Nuclear Rhetoric

Attaturk and Sam Boyd at TAPPED have misunderstood what the problem was with Obama's "nuke" gaffe and what was right wth Hillary Clinton's response. Attaturk writes:

But isn't it rather indicative of sanity to say you "won't nuke" a city in Pakistan "JUST" to kill Osama?

But that is not how Obama said it, and thus Attaturk ignores the problem with Obama's statement. Let's review again what Obama said:

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."

(Emphasis supplied.) "Scratch that." Why did Obama say "scratch that" you think? Because he remembered, in the middle of his answer, that it is a bedrock doctrine of nuclear deterrence that you do not discuss how and when you would use nuclear weapons. It may be rational and wise to discuss it as Obama initially did, but in a political campaign, such a departure from doctrine should not come in an off the cuff answer to what was a ridiculous question. Thus, Obama's "scratch that." Discussing it was the gaffe. Policywise I think it is obvious that no one will use nukes in that secenario or, indeed, in any first strike scenario. But the politics demanded something better from Obama. More.

This is precisely why Clinton answered as follows:

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.

This is, for better or worse, the consensus view. When a Presidential candidate offers a break from such a bedrock view, it is imperative that they explain why and not fumble over the answer --"scratch that."

The other problem that Attaturk and others ignore is once you start answering questions on if and when you would use nukes, then other questions are sure to follow about this hypothetical or that hypothetical. Use them against North Korea? China? What circumstances? It is a Pandora's Box that no President should open.

It is obvious that Obama made a mistake, he even recognized it immediately. It is surprising that others would not also recognize this.

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    Easy enough to find. (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Edger on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:18:34 PM EST
    Google the first sentence.

    Here it is.

    That was meant to be (none / 0) (#15)
    by Edger on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:19:19 PM EST
    a reply to MacLane.

    If the opponent's award is in heaven (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:22:17 PM EST
    they cannot be deterred and must be confronted usually to someone's demise.  Then the trick is to make sure it isn't your demise.

    If the opponent's award (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by Edger on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:25:42 PM EST
    is in heaven?

    Then the trick is to make sure it isn't your demise.


    He's going to be really shocked at the lack (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:29:32 PM EST
    of Air Conditioning in his heaven ;)

    No... (none / 0) (#21)
    by Edger on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:32:40 PM EST
    I'm not gonna let him in!



    Yeah, I'll probably be holding the door (5.00 / 1) (#26)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:51:41 PM EST
    shut with you.  This is one loser who definitely belongs in limbo with no place to call home.  I feel sorry for South America all ready.

    Heh. (none / 0) (#27)
    by Edger on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 01:00:17 PM EST
    I suspect he might not last too long in South America.

    He's all hat and no cattle. The vaqueros will have him for lunch.


    Sorry about that (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:30:15 PM EST
    The link is here.

    BTW, your opinions are fine but do not cross the line on personal attacks please.

    Speaking of nuclear rhetoric... (5.00 / 1) (#28)
    by desertswine on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 03:09:43 PM EST
    Tancredo wants to bomb Mecca.

    Just absolutely crazy... says the State Dept.

    Hey, isn't Tancredo running for Prez.

    He's such a freakcake! (none / 0) (#31)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 05:28:20 PM EST
    Stop reminding me that Nuclear Winter is only two stolen elections and one big button away.

    tancredo is another one (5.00 / 1) (#29)
    by cpinva on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 04:25:15 PM EST
    who won't last past the fall sweeps.

    stupid question (so, what else is new?), good recovery by sen. obama. good intial response by sen. clinton.

    BDB, a "bunker buster" is not a nuclear weapon, just a really, really huge conventional weapon. it doesn't irradiate anything, but still leaves quite a nasty looking hole in the ground. a really big hole.

    if bin laden is worried about a "bunker buster", he isn't concerned about nukes. realistically, we don't need him to be thinking about nukes, we need him to be wondering who the hell those guys are that keep chasing butch and sundance.

    terrorism is basically organized crime, with a political bent. we didn't drop a nuke on john gotti, we used a stilleto; it wasn't until later that he realized he'd been fatally wounded. that's how you destroy terrorist groups as well.

    however, like organized crime, terrorist groups will always have replacements available, until such time as the price paid for being one is economically non-viable. until you cut off the root, the plant continues to grow. that's where we should directing our primary efforts; make it exceedingly painful to be a terrorist.

    Not quite cpinva - there is ::one type:: (5.00 / 1) (#30)
    by Edger on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 04:40:44 PM EST
    Popular Science, 8.3.2007
    The sole nuclear bunker buster in the U.S. arsenal, the 300-kiloton B61, can't penetrate rock. According to the NAS, to strike deeply buried targets in rocky terrain would require a one-megaton bomb or stronger--one that is up to 80 times as potent as the Hiroshima bomb. What's more, the RNEP would need to burrow thousands of feet into the ground to contain fallout from the blast.

