Clinton, Looking Forward To General Election, Votes Like A Hawk
Sens. Joseph Biden and Chris Dodd voted against it. Sen. Barack Obama said he would have voted against it if he had voted. Former Sen. John Edwards implied he would have voted against it if he could have voted.
And Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton? She voted in favor of the measure in question, which asked the Bush administration to declare Iran's 125,000-member Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization. Such a move - more hawkish than even most of the Bush administration has been willing to venture so far - would intensify America's continuing confrontation with Iran, many foreign policy experts say.
Part of the reason for Clinton's vote, some of her backers say privately, is that she already has shifted from primary mode, when she needs to guard against critics from the left, to general election mode, when she must guard against critics from the right.
That means she is trying to shore up her national security credentials against Republican candidates like Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, and is trying to reassure voters that she would be a tough-minded commander in chief.
By supporting the bill - sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Jon Kyl of Arizona - Clinton also is solidifying crucial support from the pro-Israel lobby.
Clinton voted along with 75 other senators in favor of the bill "in order to apply greater diplomatic pressure on Iran," according to a statement she put out after the vote. "The Revolutionary Guards are deeply involved in Iran's nuclear program and have substantial links with Hezbollah."
Speaking at a town hall meeting Saturday with some 300 people at a high school in Florence, S.C., Clinton again defended her vote on the bill. She said the vote is consistent with her negotiating strategy.
"They are supporting sending weapons into Iraq right now that are used against our troops," she said, adding that the resolution gives an opening to future penalties and "leverage when we negotiate with them."
But Clinton has come under withering criticism for her vote from many Democrats, who say she is implicitly supporting what they see as an attempt by the administration to build a case for war with Iran. And her vote also has set off a debate among foreign policy experts about how best to put pressure on Iran, with some of them saying that Clinton, along with a big majority of the Senate, has gone too far.
"What Sen. Clinton and the other legislators who voted for this bill don't seem to realize is that the Revolutionary Guards are not al Qaeda," said Karim Sadjapour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "They're not a group of voluntary jihadists signing up to fight the United States. Many are conscripts taken from the regular army."
Sadjapour, an Iranian American, and some other experts argue that the rank and file of the Revolutionary Guards are far more representative of Iranian society than most Americans realize. So labeling Iran's elite fighters as terrorists is a move that is more likely to drive the Iranian population closer to the country's hard-liners.
Even within the Bush administration, there is debate about whether designating the entire Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization is a good idea.
While some White House officials and some members of Vice President Dick Cheney's staff have been pushing to blacklist the whole Revolutionary Guard, administration officials said, officials at the State and Treasury departments have been pushing a narrower approach that would list only the Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force and, perhaps, companies and organizations with financial ties to that group.
The designation would make it easier for the United States to block financial accounts and other assets controlled by the group. But most of America's partners in a big diplomatic push to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions don't like the idea at all, arguing that it might hamstring any number of business ventures with the country. In addition, some European diplomats argue that the move could further alienate the Iranian population.
Clinton has come under attack from the anti-war flank of her party. Among their objections, her opponents say the vote could be used by the White House to justify a military strike on Iran. In a column in the New Hampshire Union Leader, Obama, who did not vote, called Clinton "the only Democratic presidential candidate to support this reckless amendment."
Biden was milder but still critical of the bill.
"I do not think the suggestion that the president designate an arm of the government of Iran as a 'terrorist' entity provides any authority to do anything - after all, it is a nonbinding measure," he said on the Senate floor before opposing the bill Sept. 26. "But this administration has an unduly broad view of the scope of executive power, particularly in time of war."
In the statement she released after the vote, Clinton spoke of the need for "robust diplomacy" with Iran and warned Bush that he should not think that "the 2001 resolution authorizing force after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in any way authorizes force against Iran. If the administration believes that any use of force against Iran is necessary, the president must come to Congress to seek that authority."
Clinton concluded: "Nothing in this resolution changes that."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
© 2007 The San Francisco Chronicle