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August 09, 2007

Taking Exception . . .
Posted by Michael Cohen

I generally think Kevin Drum is one of the best bloggers out there, but I have to take major exception with a posting he offered today. Read this passage from Obama advisor, Samantha Power, about her candidate and nukes:

For years, Washington's conventional wisdom has held that candidates for President are judged not by their wisdom, but rather by their adherence to hackneyed rhetoric that make little sense beyond the Beltway. When asked whether he would use nuclear weapons to take out terrorist targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Barack Obama gave the sensible answer that nuclear force was not necessary, and would kill too many civilians. Conventional wisdom held this up as a sign of inexperience. But if experience leads you to make gratuitous threats about nuclear use - inflaming fears at home and abroad, and signaling nuclear powers and nuclear aspirants that using nuclear weapons is acceptable behavior, it is experience that should not be relied upon.

This seems pretty straightforward to me, but here's Kevin's take:

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the diplomatic convention that says it's best for presidents (and wannabes) to stay quietly ambiguous about nuclear doctrine, the point scoring here is breathtaking. None of Obama's opponents — absolutely none of them — made "gratuitous threats" about using nuclear weapons against Pakistan.

Not to be overly nitpicky, but Kevin really misses the strawman on this one - it's not Republicans or even fellow Democrats that Ms. Power is attacking, it's conventional wisdom! It's not that other candidates are making gratuitous statements, it's that there is a generally accepted position by VSPs (Very Serious People) on how politicians should talk about nuclear weapons - and Obama has seemingly violated that principle.

Don't believe me; here's what Hillary had to say:

Presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. ... I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons.

And Chris Dodd:

Over the past several days, Senator Obama's assertions about foreign and military affairs have been, frankly, confusing and confused. He has made threats he should not make and made unwise categorical statements about military options

All this reaction from a statement, that basically said when it comes to Afghanistan and Pakistan "nukes are off the table." I'm at a loss to even understand how this is controversial. The idea of using nukes in Pakistan with the threat of civilian deaths is well . . . insane. Is there any other word for it? Maybe, just maybe, you could make the argument for nukes in Tora Bora when OBL was cornered (and it would be a huge stretch) but in Pakistan? Considering our toxic image in the Muslim world, I would generally say it's a good thing for an American presidential candidate to make a statement like that. Of course, if you do think we should be nuking Muslims, you have a candidate to choose from:

On foreign policy, there is an annoying tendency for presidential candidates to stick to an accepted rhetorical nomenclature (my favorite being the "war on terror" which thankfully Obama and Edwards have stopped using). When Bush (rightly) said in 2004 that we may not win the war on terror the Kerry campaign jumped all over him (wrongly). When Kerry said the war on terror needed to be reduced to a law enforcement issue (rightly) he got crucified (wrongly). But neither of what these candidates said was wrong - they were just being realistic about a serious and complex foreign policy challenge, which is never an easy thing to do on the campaign trail. I think we could use a bit more of this type of honesty about Iraq and terrorism in our political debates.

While I understand the need for ambiguousness on nuclear doctrine during the Cold War is it really necessary today to be "ambiguous" about using nukes to attack a terrorist group living in the hinterlands of Pakistan?

Kevin argues "once you start answering hypotheticals, it's hard to stop. And when you do stop, people are going to draw conclusions about where you've apparently drawn the line." I don't know what everyone else things, thinks but to me - this seems like a pretty good place to draw a line. Of course, if the situation arises where President Obama is forced to use nuclear weapons . . . well I think most Americans will forgive him for breaking his campaign promise.


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Well said. Although, for the record, Obama used "war against terrorism" in the latest Dem forum in Chicago -- let's hope he discontinues this practice.

OBAMA: I find it amusing that those who helped to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me for making sure that we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war against terrorism. And Chris, respectfully, and you and I are close friends, but the fact is, you obviously didn’t read my speech, because what I said was that we have to refocus, get out of Iraq, make certain that we are helping Pakistan deal with the problem of al Qaeda in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but Chris, if we have actionable intelligence, on al Qaeda operatives, including bin Laden, and President Musharraf cannot act, then we should.

A would-be president (or president) threatening to attack a foreign country in retribution for 9/11--where have we heard that before?

There is no proof that OSB had anything to do with 9/11, that OSB is in Pakistan or that he is even alive. So this is just more American militaristic posturing, until they actually do it.

Presidential candidates in other countries don't act this way. Why do ours? Oh that's right--there's money in it. Lots.

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