    Here, one scenario envisioned by the NAS.

    Nuking a bunker, in four steps

    1 - A B-2 bomber flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet drops a modified B83 nuclear weapon carrying a 1.2-megaton warhead. It travels 2,000 feet per second toward its ground target.

    2 - Assuming the soil is composed of granite, the nuke will penetrate to a depth of 20 feet within 100 milliseconds. Radar sensors on the warhead detonate the nuke once it has plowed to its target depth, releasing the energy of more than a million tons of TNT.

    3 - The blast creates a 1,200-foot-wide crater and sends a shock wave traveling 1,116 feet per second through the ground. The wave will destroy everything down to 1,000 feet. Any bunkers deeper than that could survive the blast.

    4 - The National Academy of Sciences estimates that the explosion will shoot some 300,000 tons of radioactive debris up to 15 miles into the air. The total number of casualties will vary but could exceed one million, depending on weather, wind velocity and the blast's proximity to towns and cities.

    Bunker Busters (none / 0) (#32)
    by BDB on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 05:47:16 PM EST
    That's what I was thinking of, but I'm not sure we've actually developed nuclear bunker busters, so I probably confused things needlessly.  In any event, I stand by my larger point that answering these kinds of hypotheticals is a losing proposition.  If you answer you won't use nukes you take away whatever deterence exists, even if it's minimal, and you open yourself up to more hypotheticals (would you use nuclear weapons to keep al Qaeda from seizing control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal? In retaliation from a dirty bomb attack by al Qaeda?).  If you answer you will use nukes, you're (rightly) painted as a hysterical warmonger.  Plus, no hypothetical can take into account every factual scenario and, as I said, I think Obama and everyone else would consider nukes under the right circumstances, even in Pakistan and Afgahnistan.  

    Having said that, I don't think Obama's answer in and of itself is that big of a deal. I think the larger problem is that he's now using it as part of his case for why he's the "change" candidate. But it's not enough to change, we have to change in the right ways.  Bush completely changed how we conduct foreign policy and it's been a total disaster. My fear is that after holding his own (or better) with Clinton in their ridiculous YouTube dust up, he's now looking for other ways to challenge the Washington establishment.  While I'm all for change (and challenging the D.C. establishment), I'd prefer that any change to our half-century nuclear policy be for better reasons than Obama answering a hypothetical without thinking and then attempting to use his answer (or criticism of his answer) to position himself in the primary election.


    American Society of International Law says (none / 0) (#41)
    by Sumner on Sat Aug 04, 2007 at 03:38:31 PM EST
    even research short of actual development might run afoul of Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

    A little background on nuclear deterrence (3.00 / 2) (#3)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 09:50:24 AM EST
    Can nuclear deterrence succeed? For nuclear deterrence to succeed, a threatening nation has to be capable and willing to use its nuclear weapons and must effectively communicate this to the nation that is to be deterred.

    First, a deterrent force must be capable to inflict unacceptable damage, or more precisely the threatening nation has to be capable to exact payments (at a cost acceptable to itself) either by denying the opponent to achieve the objectives, by charging the opponent an excessive price for achieving it, or by a combination of the two. A nation has also to guarantee the safety of its nuclear arsenal. There must be no way for the opponent to eliminate the deterrent capability of the threatening nation. Strategists call this "second strike capability," that is the retaliatory force should be protected from destruction through a first strike. A second strike capability can be ascertained not only by technical means but also through policy means.

    Second, the threatening nation must have the plans and the readiness necessary to demonstrate that it can deliver on its "message."

    Conveying willingness to use retaliatory nuclear forces creates a dilemma: The threatening nation must show willingness to engage in a war it tries to deter or prevent. Is there a point at which the threatening nation deters itself?

    Third, the threatening nation must successfully communicate to the opponent the price it will have to pay for attempting to achieve an unacceptable objective. For the United States conveyance of the deterrent message had two aspects: Deterrence had to address opponent as well as friend. The opponent had to believe in deterrence, and deterrence had to reassure U.S. allies in Europe. Reassurance and deterrence were two sides of the same nuclear coin. For much of the Cold War, deterrence and reassurance complemented each other.

    Fourth, and most important, the deterrent message must have some degree of credibility. Both nations must believe that there is a real probability that the threatening nation will indeed perform the promised action, if required.

    In summary, the components of nuclear deterrence have a physical and a psychological character. On the physical level, deterrence requires a series of military instruments, sufficient to threaten the opponent in a way that it would not even think of attacking. Successful deterrence is guaranteed, however, only if the will is there to use these weapons. Deterrence is credible only if a nation is able to successfully convey the first two points to it's opponent, that it is capable and willing. In other words, successful deterrence depends on psychological components: communication and perception.

