. He then added that he would not use such weapons in situations “involving civilians.”
    “Let me scratch that,” he said. “There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.”
    Obama (Ill.) was responding to a question by the Associated Press about whether there was any circumstance in which he would be prepared or willing to use nuclear weapons in Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat terrorism and bin Laden.
    “There’s been no discussion of using nuclear weapons, and that’s not a hypothetical that I’m going to discuss,” Obama said. When asked whether his answer also applied to the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons, he said it did.

    I’m not a hawk and remember I don’t like either of these candidates. I’m waist-deep in lesser-evil territory. I’m only arguing this b/c I don’t think that Obama is any better than Clinton on this issue. That is to say that I don’t think either will attack Iran or use nuclear weapons – so they’re equally good I guess. The difference seems to be to me that she is openly wedded to this idea of peace-through-strength deterrence and he’s avoiding the issue by refusing to address a hypothetical. My two cents – I’m not a foreign policy expert by any stretch of the imagination.

  8. Thomas Nephew Says:

    It’s the question that denies the NIE. Answering it at all is what gets people into trouble.
    But it’s not just the question that denies the NIE, it’s Clinton’s answer — starting with the claim that “the facts on the ground have changed,” and continuing particularly with the “there’s no doubt” claim that they will pursue a nuclear weapon. That’s close to the opposite of the NIE which said Iran was (a) not developing nukes and (b) did “cost benefit analysis” (IIRC) in deciding what to do.
    Of the two, the first is worse, because she pretty clearly does a bait and switch: “the facts on the ground have changed” practically implied there was some secret Iranian underground lab Hillary knew about. What she serves up a minute later is Iran “throwing its weight around” — that gives her license to speak of obliterating Iran instead of simply setting people straight that Iran can’t nuke Israel?!
    I know you’re not a hawk — of course! And neither am I a foreign policy expert. But when I compare Clinton’s quote and Obama’s quote I see Clinton engaging in dangerous, ugly bluster — and fear-mongering the American public in the process — and Obama doing the opposite. So I think Obama simply is better than Clinton on these things — it happens! I’d shorthand it as him not being caught up in trying to prove how tough he is. I think your quote of him shows that too.
    Look, I don’t think Clinton dreams of nuking Tehran. But I do think she could be more easily persuaded — like LBJ was about Viet Nam — that she needs to show “strength” and “resolve” and all that, and to start climbing that old “escalation ladder,” under the illusion that that’s part of deterrence too, and under the illusion it can be controlled with some kind of precise choreography. That’s what all her pseudo-tough talk suggests to me. Maybe those “35 generals” she likes to mention are feeding her this stuff, but she’s eating it up.

  9. Nell Says:

    Not directly on this issue but closely related, a good post from Jim Henley.

  10. eRobin Says:

    And further along similar lines there is Paradox

  11. eRobin Says:

    What the heck?? Try this. And I’ll try Preview.

  12. Thomas Nephew Says:

    I liked the wisteria too. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thanks, Nell and eRobin, for the links to those posts, both are worthwhile food for thought. For variety, here’s a surprisingly optimistic piece (“Obama’s Sweeping Foreign Policy Critique”) by Spencer Ackerman in TAP. Ackerman hopes/believes Obama will follow through on his 1/31 LA debate statement, “I don’t want to just end the war… but I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place.” The catchword “dignity” and the alleged rejection of “the politics of fear” mentioned by Ackerman may be just buzzwords or shorthand, and may not predict what an Obama administration will actually do with high precision. But if they’re really in common use among the Obama team, they represent higher aspirations and less fearfulness than alternatives like “obliterate” and “may not be deterrable.”

