This is madness, on two different levels.
Morally: Seventy million people live in Iran. They are currently ruled by a religious dictatorship covered by a thin veneer of “controlled democracy”: the voters can vote, but only for candidates the mullahs approve in advance. Threatening to “obliterate” them because of an action by the government they didn’t choose means offering to outbid Hitler, Stalin, and Mao in the mass-murderer auction.
Diplomatically: The current Iranian regime has an unsure grip on power. Younger people and the educated urban elite (think of it as the Iranian version of the Obama constituency) hates the current ruling clique and would like to move toward democracy and civil liberty. Iran’s wealth and military power make it a key player in the Middle East, and the fact that Iranians aren’t Arabs means that Iran isn’t necessarily part of the anti-Israel coalition. (The Shah was strongly pro-Israel, and that wasn’t what caused him to fall.) Bringing about regime change in Iran by fostering the growth of democratic forces must rank very high on any intelligent list of American foreign policy objectives: much higher, for example, than achieving a stable Iraq.
Even within the current ruling group, Ahmadi-Nejad’s fanatic anti-Western stance is controversial. He could easily lose his position in the elections next year.
Anything that strengthens Ahmadi-Nejad against the less bomb-happy fundamentalists, and anything that strengthens the fundamentalists against the democratic forces, is very bad for the world. A threat from a major American politician to obliterate Iran, which is sure to be repeated endlessly in the state-controlled mass media there, is a gift to the bad guys.
Even during the Cold War, no American President ever explicity threatened to “obliterate” the Soviet Union. Clinton’s comment raises serious questions about her fitness for the office she holds, let alone the one she is seeking. It is precisely because the United States has the biggest stick in the history of the world that we can and must talk softly.
Like the gas tax holiday, “obliterate Iran” is a position that none of Clinton’s sophisticated supporters can embrace. It was designed to please the boobs who confuse bluster with strength, and those Jews so full of hatred of all things Muslim that they have lost hold of whatever moral principles they used to have. Having embraced voodoo economics (and even the Republican idea that listening to experts is elitist) in the gas tax holiday, Clinton has now embraced cowboy diplomacy. (My apologies to any actual cowboys who may read this.)