    Discussing when and when you would not use nukes undermines the deterrence factor in all situations. Presidents can not discuss the specifics of when a nuke would be used.

    Now, if a Presidential candidate wishes to change this principle of nuclear deterrence, he/she needs to discuss it in a prepared and substantive way and argue for such a change.

    He/she can not just drop it in as an answer to a silly question.

    How does it weaken deterrence to say that (none / 0) (#5)
    by Geekesque on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 09:55:13 AM EST
    we won't use it on terrorists hiding in the territory of an (erstwhile) ally?  I think as long as that distinction is clear--it's on the table for other nations but not on the table for people who fly planes into buildings--the substantive answer is fine.

    It weakens it (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 10:00:00 AM EST
    bu inviting speculation on when and why you are willing to use it and allowing a gleaning of your willingness to do it in other circumstances.

    Look, it could be that deterrence theory is all BS. But if you are going to argue against how it is done and has been done for a long time, you need to have a well crafted, well thought out answer.

    As I understand it, specific statements have been made that the US would respond with nukes if WMD is used against it. I know such a warning was delivered to Saddam during Desert Storm.

    I do not know that any official statements have been made about any other circumstances.

    My bottom line is Obama should not have answered the question and that was the gaffe.


    I agree with your bottom line. n/t (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Geekesque on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 10:03:39 AM EST
    I warned you about (3.00 / 2) (#24)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:42:30 PM EST
    personal attacks.

    McLane. I will delete your comment and will continue to do so if you persist in personal attacks.

    Obama's mistake was answering a trap question. (none / 0) (#1)
    by Geekesque on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 09:43:49 AM EST
    He probably realized he was in a trap after he started talking.  

    Answering the question would have led to two possible headlines:

    1.  Obama would consider nuking Pakistan; or

    2.  Obama rules out nuking Pakistan.

    Obama's final answer, however, is pretty good:  Using Cold War assumptions about deterring terrorists with nukes is not rational.

    Well, I hope they emphasize that.

    Answering the question was the mistake (none / 0) (#2)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 09:45:52 AM EST
    And Hillary's not answering the question was her good move.

    Hillary said too much, from a substantive (none / 0) (#4)
    by Geekesque on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 09:53:49 AM EST
    point of view.

    Talking about a doctrine that's been with us since the Cold War that is clearly inapplicable to terrorists is just silly.  It also ties her to the conventional, outdated way of doing things.

    Really a stupid debate, and a crappy question from the AP.


    We disagree (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 09:56:14 AM EST
    Once Obama had answered, Hillary was obliged to give her take, indeed, it would have been stupid politically not to.

    I think her answer, in the full transcript, she takes pains to say she did not know the context in which Obama had answered, was the right thing to say.


    Several Problems (none / 0) (#9)
    by BDB on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 10:58:19 AM EST
    I think there are several problems with Obama's comments:

    1. There is a deterrence issue.  Do I think Obama or Clinton or anyone else who isn't insane (e.g. Dick Cheney) is going to start launching nukes into Pakistan/Afgahnistan?  No.   However, I do not have a problem with this going unstated.  In fact, I prefer it because - however remote the possibility - I have no problem with bin Laden, al Qaeda and those who harbor them worrying about us using bunker busters against them.  Why in the hell would any U.S. leader want to assure them otherwise?  

    2.  What he said isn't even true.  If a dirty bomb went off at the Port of Los Angeles tomorrow and its origins traced back to al Qaeda in Pakistan, I'm quite sure President Obama - and anyone else - would consider all options at retaliation, including nukes.  They may not use them, and I may not want them to, but they would consider them.  Presidents should always consider all of their options.   While I may not agree Obama has the best judgement, he's absolutely right that that's what we need to be electing, the person whose judgement we trust to make decisions based on all available options.  The first part of that is to consider all options, even if it's to dismiss them.  And I realize another attack on the U.S. is a change in circumstance from the hypothetical, but I think that just goes to say why one shouldn't answer such a hypothetical.

    3.  For a guy arguing about good judgement, he sure hasn't shown much the past couple of days.  I liked his terrorism speech overall, but the part about specifically calling out the Pakistan government ("with or without" them) seemed needlessly provocative, like it was added to show he was tough.  While I think the brouhaha over it was overblown here, I do think those kind of statements have an effect when heard over there - if we're trying to convince Muslims we respect them and their institutions, this is not a good way to do it (as the complaints from Pakistan this morning show).  It's not the policy I have the problem with (I would expect us to go after bin Laden with or without Pakistan's help), it's the need to explicitly state it to look tough that worries me.   The nukes answer also seems like he was trying to find the "right" answer in terms of sound bite - I know I should say I won't nuke them.  What's even odder is that the fallout from refusing to answer the question is probably less in the Muslim world since it's 1) aimed at al Qaeda and 2) you didn't say you will nuke anyone, you simply refused to discuss it.   Whereas in the Pakistan government bit he said he would act and he would be willing to do so unilaterally and against a Muslim country's wishes.  Again, not a policy I disagree with, but one I think better not to go out of our way to advertise.  Better to focus on getting bin Laden and al Qaeda and leave out the part about "with or without" the Pakistan government so that part goes unsaid.

