Monday, May 05, 2008

Hillary's Snarl is like an umbrella

Give George Stephanopoulos his due. In his interview of Hillary Clinton yesterday, his questions about her proposal to extend a nuclear umbrella not only to Israel but to Iran's Sunni Arab neighbors exposed the incoherence of the scheme.

Clinton cast the NATO-like alliance as a way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. When Stephanapoulos pressed her on the logistics and the practicalities of a multi-state alliance, she explained: "The theory that I'm putting forth is, we have to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. We have to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the region, because I'm not so concerned about them falling into the hands of states, which is bad enough, as I am about falling into the hands of terrorists." When Stephanopoulos asked, on the Cold War analogy, whether "an attack on Riyadh is the same as an attack on Indianapolis," Clinton refused to say yes. Instead, she switched the focus repeatedly to deterrence:

So, instead of having Saudi Arabia saying, well, you know, Iran and we are, you know, not on the same page here; we've got to have our own weapons, what we want to work toward is some kind of security agreement to prevent that proliferation.

And we're talking about the potential deterrable effect of our being able to say, don't even think about it, Iran; I don't care who's making the decisions; come join the rest of the world community; be part of the world economy; be part of us trying to have a more peaceful and prosperous future.

In other words, the "umbrella" is a bluff -- bluster, really, like the talk of obliteration. The idea seems to be that we simply float the proposal, and presto, Iran backs off nuclear weapons development. If Clinton will not say "an attack on Riyadh is the same as an attack on Indianapolis," she can't be serious about implementing such an agreement.

Looked at another way, it's campaign talk. It's of a piece with using surrogates to literally attack Obama's manhood; it's pushing the ridiculous meme that Hillary is "tough" because she refuses to drop out of a nomination battle that she can only (barely) conceivably win by completing her transformation into a Rove Republican.

Obama's response to Clinton's bluster on Meet the Press today showed the superiority of his grasp of geopolitical strategy. He laid bare the absurdity of threatening to form a multilateral alliance to defend against a threat that doesn't yet exist:
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton also called for an umbrella of deterrence in the Middle East, defending not only Israel, but she said "other countries in the region," suggesting that perhaps Saudi Arabia, Jordan, other places in that region. Should the U.S. have an umbrella of deterrence to protect Arab nations?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, it--look, this is presupposing something that I'm unwilling to presuppose, and that is that Iran's going to get nuclear weapons. My intention is to make sure they don't. And the way we do that is, as I indicated before, to rally the international community, to engage direct talks with Iran, to send a clear signal about the consequences of continuing to develop nuclear weapons, but also to send a signal that if they are willing to stand down, that we can provide them with the kind of assistance that they need in order to help their people. So my central goal is to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons.

I, I'm troubled by the idea that, as a throwaway line in the debate, you start expanding the U.S. nuclear umbrella potentially to a whole host of other countries without any clear idea of what these criteria are, who might be involved and so forth. I think there's no doubt that we need to think about what our strategic posture is with respect to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other ally--other friends in the region. But, you know, right now we don't have a formal alliance with many of these other countries. And if we are to develop that, we should do it prudently, cautiously, in consultation with Congress.

As Johnson, running against Barry "there-can-be-no-extremism-in-the-defense-of-liberty" Goldwater, asked the American people: whose finger would you want on the nuclear trigger?

Related posts:
On the same page: Gates, Mullen, Powell, Obama
Breaking the Commander-in-chief Chokehold

1 comment:

  1. I like how Obama catches himself saying "ally" and quickly replaces it with "friends." The man understands nuance and meaning to a degree I've never seen in a modern candidate. Obama knows that "ally" implies umbrella and immediate retaliation, while "friend" leaves wiggle room. I like it! More pleeze!