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In the first 20 minutes of the NPR Democratic Debate in DeMoines, the candidates tackled Iran and the news that sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies released a report concluding that that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
Mike Gravel comes out swinging: The intelligence community has "drop-kicked the President of the United States" by showing that Iran is not a nuclear threat.
Hillary and Obama are not nearly as ringing, endorsing diplomacy, and making muted criticism of Bush.
Kucinich steps it up: I "was right the first time. . . five years ago I warned there was no evidence against Iraq. . . . Just as the President convinced my colleagues to vote for war in Iraq," so he has convinced them Iran poses a threat.
Later, Kucinich points out that all three frontrunners have said "all options are on the table" with regard to Iran.
Here's the interesting news: Hillary is forced to defend her vote to label Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and a proliferator of mass destruction: "They support Hamas" (that's a different issue) and "it was a nonbinding resolution. . . . there was a broadly based belief that they were PURSUING nuclear weapons."
Hillary calls resolution "aggressive diplomacy."
NPR plays a clip from Hillary's cosigner, Joe Lieberman: "Iran has crossed a red line . . .. they are responsible for killing hundreds of American soldiers. . . we really have to consider military action, perhaps striking bases around Teheran."
Edwards, sounding quite a bit tougher and clearer on the issue than Obama, jumps all over Hillary: "That's diplomacy? Declaring them a terrorist organization?"
Hillary calls the criticism "outlandish" and says it's going "way too far" to criticize the resolution as giving cover to the Administration for a potential war with Iran. She cites "Positive effects of labeling them a terrorist organization" in Iran's backing down on bellicose rhetoric.
MIke Gravel, the most interesting and least diplomatic debate participant, comes out and defends Hamas and Hezbollah as "two elected organizations." Why shouldn't Iran give them aid? "We give unlimited aid to Israel.. . . they [Hamas and Hezbollah] are fighting for their rights."
Edwards points out, helpfully, that "we have a clear division here. Among the Democratic candidates there's only one who voted for this resolution [Hillary], and it's exactly what Dick Cheney wanted."
Hillary does a good job of re-blurring the lines: "We're all against a rush to war" and "I've been advocating diplomacy for two years."
Biden shoots back: "Terminology matters. I'm not advocating not having a rush to war. I'm advocating no war." No rush to war, he points out, means war is a possibility.
That's crucial, because Hillary has managed, somehow, to take both sides on this issue.
Interesting question to Edwards: Does US support for Israel makes it impossible for US to be an honest broker in the MIddle East:
He ignores it.
So do the other candidates, including Kucinich (we already know where Gravel stands). Too bad the moderators let them off the hook. But this is a better, more detailed examination of all topics than we've heard elsewhere. Check out the archived transcript at NPR.