  13. the talking dog Says:

    The problem is that Sen. Clinton– unlike Obama, and indeed, unlike even Sen. McCain, stands FOR NOTHING, short of the short-term political benefits of saying whatever it is she thinks it is at the moment (and this includes her supposedly “better domestic agenda”, which, from where I sit, appears to be the identical domestic agenda of Obama). Bill was kind of like that too. For eight long years as President, and continuing to this day.
    Which is exactly the point about Thomas’s observation that McCain was joking with “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” (albeit in bad taste). We cannot possibly figure out if Hillary is serious in this statement about bombiing Iran– or in any other statement, including her vote FOR THE IRAQ WAR (still a reason to automatically disqualify her from the Democratic nomination, boys and girls)…
    The press loves a good horse-race, which is why it continues to feed the fantasy that Hillary still has anything more than a snowball’s chance in Fiji of pulling out the nomination in 2008 (rather than what she is actually trying to do: take the bloom off Obama and bloody him up so McCain wins now so she can come back and save us all in ’12). Oh yes… that last thing…
    The problem is of course (to go all “Strangelove” again and quote President Muffly Merkins) that she is freely talking about behaving like “the biggest war criminal since Adolf Hitler”… and doing it on Good Morning America (thank YOU Charlie Gibson and Georgie Stephanopolous). But then, why shouldn’t she? The only thing she stands for is what she thinks sounds good in the political present. And it’s beenn third and long for a long time… why not call “the bomb”?

  14. mick Says:

    dog, i’m really afraid that if you truly believe Obama is any better than Hill, you’re going to be seriously disappointed. BO is a follower, not a leader, rhetoric aside. If he’s pushed by AIPAC and/or the DLC/BD Alliance, he’ll most likely do what he’s done up to now – fold like an accordion – and nuclear weapons will suddenly be on his agenda regardless of how many months he said they wouldn’t be.
    He isn’t who you think he is. He’s basically HillaryLite, and I could make a pretty good argument that, like Reagan, Hillary’s bark is worse than her bite will probably be.
    But the fact is they’re both piss-poor candidates and scary presidential material. They’re both right-wing corporate enablers, they’re both hawks. But Hillary’s positions are obvious despite what she says, and Obama’s devotees are so busy gurgling over the way he talks they haven’t even begun to pay attention to what he does. And what he does is support AIPAC and corporate extortion.
    The sole positive value of these two looming disasters is that no matter how bad they are, Bush was worse – and so is McCain since he wants to follow in Bushie’s footsteps.
    Rob, you ain’t “waist-deep in lesser-evil territory”. You’re up to your eyeballs. So aren’t we all.

  15. eRobin Says:

    The sole positive value of these two looming disasters …
    As a resident of Pennsylvania, I cling to my gun, my god, my distrust of people who do not look like me (which is everyone b/c I really am quite attractive) and the fervent hope that once either Hillary or Obama is in office s/he will become the Roosevelt we all need (minus all the bad stuff and the world war) to lead us into a bright future. I’m a pain in the ass Obama-denier (He tells me it’s b/c I’m old and racist, who knew?) but I’m also at heart an optimist.

  16. mick Says:

    My, you are just a mass of contradictions (tho very attractive, true). Unfortunately, whichever of the Democratic Goldwater rightists wins the election, they will win it because of a massive crossover from the GOP. Which, in turn, means that the DLC/BD Alliance will get much stronger than it is now and the Donkeys will get moved even further to the right.
    The Roosevelt Democrats have been ejected from the party, probably forever.
    But never mind. Keep hoping.

  17. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Unfortunately, whichever of the Democratic Goldwater rightists wins the election, they will win it because of a massive crossover from the GOP. Which, in turn, means
    …also, possibly, that some former GOP supporters are changing their minds about things, too, and see the Dem candidate as an alternative. That’s not unfortunate — if the beneficiary remembers to (continue to) give them a choice between a Republican and a Democrat, not a Republican and a Republican. For what little it’s worth, I see Clinton as more of an LBJ type than a flat out Goldwater type. That may be bad enough of course — I include both a generally well-intentioned (IMO) focus on domestic programs, the risk of bamboozlement on foreign affairs, and the risk of escalation of conflicts — but it’s still recognizably Democratic. (Esp. since LBJ wasn’t averse to helping out the corporations of his day, either — e.g., Brown & Root, as I recall.) Since one analogy for everyone’s target practice is enough, I’ll not offer a historical analogy for Obama at this time.
    So I join eRobin in hoping for change I can believe in. ๐Ÿ™‚ However, while I agree that I don’t look like her, I am in fact even more attractive than she is, in a smoldering, George Clooney/Gregory Peck sort of way.

