Saturday, July 5, 2014

One Little Word That Will Sink the Hillary Clinton Presidential Run ("Obliterate")

Hillary Clinton signaled the beginning of her 2016 presidential campaign with a spread in People magazine in June . . . not to mention the publication of a memoir, Hard Choices.

I have no argument with the proposition that it's high time for Americans to elect a woman as president. I think the usual criticisms of Hillary reflect nothing more than double standards and sexism. I particularly relish the prospect of the Republican Party struggling -- unsuccessfully -- to contain its Hillary hating, thereby unleashing the full power of women voters against the G.O.P. in races nationwide . . . .

However, I think Hillary has one strike against her that is very profound and is a show-stopper.

I've been reading Hard Choices, with special attention to the problem of nuclear weapons. The first thing I am struck by is that the only thing that Hillary Clinton has to say about the problem of nuclear weapons is in terms of containing other states. It does not seem to register with her that the main nuclear threat in the world today comes from the United States.

Perhaps it is natural that a memoir of a former secretary of state would be organized around engagement with other countries. Nonetheless, Hillary's no longer just angling to be the head of the State Department -- she's running for president. Moreover, the tone of Hard Choices leans heavily on the degree to which every other country is in need of correction, and the willingness of Hillary Clinton to get tough with them.

Yet even the "get tough" posturing could be explained away, except for one quote that I just can't get out of my head. Hillary recounts her sparring with then-candidate Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries, and her tactical decision to position herself to his right. Fair enough. But then she adds, almost as an afterthought,

I also caused a bit of a stir in April 2008 when I warned Iran's leaders that if they launched a nuclear attack on Israel on my watch, the United States would retaliate and "we would be able to totally obliterate them." (Hard Choices, p. 420)

(See "'Obliteration' threat to Iran in case of nuclear attack," The Guardian, April 22, 2008)

Bit of a stir?

Now, I remember Hillary's "3 o'clock in the morning" political ads. But this choice of words -- and the insensitivity they betray -- put me more in mind of another famous political ad:

"The stakes are too high . . . "

Barry Goldwater was sunk in 1964 by a number of factors, but an important one was the sense (conveyed by his own words) that he simply didn't understand the stakes involved in nuclear conflict. The famous "Daisy" attack ad drove that point home.

(Hmmm . . . wasn't Hillary Clinton's favorite book back then Conscience of a Conservative? Or am I misremembering?)

We are approaching a moment when the threat posed by U.S. nuclear weapons will be brought into high relief -- by the possible Scottish rejection of continued involvement in the nuclear weapons basing, as I've already written about, and by developments that I will write about soon, including the trend toward defection by nations that are currently part of the NATO "nuclear umbrella," and by the likely showdown at the spring 2015 Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.

How will all these developments come together over the next several years? My prediction is that, despite a desire to elect our first woman president, the American public will reject a candidate that wants to "obliterate" other countries with nuclear weapons.

Background: the "Daisy" attack ad

Related posts

There's a lot more to Iran than we've been exposed to by the U.S. foreign policy narrative. Rouhanimania . . . and maybe even Iranmania? . . . an idea whose time has come . . . .

(See Rouhanimania! )

How do you formulate a statement that can somehow convince the United States to eliminate its threatening nuclear weapons?  How do you formulate the 10th request? Or the 100th? Knowing all the time that the United States is in the position -- will always be in the position -- to say, "No" ?  At what point does it dawn on you that the United States will never give up its nuclear weapons, because it has the power and the rest of the world doesn't?

(See 360 Degree Feedback in New York (2014 NPT Prepcom and How the World Views the United States))

Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon - a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War - deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

(See Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry)

I'm grateful to my friend, Jim Barton, for framing the problem in a way that is adequately broad, and yet contains a measure of hope.  It's about the future, and whether we have one -- or can construct one -- he said.  Young people today are asking: Do I have an economic future? Does the planet have a future? Will (nuclear) war extinguish everybody's future?

(See A FUTURE: Can we construct one? )