Democrats spar over Iran

 In Election 2008, Iran

More than a month after it passed, the Lieberman-Kyl Iran amendment was still a hot topic in this week’s Democratic presidential debate. The rest of the candidates condemned Clinton’s vote in favor, along with her 75 Senate colleagues who supported the amendment, for feeding into the Bush administration’s saber-rattling and potential path to war with Iran. Clinton attempted to defend her support of the controversial amendment:

I am not in favor of this rush for war, but I’m also not in favor of doing nothing. Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is in the forefront of that, as they are in the sponsorship of terrorism. So some may want a false choice between rushing to war — which is the way the Republicans sound; it’s not even a question of whether, it’s a question of when and what weapons to use — and doing nothing. I prefer vigorous diplomacy, and I happen to think economic sanctions are part of vigorous diplomacy. We use them with respect to North Korea. We use them with respect to Libya. And many of us who voted for that resolution said that this is not anything other than an expression of support for using economic sanctions with respect to diplomacy.

You know, several people who were adamantly opposed to the war in Iraq, like Senator Durbin, voted the same way I did and said at the time that if he thought there was even the pretense that could be used from the language in that non-binding resolution to give George Bush any support to go to war, he wouldn’t have voted for it. Neither would I.

So we can argue about what is a non-binding sense of the Senate, and I think that we are missing the point, which is we’ve got to do everything we can to prevent George Bush and the Republicans from doing something on their own to take offensive military action against Iran. I’m prepared to pass legislation that — with my colleagues who are here in the Congress, to try to get some Republicans to join us, to make it abundantly clear that sanctions and diplomacy are the way to go; we reject and do not believe George Bush has any authority to do anything else.

While it is important that Clinton highlights the false dichotomy of military action vs. inaction, she also perpetuates some false assumptions, such as “Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.” Director General of the IAEA Mohammed ElBaradei has said there is no evidence Iran is currently pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Clinton’s emphasis on diplomacy is important, though it is troubling that she, like many other politicians, considers labeling a branch of a government’s military a terrorist organization part of the diplomatic process.

Like Clinton, all of the Democratic candidates indicated their support for diplomacy with Iran, some articulating a more detailed vision than others.  Senator Barack Obama discussed using both carrots and sticks to influence Iran:

The president has been talking about World War III. That is a continuation of the kinds of foreign policy that rejects diplomacy and sees military action as the only tool available to us to influence the region. And what we should be doing is reaching out aggressively to our allies but also talking to our enemies and focusing on those areas where we do not accept their actions, whether it be terrorism or developing nuclear weapons, but also talking to Iran directly about the potential carrots that we can provide, in terms of them being involved in the World Trade Organization, or beginning to look at the possibilities of diplomatic relations being normalized.

We have not made those serious attempts. This kind of resolution does not send the right signal to the region. It doesn’t send the right signal to our allies or our enemies, and as a consequence, I think over the long term it weakens our capacity to influence Iran.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich highlighted a key point in Peace Action West’s position: the US must stop the development of nuclear weapons and work toward disarmament to have credibility in engaging countries such as Iran:

But I would also do — do something further. It is time that the United States government enforced and — and participated in fully the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

We must lead the way and we must have a president who understands the danger of these nuclear weapons, and have America lead the way among all nations towards nuclear abolition. When we do that, we will have the credibility to go to an Iran, and any other nation that may have desire for a nuclear power, to say, look, we want to take it in a different direction; we are not going to stand by and watch our country lost because we are ratcheting up the rhetoric towards war against Iran.

The Democratic debate provided a stark contrast to recent hostile rhetoric from the Republican candidates regarding Iran. The next step, and something Peace Action West has been urging leaders to do, is to rally the American people around a detailed vision of what effective diplomacy looks like, and why it is the only viable way to resolve tensions with Iran.

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