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 backup.”
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?
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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