    It's not so much that I think Obama would make bad decisions about foreign policy as I worry about his bad decisions in discussing foreign policy.  There are many things I like about him, but some of his campaign rhetoric (I also hate the change politics, a pox on both our houses stuff) makes it obvious to me that he has little national campaigning experience and makes me worry that he's the most likely candidate to melt down in terms of public perception (whether such perception is ultimately accurate or not).  Given how early the nominee may be decided this year, I'm very worried about the potential for any candidate to melt down after the nominee has essentially been selected.   Now, maybe that's an "old" way of looking at these things, but after watching them destroy John Kerry based (unbelievably) by going after his military heroism, I'm a bit paranoid.  

    O/T I see that HIllary (none / 0) (#10)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:02:53 PM EST
    repaired the scheduling difficulties and miscommunications with YearlyKos and will be attending a portion of the breakout session even though her campaign managers had made it clear weeks ago to YearlyKos organizers that she had schedule conflict.  That crew just keeps doing everything right don't they?

    Where did you see that? (none / 0) (#11)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:12:06 PM EST
    Peter Daou put a diary up (none / 0) (#13)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:18:25 PM EST
    it's rec'd now.

    I saw (none / 0) (#20)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:30:56 PM EST
    Well, that's good.

    I like how they show up for their kudos too (none / 0) (#22)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:35:50 PM EST
    Seems to me that when candidates do the right stuff their campaign staff doesn't understand the importance of creating the opportunity to "lovingly ;) point out" that the candidate did the right thing and therefore has the right stuff.

    Like looking things up (none / 0) (#25)
    by Edger on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 12:46:43 PM EST
    instead of making personal attacks?

    I agree...

    Mike Gravel (none / 0) (#34)
    by Edger on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 11:20:00 PM EST
    April 26, 2007
    And I got to tell you, after standing up with them, some of these people frighten me -- they frighten me. When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there's nothing off the table with respect to Iran, that's code for using nukes, nuclear devices.

    I got to tell you, I'm president of the United States, there will be no preemptive wars with nuclear devices. To my mind, it's immoral, and it's been immoral for the last 50 years as part of American foreign policy.

    Obviously the man is not (5.00 / 1) (#36)
    by Alien Abductee on Sat Aug 04, 2007 at 02:25:18 AM EST
    presidential material.

    I've been away a while, and all I can say is that the level of militarism that's now taken for normal - even places like this and the other mainstream left blogs - is not normal. It's sick. I'm with Gravel - the leading Dem candidates falling all over themselves to see who can talk the war talk the toughest - it's frightening indeed to hear them all talking this world-dominating lunacy, and no choice for anything but that, because that's what the voters want.

    Obama wants to pursue a foreign policy of engagement and cooperation, of helping lift up the most dangerous regions of the world into prosperity to defuse their dangers, but in order to even be considered for the chance to gain the position of power where he could do that he has to evince a willingness to use nuclear weapons without ruling out using them on civilians. How unwise of him to have let slip that weak humanity of his. How unfit that makes him to be president.

    Don't bother telling me I'm not addressing the substance of your argument, Armando. You're correct in what you say, but that doesn't make it any more sane.


    Aaron (none / 0) (#37)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sat Aug 04, 2007 at 10:47:45 AM EST
    You seem incapabloe of commenting without personal attacks. Since I can not return in kind at this blog, I am deleting your comments.

    I've read Aaron's comments here for years... (none / 0) (#38)
    by Edger on Sat Aug 04, 2007 at 11:39:40 AM EST
    I really don't think those were "attacks", Armando. They may not have been complete agreement with you, but they weren't attacks.

    They were not all attacks (none / 0) (#39)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sat Aug 04, 2007 at 12:02:20 PM EST
    But attacks were included in them.

    I am sorry Efger but I am not allowed to respond in kind.

    I can not allow any attacks because I am simply not allowed to give it back here.

    People, including Aaron, need to keep all attacks of me out of their comments. Not because I want it that way but because I am not allowed to shoot back.


    I know you can't respond in kind to attacks (none / 0) (#40)
    by Edger on Sat Aug 04, 2007 at 12:10:43 PM EST
    And I agree with you that personal attacks should be deleted. I make them out of anger occasionally and I don't complain when my own comments are deleted.

    But I really saw Aaron's comment more as friendly disagreement with you than attacks. They also had a lot of good substance to them, as most of his comments do.