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Jewish World Review
April 29, 2008
/ 24 Nissan 5768
Incoherence on deterrence
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
In response to questions about the Iranian nuclear threat, Democratic
Senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has recently adopted
a dramatic stance. She has taken to talking about how, if she were
President, she would "totally obliterate" Iran if it attacks our friends
in the region with nuclear weapons.
When asked during her most recent debate with Barak Obama in
Philadelphia whether an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would result in
an American nuclear attack on Iran, Senator Clinton responded: "Of
course I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel
would incur massive retaliation from the United States."
Senator Clinton subsequently went even further. During an interview
last week with "Good Morning America," she declared: "I want the
Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran....In
the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching
an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."
The former First Lady has even offered explicitly to extend the
protection of America's nuclear umbrella to new parts of the world. In
the Philadelphia debate, she said: "We should be looking to create an
umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel....I
would do the same with other countries in the region....You can't go to
the Saudis or the Kuwaitis or U.A.E. and others who have a legitimate
concern about Iran and say, 'Well, don't acquire these weapons to defend
yourself' unless you're also willing to say we will provide a deterrent
We can only speculate as to the motivation for these pronouncements. Do
they reflect a genuine concern that Tehran will shortly be able to act
on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's oft-stated threat to wipe Israel off the map?
Are they little more than cynical posturing, animated by the perceived
need to demonstrate toughness as a prospective Commander-in-Chief?
Or is Mrs. Clinton staking out a basis for opposing any effort the Bush
Administration might make in its last days in office to prevent the
Iranian regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon? Is she espousing
deterrence in the belief that that a nuclear-armed mullahocracy can be
contained via the sort of "balance of terror" that operated during much
of the Cold War?
Whatever the rationale, the Senator from New York has helpfully elevated
a topic that should be featured prominently in the presidential election
now approaching its end-game: Does the United States need a credible
nuclear deterrent - for its own security and/or that of its friends and
allies? If so, are the candidates espousing policies that will ensure
we have such a deterrent?
Certainly, Hillary's recent statements suggest a conviction that we must
have - at least for "the next ten years" - a deterrent that is credible
in order to protect ourselves and our allies from the nuclear ambitions
of terror-sponsoring states like Iran. Presumably, she would agree that
any such deterrent has to be safe, reliable and effective if it is to be
able to dissuade successfully.
Yet, Sen. Clinton has long espoused policies with respect to our nuclear
arsenal that are undermining our deterrent and rendering
ever-more-incredible threats such as those she is now making.
In fairness, Hillary is not alone in her incoherence on nuclear weapons.
Her husband's administration deliberately pursued what Bill Clinton
called "denucleari-zation." At the time, the House Armed Services
Committee characterized the Clinton program as "erosion by design" of
our deterrent and the infrastructure required to assure its reliability,
safety and effectiveness.
Concerns about the Clinton policies prompted a majority of the U.S.
Senate to reject their cornerstone: the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban
Treaty (CTBT). This unverifiable treaty would have made it impossible
for the United States to perform the sorts of underground nuclear tests
that assure its weapons work when they are supposed to, and don't when
they are not.
Not content with perpetuating a seventeen-year-long, unilateral U.S.
moratorium on testing - which has given rise to growing uncertainty on
both of these scores, Senator Clinton announced in Foreign Affairs last
winter that she "will seek Senate approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty (CTBT) by 2009, the tenth anniversary of the Senate's initial
rejection of the agreement."
Mrs. Clinton has also staked out other positions dear to the
denuclearizers. She told a March 2007 meeting of the National Education
Association of New Hampshire: "I will certainly reduce our [nuclear]
arsenal....I also am strongly against [the Bush administration's]
efforts to have a new generation of nuclear weapons....I voted against
them several times, they want to create these new nuclear weapons, they
want to modernize the existing weapons, they want to have a new nuclear
weapons program in America, and I think that's a terrible mistake."
Sen. Clinton's record in the Senate bears out these sentiments. For
example, she has voted for a ban on low-yield nuclear weapons research
and development and against R&D on a nuclear earth-penetrator
Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama and John McCain - and, for that matter,
every other candidate for federal office - must address forthrightly
their views on the need for U.S. nuclear deterrence. It is no longer
acceptable to simply talk the talk. They must walk the walk, by
espousing policies and activities that assure the future of our nuclear
arsenal and the infrastructure that makes possible its safety,
reliability and effectiveness, and therefore its credibility.
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JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Comments by clicking here.
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