Obama's Nuke Gaffe

The entire issue of nuclear weapon use doctrine is now pretty much a foreign policy backwater as a result of the end of the Cold War. When I was in college in the 80s, discussions of MAD, first strike capability, the impact of the MX missile, the INF treaty and the like were very much a centerpiece of foreign policy discussion. And Presidential candidates had their pat answers at the ready.

Today Barack Obama was asked a question about use of nuclear weapons and his fumbling answer demonstrated that he was not prepared for it. I think he has committed a serious political gaffe.

The exchange:

Q: In Afghanistan or Pakistan, is there any circumstance where you would be prepared or willing to use nuclear weapons to defeat terrorism and Osama bin Laden[?]"

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday he would not use nuclear weapons ''in any circumstance.'' ''I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance,'' Obama said, with a pause, ''involving civilians.'' Then he quickly added, ''Let me scratch that. There's been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That's not on the table.''

The Obama camp will try to explain the fumbling by referring to ther context of the question. I think his answer is woefully inadequate. He needed to be prepared to discuss his philosphy of the use of nuclear weapons and then apply it to the Al Qaida problem.

Substantively, it is hard to imagine any possible use of nuclear weapons in a first strike posture, or even as a respons to Al Qaida. The efficacy seems nonexistent. But that is not the big part of this story. The big is the political side of this and how Obama's fumble, after last's week's silly brouhaha, and the controversy over his remarks about attacking Al Qaida in Pakistan, will play.

I think it will play badly.

Update [2007-8-2 16:39:29 by Big Tent Democrat]: Hillary pounces:

"I think that presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. 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 non-use of nuclear weapons."
< Yearly Kos Day 1.5 | O'Reilly Gets One Right; Dodd Sticks It To Him >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Nuclear Weapons ARE being used (5.00 / 1) (#49)
    by MacLane on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 05:17:26 PM EST
    In the sense that a robber can use a loaded gun without firing it, nuclear weapons are being used all the time. An obvious recent example is Putin's threat to target European cities.

    The nuclear powers test their boundaries and willingness to use nuclear weapons every day. Encounters between nuclear submarines is an example.

    Politically I guess it's a no-no to admit this much. That's too bad because it creates a distorted view.

    Christopher Hitchens pointed out, that the deployment of nuclear weapons amounts to the universal conscription of all civilians, so there is no use of nuclear weapons that does not affect civilians.

    So the position that nuclear weapons not be used under any circumstance against civilians is tantamount to the position that they not be used under any circumstances.

    Unfortunately such considerations don't lend themselves to pat, conventional sound-bites. "Nuclear weapons should not be used under any circumstances" is a pat, political statement completely at odds with the way nuclear weapons are actually used.

    You're right (1.00 / 1) (#45)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:30:23 PM EST
    I am going to delete my comments as well as yours.


    and what are the other countries doing? (1.00 / 1) (#51)
    by Sumner on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 05:39:40 PM EST
    On strategic use, Christopher Campbell writes in the Introduction to his book, NUCLEAR WEAPONS Fact book,
    "[N]uclear strategies ... [are] therefore, concerned not with real events but with the minutiae of military technology and with the plans for the use of the resulting weapons systems. By their very nature both strive to ensure their own futility."

    At the time he wrote his book, Campbell also observed:
    "The nuclear stockpile of the United States has an estimated explosive yield of approximating to 9000 million tons of TNT [and with that of the stockpiles of other countries means adding the equivalent of 2 Hiroshima bombs] every half hour, day and night for [over half a century]."

    Of course, now contractors are eager to build tactical nukes such as "Bunker Busters" and that prospect opens up a whole new race.

    It's still a clear 5 minutes to midnight.

    that's a doozy (none / 0) (#1)
    by Sumner on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 02:11:42 PM EST

    re (none / 0) (#2)
    by eric on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 02:33:39 PM EST
    He always seems to be trying to say what people want him to say.  Why can't he just be honest and say, "no I won't use nukes", or "yes I would consider nukes", whichever of those he actually believes.

