Of the field of Democratic challengers for the presidency, Obama and Clinton are tipped as far and away the most likely to be offered the nomination. Their attitudes on whether or not they would use nuclear weapons – especially given the number of armed conflicts still raging that the next president will inherit from George Bush’s warlike adminstration – is a central question.
“I would certainly take nuclear weapons off the table,” Clinton told Bloomberg Television in an interview in April 2006, responding to a question about how the Bush administration would try to prevent Iran from building up its nuclear program.
The Bush Administration, in it’s sunset days, has tried to pressure Iran to stop its uranium enrichment programme by implying military action if the Islamic Republic does not accede to western demands – a stance that has been met with a swell of criticism.
Last week, Obama said it would be a “profound mistake” for the United States to use nuclear weapons to fight terrorism in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Asked to reply, Clinton said: “I think that presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons.”
Bush’s legacy: maximum destruction is an option
The question of whether a US president would use nuclear weapons – unthinkable as recently as the administration of Hillary Clinton’s husband – was reinvigorated by the Bush Administration and the US defence establishment’s repeated threats that it would consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons in all of the conflicts the Bush Administration has pursued since 9/11.
It has been further revealed in recent months by members of the outgoing administration of Britain’s Tony Blair that Blair chose to join Bush’s attack on Iraq in order to curb the US defence establishment’s desire to use nuclear bombs in Iraq, British media have reported.
Clinton’s implication that she would not rule out the use of nuclear might as a tool of war represents both a stark departure from Democratic calls for a less aggressive US policy abroad, and an apparent capitulation now-routine hawkish assertions that the United States should willingly yield the nuclear option as a practical solution to the upheaval it has caused in the Middle East.
Obama naïve for excluding nuke attack?
For weeks, Clinton and Obama have tangled over their foreign policy views, judgment and experience in their quest to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton has challenged Obama — at one point, calling his foreign policy stands “irresponsible and frankly naïve” — while he has sought to portray his positioning as an example of how he would change Washington.
But during the television interview more than a year ago, the comments of which were reprised late last week by The Associated Press, Clinton – like her competitor for the democratic nomination- discussed the role of nuclear weapons against Iran as unacceptable, and criticized Bush’s repeated threats to use them.
“I have said publicly no option should be off the table, but I would certainly take nuclear weapons off the table,” Clinton said then.
“(The Bush) administration has been very willing to talk about using nuclear weapons in a way we haven’t seen since the dawn of a nuclear age. I think that’s a terrible mistake.”
Phil Singer, a spokeman for Clinton, said she was responding to a specific news report at the time that the Bush administration was considering nuclear strikes on Iran in her AP interview last year. The context, Singer said, was different than the scenario raised last week by Obama.
“Senator Clinton was not talking about a broad hypothetical nor was she speaking as a presidential candidate,” Singer said.
“Given the saber-rattling that was coming from the Bush White House at the time, it was totally appropriate and necessary to respond to that report and call it the wrong policy.”
Whether using nuclear weapons is considered to be the wrong policy in general by Clinton therefore remains an open question – and also one whose answer, according to her spokesman, depends on whether she is running for president, when it is now apparently acceptable to discuss using the last resort in warfare.