It’s no coincidence that the two most-repeated Clinton quotes of the past day are:
1) “Who do you think has what it takes?”
2) “I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran. … In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”
To be fair, the second bit is ripped from context. It’s meant to be a conditional— if Iran attacked Israel, then the U.S. would attack Iran. But Clinton uses much stronger language than ever before. And as Jake Tapper points out, she contradicts her own previous statement in an October debate that “I do not believe people running for president should engage in hypotheticals.” When pushed on whether there are any conditions under which she would attack Iran, Clinton refused to answer. Now that caution is gone.
What accounts for the shift in rhetoric? It’s all part of her closing argument : Barack Obama is a wimp. That was the implication of the “Kitchen” ad— do you really want Obama dealing with Osama? —and it’s also the subtext of her Iran remarks. The reason she chose Iran, presumably, is that Iran is one foreign-policy issue on which you can’t look too hawkish. As Ben Smith puts it , she’s “almost daring Obama to criticize her as going overboard.” Obama is already controversial among some Jewish leaders for what they see as a less-than-perfect stance on Israel (although many think he’s just fine ) as well as his connections with Rev. Wright and pseudo-endorsement by Louis Farrakhan. This, like the Olympics boycott, is one issue on which Obama is not likely to challenge her aggressively.
It will be interesting to watch this debate play out in the general. John McCain would normally be delighted to hear that Clinton is willing to use nuclear deterrence to prevent an attack by Iran (and, yes, she’s talking about nukes ), except now that means he won’t be able to paint her (or Obama) as a softie. So in a sense, Clinton might actually be doing Obama a favor here by pushing the Democratic debate rightward. If Obama can match her hawkishness on Iran—and right now, he really has no choice—he has a better shot at diffusing accusations of wimpery from McCain.