    He seems to be trying to figure out which answer sounds better.  As it turns out, it really backfired on him.

    Respect? (none / 0) (#3)
    by jarober on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 02:49:42 PM EST
    On a related topic, how's that "Democrats will restore US respect" project going?

    ISLAMABAD: Pakistan accused Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama of "sheer ignorance" on Thursday for threatening to launch US military strikes against Al-Qaida on Pakistani soil.

    Pakistan (none / 0) (#4)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 02:55:50 PM EST
    is playing footsy with Al Qaida.

    Republicans of course do not care about that.

    They never did actually want to fight Al Qaida as we now know.


    He's not very adroit (none / 0) (#5)
    by Al on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 02:57:16 PM EST
    But I don't see the serious gaffe. You'd have to be insane to think that nuclear weapons are the way to "defeat terrorism and Osama bin Laden", as the reporter asked. What kind of a question is that?

    A dumb question (1.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:11:00 PM EST
    A maladroit answer about using nuclear weapon is a serious gaffe.

    This is the first time (none / 0) (#63)
    by mmeo on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 07:31:10 AM EST
    I have seen a good reason to vote for Barack Obama.

    Anyone who takes nuclear weapons off the table is having an attack of sanity.

    Of course, for you serious political types, that's a gaffe.


    He misspoke. Funny how it's a big (none / 0) (#6)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 02:59:02 PM EST
    deal when Democrats do it.

    Oh well, the Drudge/Politico/Mydd crowd will have a field day with it trying to Gore him.

    He misspoke (1.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:08:40 PM EST
    on the use of nuclear weapons a week after engaging in battles over exeprience on foreign policy.

    Sorry, Geek, it is a big POLITICAL deal.


    Sure, it's a big political deal. (none / 0) (#15)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:17:36 PM EST
    Because his enemies will insist that it has some kind of deeper meaning than someone misspeaking/thinking out loud.

    Is this the kind of story the press should be covering?


    See (none / 0) (#16)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:22:10 PM EST
    This has always been my point. Obama can not change the game of politics as he seems to believe.

    It is what it is.


    My point is that for some reason (none / 0) (#18)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:27:33 PM EST
    we always get caught up in the meta of stuff.  

    "It's not important, but people will treat it as important, so thus it is important."

    I don't see discussing stuff like this or the Edwards haircut as improving the state of discourse.

    Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi appears ready to commit a truly important and horrendous error.


    Politics is what it is (none / 0) (#22)
    by andgarden on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:44:38 PM EST
    Meanwhile, I am NOT HAPPY to see Pelosi giving in to the NDCers again on Iraq.

    Ambercrombie, believe it or not, is a member of (none / 0) (#24)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:48:24 PM EST
    the Progressive Caucus.

    w/o any Progressive support for this (none / 0) (#36)
    by andgarden on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:12:25 PM EST
    (Yes, I did read the whole article!)

    To put it another way, isn't this worse: (none / 0) (#19)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:30:04 PM EST
    A gaffe in August certainly gets coverage (none / 0) (#62)
    by SiAtta5 on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 03:19:22 AM EST
    because aside from the Kos convention, Gonzalez-gate, nothing else to cover.

    But as far as Obama is concerned, this is another demonstration of his lack of preparation.  It show that he has not done his homework. He is not thinking like a president.  The issues facing a future president, or the issues facing the country today that need to be addressed are almost a given.  With all the funds at his disposal, why couldn't he put together a policy team that can help him?  I feel bad watching him implode. Now he has Biden calling him naive as well.  I'm afraid the word is going to stick.  


    Geek (1.00 / 0) (#57)
    by jimakaPPJ on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 08:55:14 PM EST
    I guess you don't remember Ford's misstatment in his debate with Carter.

