Notably, Edwards is reported to have said that Iran is now “the greatest challenge of our generation” and that “Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons.”
Iran threatens the security of Israel and the entire world. Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons. For years, the US hasn’t done enough to deal with what I have seen as a threat from Iran. As my country stayed on the sidelines, these problems got worse. To a large extent, the US abdicated its responsibility to the Europeans. This was a mistake. The Iranian president’s statements such as his description of the Holocaust as a myth and his goals to wipe Israel off the map indicate that Iran is serious about its threats.
Once Iran goes nuclear, other countries in the Middle East will go nuclear, making Israel’s neighborhood much more volatile.
Iran must know that the world won’t back down. The recent UN resolution ordering Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium was not enough. We need meaningful political and economic sanctions. We have muddled along for far too long. To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table, Let me reiterate — ALL options must remain on the table.
This sort of talk has unsettled some people who you would think are among Edwards's natural supporters. Take, for example, this article in the Nation by Ari Berman entitled, Edwards's Iran Problem. This is actually a mild form of the critique:
Such a provocative speech seems out of character for the ‘08 contender, at least in political terms. As he's moving left on Iraq—-by calling on Congress to deny funding for an escalation of troops and advocating the immediate withdrawal of 50,000 US soldiers—-why is Edwards veering right on Iran?
There's a few possible explanations. One, Edwards sincerely believes in a more confrontational Iran policy. Two, he's pandering to win the support and money of hawkish “pro-Israel” voters and donors. Three, he's trying to impress the foreign policy intelligentsia by talking tough.
No matter the rationale, speeches like these won't help Edwards with Democratic primary voters and could potentially injure his presidential prospects. Preventing a war with Iran is as important as getting out of Iraq to many in the peace movement. Indeed, those goals are now intertwined. Edwards can't have it both ways.
The less-mild form, which is floating around too, calls Edwards a sellout to the NeoCons and lambastes him for not saying at least (1) that Iran is still several years away from getting nukes, so we should all calm down and/or (2) that tactical nuclear weapons should be off the table — on the theory that saying any less, much less “ALL options are on the table” just encourages the current administration's worst tendencies, which include being mad enough to nuke Iranian reactors or the like.1
Personally I don't agree with the “greatest” threat stuff — I'd say that the biggest long-run threat to us is global warming; and the biggest short-run problem is getting out of Iraq without making things worse or betraying those who helped us.
On the other hand, you will find a heck of a lot of national security types, and not just neocons, who think that rogue states with nukes are very very very scary. And
- if they are theocratic rogue states that have said Israel should be wiped off the face of the map, and
- if we know for a fact (as we do), that the Israelis will strike first before they allow such a theocratic rogue state to build a nuclear weapon, and
- that there's probably nothing we can say to stop the Israelis from launching that sort of an, especially at present when the Israeli government is so weak (and when lots of folks in our own Pentagon — and not just the political appointees — probably think it's a good idea), and
- if we suspect (as we do) that an Israeli attack on Iran would set off a giant mid-east war, during which our oil supply will at best be disrupted and at worst severely damaged for a long time,
well, then you begin to see why this claim that the Iranian push for nukes is a really big dangerous deal is not nearly as nuts as it might sound, and has little to do with the Bushco attempt to provoke an armed conflict. (Should fear of giving comfort to neo-cons cause someone who believes the above to be plausibly dangerous to choose to stay quiet? I don't see how we can expect that. It begins to sound like the neocons telling us to shut up.)
As for the remark that the US has “abdicated its responsibility and had not done enough to stop Iran” I take that to be part of the “Iraq is distracting us from what matters” line that, again, one hears from national security types who haven't drunk the Cheney Kool-Aid. And if one wants a non-military solution with Iran, the only plausible route to that outcome involves solving the Iraq mess ASAP.
Attacking Iran while in Iraq would be madness; doing so after pulling out of Iraq would be only somewhat less mad. But making threatening noises while trying to entice Iran to the bargaining table is just standard diplomacy. (And, if you read all of Edwards's remarksk, that's clearly what he has in mind: “I would not want to say in advance what we would do, and what I would do as president, but there are other steps that need to be taken. Fore example, we need to support direct engagement with Iranians, we need to be tough. But I think it is a mistake strategically to avoid engagement with Iran.”) So this talk by Edwards strikes me as not so radical or odd, but quite mainstream. Not optimal for my taste, but I can't say that these ideas are unreasonable either. Is there a little pandering going on to US Jews as well? Quite probably. But just a little.
1 The talk about tactical nukes derives from a George W. Bush press conference held April 18, 2006:
Q Sir, when you talk about Iran, and you talk about how you have diplomatic efforts, you also say all options are on the table. Does that include the possibility of a nuclear strike? Is that something that your administration will plan for?
THE PRESIDENT: All options are on the table. We want to solve this issue diplomatically and we're working hard to do so. The best way to do so is, therefore, to be a united effort with countries who recognize the danger of Iran having a nuclear weapon. And that's why we're working very closely with countries like France and Germany and Great Britain. I intend, of course, to bring the subject of Iranian ambitions to have a nuclear weapon with Hu Jintao this Thursday. And we'll continue to work diplomatically to get this problem solved.
See also Seymour M. Hersh in the New Yorker.