Olbermann Frets at 'Imperial' Hillary's Pledge to Defend Israel vs. Iran

On Thursday's Countdown show, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann seemed worried by Hillary Clinton's pledge during Wednesday's debate that "if Iran attacks Israel, apparently Senator Clinton is going to order massive retaliation." Olbermann suggested Clinton had "set herself up as an imperial President waiting to happen." After the MSNBC host contended that Clinton's pledge "may be further to the right than the Bush administration," liberal talk radio host/MSNBC analyst Rachel Maddow further charged that an "immediate threat by Iran" was merely "invented by neo-cons." Maddow: "Hillary Clinton, of course, put an exclamation point on it by talking about poleaxing our entire approach to foreign policy in order to counteract this immediate threat by Iran, which has been invented by the neo-cons." (Transcript follows)

Referring to the debate, Olbermann teased the April 17 Countdown show: "The only real news, if Iran attacks Israel, apparently Senator Clinton is going to order massive retaliation. Did she set herself up as an imperial President waiting to happen?"

Before one of the commercial breaks, the MSNBC host signaled his disapproval that Clinton's comments on Iran had not received more follow-up at the debate: "Hey, lost about questions about Bosnia and past pastors, Senator Clinton revealed plans to have this country retaliate massively against Iran, if it were to attack Israel?"

After bringing aboard Maddow, Olbermann compared Clinton to John McCain and President Bush: "But this is far, in this sense, if the heading is Iran/Middle East, this is far further to the right than John McCain. This may be far further to the right than the Bush administration policy about the Middle East, which you didn't think was physically possible. Who on Earth, from that political point of view, who could she be appealing to with this? I mean, the superdelegates are going to say, 'This is how we win. We elect a Republican calling herself a Democrat. That's how to do it.'"

Maddow soon blamed "neo-cons" for "inventing" fear of Iran, and charged that Clinton's comments were inspired by conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer: "Hillary Clinton, of course, put an exclamation point on it by talking about pole axing our entire approach to foreign policy in order to counteract this immediate threat by Iran, which has been invented by the neo-cons. ... This was an obvious plant from Charles Krauthammer, it seems to me. He's the one who's put forward this scenario and this proposal."

Monday's Countdown show aired an interview with Clinton which had been recorded earlier in which Olbermann got the chance to bring up Iran with the Democratic Senator:

In that debate, you were asked about a hypothetical Iranian attack on Israel and your hypothetical response as commander-in-chief, and you said, let me read the quote exactly: "I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel. Of course, I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States, but I would do the same with other countries in the region."

Can you clarify, since there was no follow-up to that, which hypothetical Middle East conflicts would incur massive retaliation by this country and what constitutes massive retaliation?

Clinton's response appears in the transcript further down.

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Thursday April 17 and Monday April 21 Countdown show on MSNBC:

From Thursday April 17:

KEITH OLBERMANN, IN OPENING TEASER: The only real news, if Iran attacks Israel, apparently Senator Clinton is going to order massive retaliation. Did she set herself up as an imperial President waiting to happen?
...

OLBERMANN, BEFORE COMMERCIAL BREAK AT 8:15 P.M.: Although Iran might be able to challenge ABC, did Senator Clinton declare war on that country last night? You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
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OLBERMANN, BEFORE COMMERCIAL BREAK AT 8:34 P.M.: Hey, lost about questions about Bosnia and past pastors, Senator Clinton revealed plans to have this country retaliate massively against Iran, if it were to attack Israel? Speaking of retaliation, just when I thought they didn't know who I was, Dick Cheney reveals, "I'm listening."
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OLBERMANN: During last night's roughly one dozen questions about how much taxes upper income Americans might have to pay on earnings or capital gains, there were numerous follow-ups about specific income levels and corresponding tax rates. Our third story tonight, whatever it says about last night's debate, there was not one single follow-up, no request for clarification, when Senator Clinton said that as President she wants to promise that if other countries start fighting in the Middle East, the U.S. will get involved.

HILLARY CLINTON, FROM DEBATE: I think we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel. Of course, I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States. But I would do the same with other countries in the region. You know, we are at a very dangerous point with Iran. The Bush policy has failed. Iran has not been deterred.

OLBERMANN: As a NATO member, the U.S. has committed to the defense of its fellow NATO allies. Senator Clinton last night explained that yes, she is proposing a similar scenario in the far less stable Mideast, saying she would deploy the U.S. military to respond with, quote, "massive retaliation" to an Iranian attack on any country willing to forswear nuclear ambitions. Senator Clinton, parenthetically, in conflict with the most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which said specifically that Iran's nuclear ambitions have been deterred. Whether planned or impromptu, Senator Clinton, in the same answer, proposing a massive worldwide alliance as a deterrent, a proposal similar in its broad strokes to Senator McCain's proposed League of Democracies, a group he says would circumvent the U.N. in order to push western values around the world. Let's bring in MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow, the host of her own program every week night on Air America Radio. Hello, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, LIBERAL TALK RADIO HOST: Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN: After 24 hours of letting this sink in, how in the world is this not the headline out of that debate last night?

MADDOW: This is the greatest burying the lead story we've had yet in the campaign. I mean, the question to be asking is twofold: Number one, why would something like this advance American interests? To make our military, our troops, the bomb that any country can throw into the square in the Middle East whenever they to. As you said, that we will get involved whenever anyone start fighting each other in the Middle East. It is hard to imagine a conception of American interests broad enough to make this a prudent promise to make to the world, particularly to this volatile part of the world. So you have to ask that. But you also have to ask why this advances Senator Clinton's political interests.

OLBERMANN: Yeah.