  18. eRobin Says:

    For what little it’s worth, I see Clinton as more of an LBJ type than a flat out Goldwater type.
    I wish! And if she were even half as effective at he was, we’d be all set. Mmmmmm … health care …
    I am in fact even more attractive than she is, in a smoldering, George Clooney/Gregory Peck sort of way.

  19. mick Says:

    That’s not unfortunate — if the beneficiary remembers to (continue to) give them a choice between a Republican and a Democrat, not a Republican and a Republican.
    Wal, podner, ye’re askin’ a lot. Wouldn’t count mah chikkens. Ah’d set on mah front porch and wait fer a not-Republican to walk by – should Ah ever see one, might mean somethin’. Then agin, might not.
    For what little it’s worth, I see Clinton as more of an LBJ type than a flat out Goldwater type.
    The Goldwater analogy was tongue-in-cheek but an LBJ comparison won’t hold water either. LBJ was one of the last of the Southern Yellow Dog FDR Democrats. Clinton has way more in common with New Gingrich than she does with LBJ. They’re both “visionaries”.
    I am in fact even more attractive than she is, in a smoldering, George Clooney/Gregory Peck sort of way….
    Well, I’ve seen her and she’s gorgeous. I haven’t seen you but I have seen your picture and all I can say is, if your description is accurate your pictures don’t do you justice.
    At all.
    Not even a little.

  20. Thomas Nephew Says:

    You know, I was telling George the same thing the other day — our pictures just don’t do us justice.

  21. Iris Says:

    I can’t stand the woman. There is no doubt in my mind that she is doing irreparable damage to party unity, and she is diminishing the positive gains the Democratic Party has made in the past several years. It’s gotten so bad I turn off the radio when I hear her voice. If Obama loses the nomination I will be heartbroken, but if McCaine wins the election, I never want to see Hillary and Bill again. They can move to Guam.

  22. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Good to hear from you, Iris.
    I’m torn about the “party unity” point you make. I think Hillary sees it as not giving up in the 4th quarter, even if you’re 8 points down with a minute left. What I object to is how she tries to win — e.g., Iran war bluster, gas tax pander — not that she tries to win.
    But that may be your point too.

  23. Iris Says:

    Happy to be back, I’ve been busy but there’s nothing like a presidential race to get one back to the blogosphere.
    Yes, I see your point, but there is no dividing Hillary’s wish to win from her way of doing it. She rallies her faithful with epithets against Obama’s democratic support (her current attacks call them “elitists”), and once you rev a person with invidious remarks, there’s no putting the brakes on who feels victimized: the pro-hillary group feels attacked by elitists, and so-called “elitists” are entirely alienated from Hillary. It is entirely plausible that this extended infighting will make it impossible for certain democratic constituencies to support the other candidate should they win the nomination.
    Barring catastrophe or “the Nuclear option” as Huffpo is calling it, Obama wins the nomination, but at this point he’s being called a weak, hypocritical and racist by members of his own party, and don’t even get me started on the media love fest with Wright. The Democratic Party will waste precious resources in the fall trying to patch up the would dealt during the Primary season, and McCaine being given loads of free time to rest his prostate and prepare to “denounce” the slanderous attacks against his opponent.

  24. Iris Says:

    mmmm, that was cranky. Note to self: don’t post at 2am!

  25. Thomas Nephew Says:

    It’s a blog, it’s a comment thread on a blog. A little cranky now and then is OK.

  26. » Blog Archive » Department of followups: obliteration, Altstoetter, UPDATE: Zimbabwe Says:

    […] Past diminishing and well into negative returns…, April 24, 2008 — Responding to Senator Clinton’s threat to “obliterate” Iran if it were to attack Israel,* Iranian cleric and “Assembly of Experts” member Ahmed Khatami said: A disreputable American (presidential) candidate has said that if Iran attacks Israel, she will obliterate Iran if she is the president. I tell the American people, it is a shame for them that their presidents are servants of Israel without any willpower. […]

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> -- (comment rules)