The high profile battle over congressional efforts to extend and strengthen sanctions against Iran if it fails to dismantle its nuclear weapons program has ominous implications for Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 candidacy.
President Barack Obama’s high-profile veto threat, delivered in his State of the Union speech last week, and the media attention given to New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez’s threat to move ahead anyway, make this issue the most important early battle between the new Republican Congress and Obama.
Menendez’s rhetoric has increased in volume, ferocity, and accuracy as he said: "The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Iran."
This polarization has made it increasingly impossible for Hillary to fudge her position on sanctions, as she has been doing for years. Recognizing this fact, right after Obama spoke, Hillary backed him up by calling further congressional action on sanctions a "serious strategic error" and warning that it would "guarantee diplomacy fails" and that it might be the "catalyst for the collapse of negotiations."
In the past, Hillary has publicly proclaimed her backing for tough sanctions and even taken credit for their effectiveness. But all the while she has been privately sending her lobbyists up to Capitol Hill to battle against them.
In fact, when Congress was considering the most effective of the sanctions imposed on Iran, legislation that targeted Iran’s Central Bank and made it more difficult for Tehran to sell its oil, Hillary sent her people up to the Hill to testify against the proposals.
They argued that making it more difficult for Iran to sell oil might drive up prices and unintentionally give Iran a windfall profit. Wendy Sherman, Hillary’s under secretary of state, explained this convoluted logic by saying there absolutely is a risk that the price of oil would go up, which would mean that Iran would, in fact, have more money to fuel its nuclear ambitions, not less.
We all know how that worked out.
But while Hillary’s people pushed Congress to go slow on sanctions, she took credit for their effectiveness in her book, "Hard Choices." Until now, she has been able to have it both ways: seeming to back sanctions while really opposing them.
But with a high-profile confrontation looming between Congress and Obama over sanctions, Hillary’s deft dance can no longer be sustained. If Congress passes sanctions and Obama, with Hillary’s approbation, vetoes the legislation (and it is not overridden), then Hillary will have made herself responsible for the outcome of the process. If Iran does go nuclear or refuses to dismantle any of its centrifuges, Hillary will have to defend the ayatollah’s actions from the campaign trail, a hazardous undertaking for a candidate for president.
Democrats had hoped that the first big confrontation between the newly elected Republican Congress and the president would come over a government shutdown, where the administration could portray its opponents as in the grip of the tea party. For their part, Republicans sought to avoid the shutdown trap and were looking toward the Keystone pipeline as the leading issue.
But, now, Iran sanctions have come to the fore and loom large on center stage.
And Hillary is tied to Obama on the issue. Where he goes, she will follow.
The careful distancing of herself from the failures in the administration's foreign policy is no longer an option for Hillary. Appeasing Iran is her plan now.
Morris, who served as adviser to former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) and former President Bill Clinton, is the author of 17 books, including his latest, "Power Grab: Obama’s Dangerous Plan for a One Party Nation" and "Here Come the Black Helicopters." To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.
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