    Hmm. (none / 0) (#11)
    by chemoelectric on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:11:24 PM EST
    Being pretty much the same age as Obama, I wonder if he didn't at first try what was his attitude as a young adult.

    Unlike Obama, I suppose, I continue to think about such things, and I don't think it would be hard to wing an answer to such a question by working around the fundamental principle that nuclear weapons are strictly for deterrence against foreign military. That, after all, is the very truth about them, whenever the White House isn't filled with maniacs, and has been the truth about them for my entire life and Obama's.

    This is a good comment (none / 0) (#14)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:16:57 PM EST

    Obama as MSM insider (none / 0) (#13)
    by koshembos on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:16:52 PM EST
    This is only the latest and visible way in which Obama is slowly becoming a huge disappointment.

    Starting from talking to everyone, nothing wrong with that, that is such an old hat with limited applicability to Bush and no one else. Continuing with demanding responsibility of young African American instead of attacking the source of the problem that is drug related incarceration of way too many of them. Then there comes the merit pay for teachers instead of paying teacher a decent and attractive salaries that will attract more and better teachers.

    One would think that Obama works for the WaPo; quite a disappointment.

    koshembos (1.00 / 0) (#58)
    by jimakaPPJ on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 08:57:16 PM EST
    Shhhhh. Don't interrupt.

    He's telling you who he is.


    Why do you bother with Mydd? (none / 0) (#17)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:24:10 PM EST
    It used to offer some interesting discussion, but so did The New Republic.

    Well (none / 0) (#20)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:40:30 PM EST
    Sometimes I want to get my pure politics stuff out.

    I guess. But isn't there somewhere (none / 0) (#23)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:45:14 PM EST
    smart to discuss it?  If I were an independent voter, the only thing Mydd would persuade me to do is vote Republican.

    Well TalkLeft of course (5.00 / 1) (#27)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:56:42 PM EST
    But this is a law blog and sometomes the stuff I dsicuss is so uber political junkie that I can't, in good conscience, post it here.

    I think this a a big political deal so I think it merits.


    No pun intended (none / 0) (#28)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:56:58 PM EST
    I guess. (none / 0) (#30)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:58:42 PM EST
    But, the idea that Obama clumsily states that he wouldn't nuke Pakistan is a bigger mistake than Hillary saying she would consider actually nuking Pakistan, well, no wonder half our population doesn't vote.

    Heh (3.00 / 2) (#31)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:01:19 PM EST
    Cept Hillary did not say that did she?

    She phrased it better and did not stumble over the whole thing.

    LEt me say one word to you - Axelrod. Not up to this.


    Yes, she did say that. (none / 0) (#32)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:06:14 PM EST
    According to Greg Sargent

    QUESTION: Senator Clinton, Senator Obama today said that the use
    of nuclear weapons would be off the table in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
    I'm wondering if you agree with that.

    CLINTON: Well, I'm not going to answer hypotheticals. But let's
    find Osama bin Laden and his leadership first.

    And I think that presidents should be very careful at all times
    in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. 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 non-use of nuclear weapons.

    Dear lord, and she's going to be our nominee.  We get the nominee we deserve, I guess.


    No (none / 0) (#33)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:08:32 PM EST
    She did do that.

    No, she didn't or (none / 0) (#37)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:13:49 PM EST
    yes she did?

    Did not (none / 0) (#40)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:16:10 PM EST
    She weaseled out of it with this:

    "Well, I'm not going to answer hypotheticals. But let's find Osama bin Laden and his leadership first."


    However, she disagreed that they should (none / 0) (#42)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:19:08 PM EST
    be off the table for Afghanistan or Pakistan.

    Either they're on the table or they're off the table.

    And, how are nukes going to deter suicide bombers?


    Hypothetical hypocritical Hillary (none / 0) (#60)
    by joejoejoe on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:07:46 AM EST
    Hillary Clinton may not answer hypotheticals but she sure does offer them.

