First-strike capability doesn’t just describe Hillary’s debate style

hillary.jpgThe recent Clinton-Obama exchange over nuclear weapons was much scrutinized, especially by the right. ABC News reported it thusly:

“Regarding terrorist targets in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, Obama told The Associated Press Thursday: ‘I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance.’ He then added: ‘Involving civilians.’ Seeming to think twice about his response, Obama then said, ‘Let me scratch that. There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.'”

As Chris Bowers of Open Left explained, “It should not be news that someone is opposed to pre-emptively nuking a country in order to ‘fight terrorism.’ It should be as normal as the sun rising. It should only be news when someone supports, or even considers, that position.”

Turns out, in one of those “Did she say what I think she said?” moments, Senator Clinton seems to have. First, her response:

“‘Presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or nonuse of nuclear weapons,’ Clinton said. ‘Presidents since the Cold War have used nuclear deterrence to keep the peace. And I don’t believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or nonuse of nuclear weapons.'”

Most just assumed Clinton was pulling rank on Obama again. A politician as “experienced” as she would never take nuclear deterrence off the table. But Obama hadn’t mentioned it: Clinton is the one who brought up nuclear deterrence.

Obama was responding to the use of nuclear weapons against terrorist targets in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, which he then extrapolated to nuclear use in general. In her reply, Clinton began where Obama left off.

She took his disavowal of nuke use as a naïve refusal to acknowledge that deterrence (a.k.a. Mutual Assured Destruction) supposedly saved the universe for three decades. Deterrence, of course, would be rendered null and void if the rest of the world knew we had no intention of using nuclear weapons.

In other words, take your dreams of a nuclear weapon-free world and run along, little boy. Senator Clinton then works her way back to the specific — use of nuclear weapons against terrorist targets in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region.

This is where it gets frightening (as Bowers also addressed in a subsequent post). Let’s dissect Clinton’s pronouncement (emphasis added): “And I don’t believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or nonuse of nuclear weapons.”

The key words are “any” and “use.” Senator Clinton seems to be declaring that, deterrence aside, she doesn’t rule out preemptive use of nuclear weapons (presumably tactical, or low-yield).

This policy was designed by the Pentagon with the blessings of the administration and can be seen most clearly in 2005’s “Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations,” which expanded on its earlier Nuclear Posture Review.

As Hans Christensen explains in Arms Control Today, “the new doctrine’s approach grants regional nuclear-strike planning an increasingly expeditionary aura. . . . where the objective no longer is deterrence through threatened retaliation but battlefield destruction of targets.”

Enveloped, in Christensen’s wry expression, in an “expeditionary aura,” the policy of preemptive nuke use is the exact opposite of deterrence, a time-tested policy. Clinton imagines that, steeped in experience, grounded in realpolitik, she’ll make a well-seasoned commander-in-chief. Then how does she justify embracing the freakiest policy of the most wild-eyed administration ever?

8 replies »

  1. Interesting article! Though, how much can one really glean from candidate debate exercises? See “no new taxes”. If there’s something more here than lip service, the only thing I’m seeing is that Obama is out of his league when it comes to debating. I think he’s an interesting candidate with a JFK-esque vision and/or speech writer, but he seems to get drawn into these dead ends so easily. The Clinton position is easily defended. Taking this point, she can look strong on terrorism, but she can draw Republicans into looking like warmongers by simply saying “I wasn’t implying a preemptive strike – what are you implying?” I used to think Hillary was getting regularly coached by her husband, but if anything, she seems at least as sharp as him. She drew him into nuclear talk on purpose. She’s setting up her knights and rooks right where she wants them.

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  3. While I trust Hillary Clinton about as far as I could throw a nuclear power plant, there is the very distinct possibility that she is simply caught up in inside-the-Beltway rhetoric. Moreover, she is a product of the cold war and the RAND Corporation’s Armageddon solution, more commonly known as MAD or mutually assured destruction.

    In general, Democrats are afraid of being called “soft on” whatever the Republican line- of-the-day happens to be at the moment. Be it “soft on crime” or “soft on defense, ” the specific topic really doesn’t matter, Democrats have been co-opted by jut-jaw talk-alike empirese jargon.

    The candidate most likely to get by vote is the one finally willing to call the neocon’s hand by pointing out they are “STUPID on” civil liberties (Patriot Act), the economy (b___ s___ wars that drain the public coffers, destroy lives, etc.), and just plain “stupid” for letting the country go to hell in a handbasket so a few at the top can get richer. The only thing I ask is that he or she not do so from the comfort of a mansion surrounded by acres of land posted with “No Trespassing” signs! That posturing really does strike me a more than slightly disingenuous.

  4. As a non-American I find Obama like a pop star. He is all charm and grace until it comes to the issues. Saying it’s ok for the US president to meet with the leaders of rogue states, and that it would be ok to bypass the Pakistani government and simply invade to kill Bin Laden … his lack of international diplomacy and real politik skills are coming out.

    I understand what he’s trying to prove, but my response is the one I was given as a child: real tough people don’t bother proving it, they just are; they don’t need your recognition for it to be true.

  5. Reasons why using the A-bomb would be counterproductive:

    I doubt that “mutually assured destruction” has much sway over people who are willing to martyr themselves.

    Detonating a nuclear bomb in an Arab country will be like the Iraqi invasion x10 in terms of recruiting terrorists and swaying public opinion away from the US.

    A lot of those prime targets border Russia and China. We’d have to hope that they don’t have as itchy trigger fingers as we do.

    What could a nuke do that a daisy cutter or other conventional weapon couldn’t? We’re not looking to destroy a whole city, just a few terrorists hiding out.

  6. The rock star analogy is probably a good one. While I think Barrack Obama has about as much chance of becoming the next President of the United States as he does of becoming the next Prime Minister of Israel, Rudy Giuliani’s 17-year-old daughter is supporting the Chicago politician. Then, that’s nothing new. None of the Giuliani children get along very well with their father.

    I find it quite humorous that Barrack Obama supports gun control at home while he wants to “nuke ’em” abroad. Of course, one reason for his stance on Pakistan may be to distance himself from the Insight magazine swift-boating rumor that he is a Muslim radical.