The 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 naÃ¯ve 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?