MADDOW: I mean, this is a huge reorientation of American foreign policy and America's role in the world. Given its enormity, it is surprising to have it, kind of, dropped in sotto voce into debate number 21.

OLBERMANN: By the way.

MADDOW: By the way. No follow-up questions asked last night, no follow-up details today. This is an elephant that has now been shoved into the room.

OLBERMANN: We do have, however, now an explanation for her vote on the Kyl/Lieberman amendment. At least we got that out of the way a year later.

MADDOW: Yes.

OLBERMANN: But this is far, in this sense, if the heading is Iran/Middle East, this is far further to the right than John McCain. This may be far further to the right than the Bush administration policy about the Middle East, which you didn't think was physically possible. Who on Earth, from that political point of view, who could she be appealing to with this? I mean, the superdelegates are going to say, "This is how we win. We elect a Republican calling herself a Democrat. That's how to do it."

MADDOW: Well, yes. I mean, there is a school of thought that says in order for a Democrat to win a presidential election, the Democrat has to be even more hawkish than the Republican in the race. That is a school of thought that I don't ascribe to, but it is a Democratic school of thought. But, you know, even if you once believed that, even if you, you know, looked at the legacy of JFK in order to come to that conclusion, now, in the era of the long war, the Global War on Terror, there's going to be more wars, my friends, and the hundred, thousand, ten thousand year Iraq deployment, I think that this hawkishness common wisdom is drying up. And a Democrat might make some more headway this year by describing American strength and security and leadership that is smarter and less apocalyptic than the constant war model.

OLBERMANN: Or you have to promise to stay longer, like for a google number of years. We will be in Iraq for a gazillion years, and everybody who is not in Iraq will be in Iran.

MADDOW: I want to surge exponentially rather than arithmetically.

OLBERMANN: Exactly, we're going to send 73 million of us over there. Now, she ignored the Iraq NIE before the vote.

MADDOW: Yeah.

OLBERMANN: She is now contradicting the Iran NIE. So, again, politically, how does this help her? Because it seems like she is reviving the concerns that she doesn't stay in touch with the intel or doesn't believe it in the same way, say, the current President doesn't bother to stay in touch or believe it.

MADDOW: That's right. And one of the other buried parts of this buried story is that George Stephanopoulos contradicted the NIE on Iran in the very phrasing of the question. George Stephanopoulos said Iran is pursuing a nuclear option, and then his next sentence made clear that by option he meant weapons. Neither candidate, at that point, said, wait a minute, that's not what our National Intelligence consensus statement says on this. They both ran with it. Hillary Clinton, of course, put an exclamation point on it by talking about pole axing our entire approach to foreign policy in order to counteract this immediate threat by Iran, which has been invented by the neo-cons.

OLBERMANN: Yes, there was a very bizarre quality to Mr. Stephanopoulos's work last night. And this, again, getting perhaps not the attention it deserved because of this obvious, kind of, plant thing from Sean Hannity.

MADDOW: This was an obvious plant from Charles Krauthammer, it seems to me. He's the one who's put forward this scenario and this proposal.

OLBERMANN: And we have to give, both of us, we have to give props to our friend Pat Buchanan, who came right out of the gate last night saying this is, what is this, she's declaring, this is an imperial presidency being proposed.

MADDOW: Yeah. This is one of those moments when Pat takes a right turn that takes him so far right it ends up hitting me as I take my left turn. We end up smacking into each other in terms of being afraid of a presidential proposal like this.

OLBERMANN: And we all go out and have a shot and a beer.

MADDOW: Yeah.

OLBERMANN: Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Air America, as always, great thanks.

MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.


From the Monday April 21 show:

KEITH OLBERMANN: You mentioned the oil suppliers, and obviously that leads us into something else that really flew by during the debate but seemed awfully important. In that debate, you were asked about a hypothetical Iranian attack on Israel and your hypothetical response as commander-in-chief, and you said, let me read the quote exactly: "I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel. Of course, I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States, but I would do the same with other countries in the region."

Can you clarify, since there was no follow-up to that, which hypothetical Middle East conflicts would incur massive retaliation by this country and what constitutes massive retaliation?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, what we were talking about was the potential for a nuclear attack by Iran if Iran does achieve what appears to be its continuing goal of obtaining nuclear weapons. And I think deterrence has not been effectively used in recent times. We used it very well during the Cold War when we had a bipolar world, and what I think the President should do and what our policy should be is to make it very clear to the Iranians that they would be risking massive retaliation were they to launch a nuclear attack on Israel. In addition, if Iran were to become a nuclear power, it could set off an arms race that would be incredibly dangerous and destabilizing because the countries in the region are not going to want Iran to be the only nuclear power. So I can imagine that they would be rushing to obtain nuclear weapons themselves. In order to forestall that, creating some kind of a security agreement where we said, no, you do not need to acquire nuclear weapons. If you were the subject of an unprovoked nuclear attack by Iran, the United States and hopefully our NATO allies would respond to that as well. It is a theory that some people have been looking at because there is a fear that if Iran, which I hope we can prevent becoming a nuclear power, but if they were to become one, some people worry that they are not deterrable, that they somehow have a different mindset and a world view that might very well lead the leadership to be willing to become martyrs. I don't buy that, but I think we have to test it. And one of the ways of testing it is to make it very clear that we are not going to permit them, if we can prevent it, from becoming a nuclear power. But were they to become so, their use of nuclear weapons against Israel would provoke a nuclear response from the United States, which personally I believe would prevent it from happening. And that we would try to help the other countries that might be intimidated and bullied into submission by Iran because they were a nuclear power, avoid that fate by creating this new security umbrella.