The Candidates on Iran

According to the Wall Street Journal, Iran will very likely be in the spotlight during today’s Congressional testimony by Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. Since all three remaining presidential candidates will also be in attendance, that means the hearings are sure to highlight their differences not only on Iraq policy going forward, but also on Iran policy.

This Foreign Policy in Focus backgrounder gives a pretty good rundown of where they stand. The editorial slant is definitely towards engagement with Tehran, but it’s important to remember that insofar as we’re already engaged with Iran on Iraq security (the Iranian Foreign Minister just acknowledged receiving an invitation to another security conference in Baghdad), engagement is not such a farfetched notion.

Among the clearest distinction between the candidates, McCain’s more hardline approach towards sanctions and containment jumps out. I’m curious whether he’s on the record regarding engaging Iran in the limited context of ongoing security arrangements in Iraq. Anyone with a link, feel free to pass it on through the “Contact” button at the top of the page.

As for Obama and Clinton, their major difference, beyond Obama’s more guarded tone regarding Iran’s nuclear intentions, is whether or not to attach pre-conditions to opening broader negotiations. Obama suggests they’re counter-productive, whereas Clinton feels it would offer Tehran legitimacy with nothing guaranteed in return. I think that given the balance of forces, the propaganda value of a magnanimous American offer works more in our favor than in Iran’s, but it’s a valid point for debate.

The article also observes that Clinton’s position towards Iran (like her stance on the Iraq War) seems to waver between hardline confrontation and conciliatory engagement:

Particularly troubling about the juxtaposition of this approach with her willingness to pursue diplomatic means is that the difference between Clinton the dove and Clinton the hawk seems to be largely contingent on the latest opinion polls. When it was politically expedient for her to support the Iraq war and Kyl-Lieberman, she did so. When the war in Iraq became unpopular, she became an opponent of the war. Similarly, when the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, she moderated her Iran rhetoric, largely by ceasing to talk about the country.

So of the three, Clinton probably has the most work to do to formulate and articulate a coherent position. It will be interesting to see whether the hawk or the dove (or both) shows up to the hearings.

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