Clinton's Vote on Iranian Army Unit Draws Fire

A nonbinding resolution that the U.S. Senate passed two weeks ago has become a hot issue among Democrats on the presidential campaign trail.

Hillary Clinton was the only Democratic contender who voted for the resolution, sponsored by Independent Joe Lieberman and Republican Jon Kyl.

It denounces the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, despite the unit being part of Iran's army. Critics call the Senate resolution without precedent, and say it gives a green light to the White House to attack Iran.

It's not clear whether the measure will survive a House-Senate conference committee that's just getting started, but Clinton's opponents are already using it to question her judgment.

Parallels to Iraq Vote?

Five years ago today, the Senate approved the resolution authorizing President Bush to use military force in Iraq. Several Democratic senators who voted for that resolution and who are now presidential contenders have expressed regrets; one who has not is Clinton, the current Democratic front-runner.

When the Senate voted late last month on the resolution the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group, Clinton was the only Democratic presidential candidate who supported it, and once again, she's making no apologies for the vote, which she has had to defend on the campaign trail.

Last Sunday, at a campaign stop in New Hampton, Iowa, Clinton was clearly irritated by a man who questioned her judgment in voting for the Iran resolution. Clinton defended her vote, saying the measure could facilitate diplomatic and economic sanctions against Iran.

But the questions about her judgment began mere hours after Clinton voted for the resolution, later that evening at a Democratic candidates debate in New Hampshire. After John Edwards criticized her vote, Mike Gravel chimed in.

"It is essentially a fig leaf to let George Bush go to war with Iran, and I want to congratulate [Joe] Biden for voting against it, [Christopher] Dodd for voting against it, and I'm ashamed of you, Hillary, for voting for it," Gravel said.

That prompted NBC's Tim Russert, who was moderating the debate, to say, "Sen. Clinton, I want to give you a chance to respond."

"Well, I don't know where to start," she replied. But Clinton showed no regrets about targeting the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

"In what we voted for today, we will have an opportunity to designate it as a terrorist organization, which gives us the options to be able to impose sanctions on the primary leaders to try to begin to put some teeth into all this talk about dealing with Iran," she said.

War Resolutions Prompt Suspicion

Foreign policy expert Steven Clemons has been watching the fallout from Clinton's Iran vote and says he's not surprised that she is being challenged on it. Clemons, of the nonpartisan New America Foundation, says voters are deeply suspicious of congressional resolutions relating to war.

"They're sending a signal [that] they're paying attention to what Congress is doing in terms of enabling the executive branch and recognizing that there's a complicity in the war that we're in today, and it was a complicity five years ago, and many Americans won't stand for it again," Clemons said.

Those suspicions are shared by Sen. James Webb (D-VA). He spoke out against the Iran resolution right before the Senate passed it.

"If we are saying that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are conducting terrorist activities, what we are saying in effect is that the Revolutionary Guards are conducting military activities against us," Webb said.

"This has the danger of becoming a de facto authorization for military force against Iran," he added.

A few days later, Webb got an amendment adopted by the Senate barring any funding for an attack on Iran without congressional approval, and Clinton signed on as a co-sponsor. She also has sought to shore up her credibility on Iran by repeatedly reminding crowds that, in February, she warned President Bush in a speech on the Senate floor not to wage war in Iran without authority from Congress.

Anthony Cordesman, an expert on military affairs in the Middle East, says the contention that Clinton has given President Bush an opening on Iran is unfair.

"There frankly is no conceivable reason to accuse Sen. Clinton of somehow giving a wink and a nod to an attack on Iran, except narrow personal political advantage," Cordesman said.

Still, that hasn't stopped the questions that keep coming on the campaign trail.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: