At the Democratic Presidential Debate last Thursday, Fmr. Senator Mike Gravel from Alaska had some strong words for all the top tier candidates about Iran (and pretty much everything else for that matter):

Gravel: And I got to tell you, after standing up with them, some of these people frighten me — they frighten me. When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there’s nothing off the table with respect to Iran, that’s code for using nukes, nuclear devices. I got to tell you, I’m president of the United States, there will be no preemptive wars with nuclear devices. To my mind, it’s immoral, and it’s been immoral for the last 50 years as part of American foreign policy.

Williams: Let’s use a little moderator discretion here. Senator Gravel, that’s a weighty charge. Who on this stage exactly tonight worries you so much?

Gravel: Well, I would say the top tier ones. The top tier ones. They’ve made statement.

All the top tier Democratic candidates have made comments to that effect, a few weeks ago we covered john Edwards’ Iran position which echoed Senator Gravel’s statement above, John Edwards said:

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.

Iran must know that the world won’t back down.

And the now famous:

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.

The capitalization was included in the transcript, not added by me. This is indicative of the harsh language Gravel was criticizing, but is inconsistent with Edwards’ stance on Iran. In fact, the severity of this speech is almost out of character.

During the 2004 campaign Edwards criticized President Bush’s severity in Iran, and, as we remarked in a previous post even criticized Bush’s language the next day in a different interview.

Edwards’ rhetoric was usually must softer, as he said in an interview to ABC in February:

I wouldn’t give away anything until it became clear what the intent of Iran was, that they’ve given up any nuclear ambition, that they would no longer sponsor Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations. So there would be huge jumps and these things would all have to be verifiable. We’d have to be certain that they were occurring in order to get to that stage. But I think we would consider all of our relations on the table.

Relations on the table are much different than options on the table. One implies diplomacy the other implies potential military action. Edwards continues in the interview:

I wouldn’t make that decision. It would be a foolish thing for the president to say in advance what they would do. And under no circumstances should the president of the United States ever take anything off the table, but the issue of threats and talking about the use of force is a foolish thing to do. This idea of preemptive strike that came out of the Bush administration I think is also completely unnecessary.

Edwards’ position seems to be; diplomacy first, hopefully no military action later. But why the harsh rhetoric at the conference if Edwards is fundamentally a diplomatist on Iran?

One likely explanation for the strong words at the Herzliya Conference is that Edwards was simply pandering to the Pro-Israel lobby and unfortunately for him the internet allows easy access to all his public statements which can then be compared to all his other public statements. So, Edwards’ tough Iran position seems to be more flash than substance, but even those seven words, ” ALL options must remain on the table” can get a candidate in a lot of trouble in this heated race. Edwards is walking a thin line by trying to be strong on Iran while not scaring away Democratic primary voters who are weary of another war.