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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Analysis: Taking Iran 'Off the Table'

Council on Foreign Relations

December 13, 2007
Author: Joanna Klonsky, Campaign 2008 Staff

Although Iraq was supposed to be the definitive issue for the 2008 campaign, from the outset Iran seemed to present the biggest national security test for all candidates. Republicans assured voters they were ready to take military action to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program, while top-tier Democratic candidates stressed military force could not be ruled out as a preventive tool.

But the December 3 release of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) indicating that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003 forced the candidates to clarify their views. The biggest stir was among Democrats, where contenders who long trailed Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the polls saw a chance to exploit her perceived hawkishness on Iran. While Clinton said she was “relieved” at the NIE’s findings, the report may have done more damage to her campaign than to any other. The barrage of criticism that followed her vote in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman resolution, a nonbinding Senate measure that designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, was just beginning to subside when the NIE catapulted the issue back into her opponents’ talking points. In the December 4 Democratic debate hosted by NPR, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) pointed to Clinton’s cautious language on Iran as indicative of what he believes are her true sentiments. Biden chided Clinton for merely opposing the “rush to war,” rather than coming out unequivocally against striking Iran.

Also in that debate, Clinton again had to go on the defensive with regard to her Kyl-Lieberman vote, insisting that the bill “did not in any way authorize the president to take any action that would lead to war.” She said as a result of labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, “We've actually seen some changes in their behavior.”

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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