    "Knowing what we know now, I would never have voted for it."
    If I had been President in October of 2002, I would have never asked for authority to divert our attention from Afghanistan to Iraq, and I certainly would never have started this war.

    What's not hypothetical is Sen. Clinton's vote to authorize the AUMF/Iraq and her vote against the Levin Amendement on Iraq who authorized force consistent with US sovereignty in the event the UN failed to enforce a binding resolution forcing Saddam to disarm. As we know Bush never bothered to get a binding UN resolution because he had the AUMF/Iraq in his pocket.

    As Sen. Byrd said:

    "This is an unprecedented and unfounded interpretation of the president's authority under the Constitution of the United States -- not to mention the fact that it stands the charter of the United Nations on its head."

    The blank check headstand? 'Aye' says Sen. Clinton.


    In A Way (none / 0) (#35)
    by squeaky on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:10:45 PM EST
    She defended Obama but made herself better, more experienced.

    She disagreed with his statement (none / 0) (#38)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:14:23 PM EST
    that nukes in Pakistan and Afghanistan were off the table.

    Yes But (none / 0) (#46)
    by squeaky on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:31:47 PM EST
    She implied that it is natural to be taken aback by such a stupid trick question. She could have gone for the jugular, and instead made herself look good by holding back and agreeing with Obama that no blanket statements should be made.

    Of course he flubbed then retracted his blanket statement.


    Dodd More Caustic (none / 0) (#50)
    by squeaky on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 05:32:26 PM EST
    "Over the past several days, Senator Obama's assertions about foreign and military affairs have been, frankly, confusing and confused," said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. "He has made threats he should not make and made unwise categorical statements about military options."

    abc news


    Deterance (none / 0) (#41)
    by Jgarza on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:18:41 PM EST
    Any one that thinks the strategy of using nuclear deterrence applies to our modern security threat is frankly naive.  It shows she doesn't really understand foreign policy, but rather that her campaign is desperate for issues.

    See, it's not too hard to comment without (none / 0) (#43)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:19:45 PM EST
    gratuitously insulting someone.

    American Politics Where Forthrightness Is a Gaffe (none / 0) (#25)
    by Aaron on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:54:34 PM EST
    I appreciate knowing where Obama stands on this issue, unlike Chris Dodd who seems comfortable avoiding the question.  

    "As commander in chief, I would take the steps necessary to defend the American people, beginning with hunting down Osama bin Laden and stopping terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons. But I will not declare my intentions for specific military action to the media in the context of a political campaign" (Senator Chris Dodd).  

    God forbid a presidential candidate should tell us where he actually stands, the American people certainly aren't used to that, but maybe it's time we started demanding answers to these questions before we put these people in our White House.  

    Of course all the other candidates or their campaign managers are defending their nonanswers to this hard question by saying they're not going to telegraph what they would do, playing this off as if they were being asked a question on a tactical matter, instead of a statement of deeper principle.  No surprise that Obama's inadvertent openness has got the other candidates running for cover.  

    Obama's Warning to PakistanDrives Democratic Debate

    I submit that the use of a nuclear weapon, any nuclear weapon, cannot be confined to the realm of internal tactical matters, it's far too grave a matter for that.  

    Let's take a poll, who here is for using nuclear weapons, tactical or otherwise?  Raise your hand.

    Not me, the use of nuclear weapons should remain a thing of the past.  If we get to a point where anyone (anyone besides the traitors in the White House) is actually considering using them in response to a terrorist act or conventional military attack, that's the point where you will know that America is on its way out.  Nuclear weapons of any kind should be the court of last resort's, just like war.  If this country, the only remaining superpower, ever has to use nuclear weapons again, it will signal the abject failure of our ability to lead, and quite probably the collapse of the Republic.

    That was weak on Dodd's part (5.00 / 2) (#29)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 03:58:25 PM EST
    I thought Obama's Pakistan was good for the PArty actually.

