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On Campaign Trail, No Longer On Guard Against Iran?

Iran, a heated subject at the Democrats' YouTube debate in July, could now be fading to the background. (Reuters).

At campaign headquarters across the nation, one can only imagine foreign policy advisers yesterday were busily ripping out the chapter on Iran from their candidate playbooks. The surprise intelligence community turnabout on Tehran's supposed nuclear threat upended one of the fundamental assumptions about the 2008 presidential election on both sides of the aisle -- namely the belief that Iran perhaps even more than Iraq would be the dominant foreign policy issue of the year.

The issue had already to some degree overtaken Iraq in recent months as the most divisive foreign policy question on the Democratic side, where Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) have been assailing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) for voting for a bipartisan non-binding resolution labeling Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. At the Democratic debate in Philadelphia on Oct. 30, the candidates mentioned the word Iran 69 times, compared to 44 for Iraq. With the security situation in Iraq improving, Iran was turning into the next test for how Democrats would take on President Bush.

On the Republican side, candidates have been jockeying to appear toughest on Iran -- even tougher than Bush. During a forum sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition not long ago, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said it was "absolutely necessary" to keep military force on the table, former senator Fred Thompson (Tenn.) said he would "not allow Iran to become a nuclear threat," former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said a military strike was not "some far-flung idea" and in fact "we are poised and ready to act." Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) echoed those remarks, but not as bluntly as he did earlier in the year when he jokingly responded to a question about what to do about Iran by singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" to the tune of "Barbara Ann."

Now suddenly the issue has been transformed. The declassified key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate released yesterday concluded that despite dire assessments by the Bush administration, Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has not restarted it. While Iran continues to develop its uranium enrichment program for civilian use, the intelligence community cast doubt on its ambitions for nuclear weapons at this point. And in an interesting section where the intelligence analysts seem to drift into policy advice, the NIE all but said that diplomacy was more effective with Tehran than previously recognized.

The new conclusions electrified Washington, where it once again raised the question of what policymakers can trust when it comes to intelligence about threats from abroad. But the immediate reaction on the campaign trail was relatively muted as candidates tried to digest the ramifications of the report. The Republican side was particularly silent -- Romney, Thompson and McCain issued no statements on the matter yesterday and spokesmen did not respond to e-mails requesting comment. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, the newly minted first-tier candidate in Iowa, likewise had nothing to say.

Only Giuliani responded to the development, although his statement made no mention of the salient fact that Iran's nuclear weapons program evidently closed down four years ago, focusing instead on its continued enrichment program. "For years now, the Islamic Republic of Iran has defied and played games with every international effort aimed at persuading the country to halt enriching uranium," Giuliani said. "Sanctions and other pressures must be continued and stepped up until Iran complies by halting enrichment activities in a verifiable way."

Democratic candidates predictably enough used the report to bash Bush for trying to rush the country into another war, but they also took the opportunity to jab each other. Edwards and Obama both targeted Clinton, although neither used her name. "This is exactly the reason that we must avoid radical steps like the Kyl-Lieberman bill declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, which needlessly took us closer to war," Edwards said, referring to the resolution sponsored by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). The resolution, which has no force, passed in September by a 76 to 22 vote, with most Democratic senators voting yes along with Clinton. Obama was absent.

Obama, in his statement, harkened back to the 2002 vote to authorize use of force against Iraq, which Clinton voted for and which he spoke against at the time from outside the Senate. The new Iran intelligence estimate, Obama said, "serves as an important reminder of what we learned with the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq: members of Congress must carefully read the intelligence before giving the president any justification to use military force." That was a clear dig at Clinton, who was briefed on the intelligence before the Iraq vote but did not read the full NIE.

Clinton ignored Edwards, but fired back at Obama, who threatens to beat her in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3, according to the latest polls. The Iran assessment, her campaign asserted, "vindicates" her approach to Iran, which it described as a middle road between Bush's bellicosity and Obama's naivete. "Neither saber rattling nor unconditional meetings with Ahmadinejad will stop Iran's nuclear ambitions," Lee Feinstein, the campaign's national security director, said in a statement, referring to a debate comment made by Obama that he would meet with rogue leaders such as Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "Senator Clinton has the strength to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons." Then, in a more direct shot, Clinton told a group of voters in Iowa that Obama's criticism of her vote for the Iran resolution in September rang hollow since he was absent. "If he really thought it was a rush to war, why did he rush to campaign and miss the vote?" she asked.

Under the new paradigm created by the latest intelligence report, Iran may remain an important issue in the campaign, but it looks less like a defining one. If Iran is not even currently seeking nuclear weapons, the prospect of preemptive military action would seem to dissipate and with it the power of the issue in both parties. But if Iran continues to pursue uranium enrichment, it could be one of those issues that ultimately confronts the next president down the road.

-- Peter Baker

By Washington Post editors  |  December 4, 2007; 9:25 AM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , Morning Cheat Sheet  
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With this latest revelation about Iran, it appears that 'foreign policy' is NOT one of Hillary's strong suits. Didn't she tell us that she was 'ready to lead on day one'?

Let's see, Hillary supported George Bush twice with her 'yes' votes on Iraq and the Kyl/Lieberman bill, she voted "NO" against Democratic Senator Carl Levin's amendment, and assuming that she 'knew it all' about that famous NIE Report, she failed to read it.

