Edwards and Iran

EDWARDS AND IRAN….Here is John Edwards two weeks ago, speaking about Iran to the Herzliya Conference in Israel:

Edwards: 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…..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….

Question: ….Would you be prepared, if diplomacy failed, to take further action against Iran?….Secondly, you as grassroots person, who has an understanding of the American people, is there understanding of this threat across US?

Edwards: ….As to what to do, we should not take anything off the table….As to the American people, this is a difficult question. The vast majority of people are concerned about what is going on in Iraq. This will make the American people reticent toward going for Iran. But I think the American people are smart if they are told the truth, and if they trust their president. So Americans can be educated to come along with what needs to be done with Iran.

Italics mine. And I’m left wondering: I don’t think the American people have any real problem with economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure against Iran. So just what is it that Edwards thinks they need to be educated about? Military action?

Now, here is John Edwards speaking to liberal American Prospect reporter Ezra Klein yesterday:

Klein: So, I just want to get it very clear, you think that attacking Iran would be a bad idea?

Edwards: I think would have very bad consequences.

Klein: So when you said that all options are on the table?

Edwards: It would be foolish for any American president to ever take any option off the table.

Klein: Can we live with a nuclear Iran?

Edwards: I’m not ready to cross that bridge yet. I think that we have lots of opportunities that we’ve … We’re not negotiating with them directly, what I just proposed has not been done. We’re not being smart about how we engage with them. But I’m not ready to cross that bridge yet. And I think the reason people react the way they do — I understand it, because, when George Bush uses this kind of language, it means something very different for most people. I mean when he uses this kind of language “options are on the table,” he does it in a very threatening kind of way — with a country that he’s not engaging with or making any serious diplomatic proposals to. I mean I think that he’s just dead wrong about that.

Let me say first off that I like Edwards. I always have. And I’d very much like to go along with the conventional wisdom that he “backed off” his hawkish Iran comments when he talked to the Prospect yesterday.

But, really, does anyone believe that? I don’t. Instead, he was engaging in Politics 101: telling different audiences what they each want to hear. When he’s talking to an Israeli conference, he emphasizes the supreme danger Iran presents and implies strongly that military action is a real possibility, while barely even mentioning the idea of engagement and economic aid. When he’s talking to a liberal American magazine, he emphasizes engagement and economic aid and downplays the possibility of military action as vanishingly unlikely during an Edwards presidency.

Technically, there was no contradiction between what he said in these two venues. At the Israeli conference he did mention direct engagement with Iran, even if it was only in response to a question at the end. And with the Prospect, he did say that all options had to be left on the table — including, presumably, military action. Still, you’d barely know it was the same person talking if you read both conversations with no names attached.

There’s nothing new about this. It’s standard issue politics. But the internet is making this game harder to play, because every word you speak, at every venue, is now easily accessible to people who aren’t quite as jaded about this kind of thing as most political reporters are. People like me. And I’ll tell you: I’d sure feel a lot better if even a small part of Edwards’ comments to the Prospect had made their way into his speech at Herzliya.