    I think Dodd--like Biden and Richardson-- (none / 0) (#48)
    by Geekesque on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 05:00:13 PM EST
    is auditioning for a spot as Hillary's VP or in her cabinet.

    I asked you nicely (none / 0) (#39)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:14:32 PM EST
    Either stop the personal attacks or have your comments deleted.

    I hope you don't mind that (none / 0) (#47)
    by jerry on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 04:34:05 PM EST
    just for the evil thrill of it, I am considering rating both evil views of you a 5.

    Actually, I am going to spin Obama's comment (and he is basically our age) as a sign of progress from our days as kids of duck, drop, and cover to the days of kids now, who, let the dogs out.

    Obama: Teleprompters vs. Experience (none / 0) (#52)
    by JoeCHI on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 06:18:39 PM EST
    Obama really shouldn't speak without a teleprompter or prepared text.

    Today he proved just how not ready for prime time the Junior Senator from Illinois is.  As he demonstrated during the debates, Obama just can't seem to help stepping into a big pile of his own making.

    His latest flailing of I-won't-use-nukes-with-citizens-wait-scr atch-that-I'm-not discussing-nukes debacle illustrates that he is as clueless about how a Commander-In-Chief should address the most potent weapon in his military arsenal as he is about how to respond to a terrorist attack or about Presidential diplomacy.

    The American electorate doesn't seem to like what Obama is stepping in, either.

    The three most recent national polls taken after the debate show Clinton trending up and ahead by double-double digits over her nearest rival.  As of today, Clinton trounces Obama 43(38) to 21(25) Rasmussen; 43(39) to 22(25) NBC/WSJ, and 40(34) to 21(24) Pew.

    Standing in front of a teleprompter and reading a speech written by Richard Clark isn't a terribly difficult thing to do.  Unfortunately for Obama, the American electorate knows that we live in serious times and require more from their President than a dramatic reading from a prepared text.

    One of your is up jgarza (none / 0) (#54)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 08:07:42 PM EST
    I removed all of the personal attacks.

    As I just removed your last one.

    gaffe (none / 0) (#55)
    by Jgarza on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 08:15:11 PM EST
    So now that we are this "personal attack" business.  Explain to me how this is a gaffe?  

    For the reasons stated in the post (none / 0) (#56)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 08:25:59 PM EST
    I really have not enjoyed my exchange with you.

    I do not want to continue it.

    You'll find that if you treat me with respect, see Geekesque, I will treat you with respect.

    Unfortunately for me, the site rules do not allow the personal invective you and I engaged in.

    This is not daily kos. And I loved daily kos. I had no problem with sharp exchanges. Love them in fact. But they are not allowed here.

    Next issue, maybe we can talk about it. Not this time.


    Reasons stated (none / 0) (#59)
    by Jgarza on Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 11:13:49 PM EST
    Thats the problem. There aren't any!

    I don't think so (none / 0) (#61)
    by LarryE on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 01:26:42 AM EST
    I think it will play badly.

    I disagree for two reasons: First is that most Americans are uncomfortable with the prospect of nuclear weapons; we don't like being reminded of them and someone who expresses hesitation about using them rather than the "no options off the table" evasions to which we've become inured is unlikely to be seen by the public as having made a gaffe.

    My second reason, believe it or not, is HRC's response. For those who pay closer than usual attention to such things, which primary voters usually do, she comes off like an old-school cold warrior - which will play well with some but not with others. More importantly, by snapping back so quickly, she turned this into - and so far it has been been covered as - just more "back and forth" between the two of them, just more "sniping."

    A statement usually becomes a gaffe only if it is left hanging, standing all alone. This one isn't.

    Ah, the beltway folks (none / 0) (#64)
    by diogenes on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 09:34:05 PM EST
    The real question is how it will play outside the beltway.  People are ready to forgive some "gaffes" if someone is thinking on one's feet since people do this themselves; I think they are much more suspicious of someone who is as rigidly scripted as HRC.