Is this the kind of 'experience' that we need in the White House? No thank you.

America is tired of the Clintons and their 'baggage'. No more secrecy, scandals, 'planting' questions, and sleazy people like Norman Hsu.

It's time for new leadership, honesty and good judgment. We want Barack Obama to bring dignity and respect back to the White House.

Posted by: WashingtonPete | December 4, 2007 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Though the following essay is rather lengthy (about a 15min read) it indicates to me that the most perceptive man, in terms of foreign policy, running for US president right now is congressman Ron Paul.

Posted by: llaplue | December 4, 2007 5:22 PM | Report abuse

"Welcome to the UN. It's your world." This is how the United Nations' website welcomes the visitors. But for Iranians, it is not their world. It is a world that has been discriminating against them for years. It is a world that has depicted Iran as the devil and has denied its rights.

The world has been convinced that Iran is a threat for its neighbours. This is while for the last 250 years Iran has not attacked any country but has been attacked in many occasions. Most recently, Iran was a victim of chemical weapons supplied by the western powers. More than 100,000 Iranians were killed in those chemical attacks. Not only the world and the United Nations did not come into rescue, an Iranian complaint to the United Nations Security Council was vetoed by the United States . Where was the conscious of the world at that time?

Iranians have been depicted as terrorists. It is a very confusing world for an Iranian. There has been no Iranian involved in any terrorist attacks in the past. Iran does support Hizbollah, but Hizbollah only and only fights inside the borders of his country against foreign military personnel and never against civilians. For an Iranian, it is mind baffling to call that terrorism. In contrast, the United States has shot an Iranian passenger plane over the Persian Gulf , has supplied chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein to be used against Iranians, and has bombed and tortured civilians across the world over the past years. For Iranians, it is a mystery why the United Nations does not consider the US a terror state.

It is advertised that Iran does not agree to suspend uranium enrichment under any condition. Iran did agree to suspend uranium enrichment. The Iranian conditions included disarm the entire Middle East region from nuclear and chemical weapons and give Iran security guarantee against foreign invasion and foreign attempts for regime change. The US did not agree these conditions. What did Iranians think when these two conditions were denied? How did Iranians feel when, knowing that these two conditions have been denied, the United Nations went on to pose sanctions against them? The United Nations denied Iran a security guarantee against invasion, bombs, killing and torture of another country. The United Nations denied Iran sovereignty. Is Iranian blood any different from that of the other nations?

Iranians are not building an arsenal to threaten their neighbours or any other country. For the last 250 years, Iran has not attacked any country. While the majority of Iranians, including the writers, denounce and condemn president Ahmadinejad's comments on Israel and the holocaust, his remarks did not contain a military threat to Israel . He called for the day that "the Zionist regime" (intentionally mistranslated to " Israel " by the western media) is wiped off the map. He continued to explain that by "the Zionist regime" he means a regime that discriminates against non-Jews and is, therefore, racist. He concluded his remarks with wishing for the day that Jews and non-Jews live in peace and harmony in that region. This is not a military threat, and most definitely not a threat against Jews. In the past, Iran has denounced the apartheid regime of South Africa . However, Iran has become one of South Africa 's closest allies as soon as the racist practices have been abandoned there. What makes other nations to believe the same will not happen this time?

Iranians feel that the United Nations is paving the way for the US to destroy another nation, to kill and to torture Iranians. This is not the first time the US has committed such crime. At this critical time, there is nothing left for Iranians but to hope that some day the conscious of the world will awaken and regret these actions.

Posted by: anaverageiranian | December 4, 2007 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Who do you believe among the Democratic Presidential Candidates stands to gain the most from the National Intelligence Estimate Report?


Posted by: jeffboste | December 4, 2007 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Oh, did I mention....

Go Ron Paul! He's long been telling the world that Iran is not a nuclear threat as Clinton, Giuliani, Romney & McCain beat the war drums. Who Do You Trust?

Posted by: smdahl | December 4, 2007 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I think they just like hearing Dr.NO Supporters CRY!
But, but,but---What about Dr. NoooOOOOO?

Seriously now, Folks, it would take an absolute IDIOT, to think Iran is not still a MAJOR threat to the Stability of the Middle East, and even the Western Hemisphere.
There is an Un-Holy alliance between Putin, and his Persian LapDogs_With NOTHING but a Private Lake between them! Our In-ability to patrol the Caspian Sea, and Iran's Influence with Anti-American Parties, is something NO ONE should take lightly.
Personally, I am waiting for Putie's announcement of Missle Installations in Iran, to counter what ONLY he thinks is a threatening defense system being developed in Europe! The Caspian Sea Summit should be a wake-up call for all!

Posted by: rat-the | December 4, 2007 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Why omit the staunchest anti war advocate on the Republican platform Dr Ron Paul? It would seem appropriate to this debate. And the fact that he leads the GOP in terms of support from the military - with almost twice the support of "bomb bomb bomb Iran" Sen McCain. Telephone polls the only reason? But most Paul supporters did not vote in the last GOP Presidential Primary so are excluded from these polls. And of all the online surveys I've seen more than half of Ron Paul's supporters don't have phones with land lines. See h ttp://

Posted by: DrBrianHorsfield | December 4, 2007 10:24 AM | Report abuse

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