MVP of Obama's Security Team: Hillary 'The Hammer' Rodham Clinton

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Even the right wing applauds Secretary of State Clinton's performance.

One of my friends is a classic Republican: He's a businessman from a Southern "red state," and a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam who earned a Silver Star for heroism at Hue. To put it mildly, he's never been a fan of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Yet he recently called to acknowledge a conversion like Paul's on the road to Damascus. He now kind of likes her.

"She's out there doing things ... she's smarter than Bill. If she was [messing] up, the far right would be all over her and they're not coming up with anything."

He's got a point. Hillary Clinton, the once-hated first lady, appears to have hit her stride as secretary of State. The right wing, even "talk radio," deems her the "good" member of the Obama team.

The right-wing Republican mantra goes something like this: "If only the president were more like her. She's pushing him on Iran, pushing for more troops in Afghanistan. He's wobbly. She's the iron fist in the velvet glove."

The right is right that Clinton is tough on Iran, but it's wrong to think that there's much daylight between her and the president.

Clinton has been intolerant of Tehran's dissimulation. As the administration "hammer," her message is steely: First, Iran must live up to its nuclear nonproliferation treaty obligations or it will find itself globally isolated. Second, if Tehran builds nuclear weapons, it will ignite a nuclear arms race in the Sunni Arab world with more than a few of the Sunni nukes likely to be pointed at Shiite Iran, a historic rival.

"Both the president and his secretary knew there was a good chance Obama's initial outreach to Iran would fail," says a Clinton aide who sat down with me recently for an interview on condition that he not be named. But it was part of a long-term calculation.

As the aide explained: "Failure would set us up to pursue the 'pressure track' more effectively ... if Iran didn't respond affirmatively [on its nuclear program], then you can bring the hammer down on them with an international consensus you could not otherwise have created."

Indeed, on May 18, a day after Brazil and Turkey announced a nuclear fuel deal with Iran, Clinton said she had secured the support of Russia and China for "strong" new sanctions against Iran.

Clinton may appear to have been born a diplomatic pro, but at least some of her exemplary patience, discipline, and professionalism were probably forged on the anvil of some bruising blows during the eight years of her husband's presidency.

Her battle-tested political savvy may be one reason today's national security establishment - the State Department, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council - has shown less backstabbing, bureaucratic rivalry, or policy contradictions than I've seen in 45 years of watching Washington. …