The Democrats and Iran: Best and Worst Lines of the Debate

When I wrote about the Democratic debate more than two weeks ago (not the one in Las Vegas yesterday), I said that "On the one hand, Tehran's nuclear aspirations dominate the political agenda, but on the other, political considerations feature heavily in the debate. The issue of Iran is no longer just a question of international policy, but also of internal politics."

This debate - or to be more specific, the part of the debate that touched on Iran - was also the focus of our latest question for the Israel Factor panel.

We sent the panel an edited transcript of this part of the debate, and asked for their opinion (The transcript we sent is here). First, who was the candidate whose views seemed best from an Israeli perspective? The panel ranked six of the participants in this order: Clinton, Edwards, Obama/Richardson, Biden, Dodd. The average marks they got (on a scale of 1-5) are below:

Clinton: 3.86 Obama: 2.86 Edwards: 3.14 Biden: 2.71 Richardson: 2.86 Dodd: 2.14

However, as we know, averages can be misleading, so here are some more details about the numbers above.

The praise for Clinton was across the board. Almost every panelist gave her the highest mark (by the way, the two that didn't rank her first, gave a higher mark to Richardson).

The other almost unanimous rank was the one given to Dodd. All the panelists but one gave him the lowest score (the one who didn't thought Obama was worse, but he was the only panelist to give Obama less than a 3).

Edwards came second because of two panelists who gave him a 5. His average among the other six members of the group was far lower, but this can happen when you poll a small group of people.

We also asked the panel to provide us with the best and worst line of the night and got many different responses.

Here are some of the chosen best lines:

Clinton: "Well, first of all, we have to try diplomacy, and I see economic sanctions as part of diplomacy."

Another Clinton: "Secondly, I am not in favor of this rush for war, but I'm also not in favor of doing nothing. Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is in the forefront of that, as they are in the sponsorship of terrorism."

And yet another one from the same candidate: "We should not let them acquire nuclear weapons" (the panelist suggesting this line compared it to the worst line he chose to highlight from Richardson: "We have to use diplomacy and there is a red line. We cannot permit Iran to use nuclear weapons").

But Richardson was also praised by another member of the panel for this line: "And I believe it's critical, if we're going to resolve the situation in the Middle East, if we're going to get Iraq to stop Iran's helping terrorists, we have to engage them, vigorously, potentially also with sanctions. And we need to get European allies, who refuse generally to help us with sanctions, as well as Russia. And what you saw recently is Russia and Iran embracing each other. That is not healthy."

One dissenting panel member, who thought that Edwards and Biden, and not Clinton, were the ones with the good answers, chose something said by Biden as the best line of the evening: "What is the greatest threat to the United States of America - 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium in Tehran or an out of control Pakistan? It's not close." (Ten days after the fact, this sentence seem to be even more convincing).

So which of the two parties does the panel think is better on this issue?

Last time we asked, the Republican Party got a 4 to the Democrats' 3.5. This time both parties got lower marks, but the gap remains - 3 to the Democratic Party, 3.5 to Republicans.