Last week I promised a post on the legacy of the Strategic Defense Initiative. Well, after Monday night’s debate, that will have to be postponed. Nuclear Friday is not a series of blog posts about weapons. Fridays have always been mostly about politics, policy, and culture. And the impressive performance I saw Monday night demands immediate attention.
In a way, though, this post really is a follow-up to last week’s post. I said that much of the reaction to Reagan’s Star Wars speech showed amateurish thinking, that professionals like Presidents and Cabinet Secretaries thought differently. Last Monday it was very clear that one of the two candidates has any idea about the history and intricacies of US strategic policy. It’s Hillary Clinton, of course. But this is not primarily an anti-Trump post. I think all my readers can think of reasons why Trump should never get near the Nuclear Football. Instead, I would like to make the point that Hillary Clinton demonstrated true expertise at strategic thought. There are so many reasons to vote against Trump, but we should not forget that there are reasons to vote for Clinton. Even the ways she exaggerated and evaded Monday night were presidential.
The Iran Question. Clinton lands a blow:
Trump was clearly flagging at this point in the debate. Trump had claimed that international sanctions on Iran had brought Iran to the point of collapse and that it was stupid to have cut a deal with Iran about their nuclear weapons program. Really? Was Iran about to collapse? Sure, there was a large-scale protest movement a few years back after a disputed election. Yeah, it would have been cool if that movement had been able to force new elections and even constitutional reforms that transferred powers from the Supreme Council to the elected executive.
But of course that failed, and Trump probably doesn’t know any of that really happened. He probably thought there really would be a collapse. If so, why would that be a good thing? Are a collapsed Syria and Iraq working that well for us?
But I said I wasn’t going to talk about Trump. So here’s Clinton speaking for herself, and Trump in his interruptions is saying more about himself than I ever could:
With respect to Iran, when I became Secretary of State Iran was weeks away from having enough nuclear material to form a bomb. They had mastered the nuclear fuel cycle under the Bush administration. They had built covert facilities, stocked them with centrifuges that were whirling away. And we had sanctioned them. I voted for every sanction against Iran when I was in the Senate, but it wasn’t enough. So I spent a year and a half putting together a coalition that included Russia and China, to impose the toughest sanctions on Iran, and we did drive them to the negotiating table. And my successor, John Kerry and President Obama got a deal that put a lid on Iran’s nuclear program. Without firing a single shot. That’s diplomacy. That’s coalition building. That’s working with other nations. The other day, I saw Donald saying that there were some Iranian sailors on a ship in the waters off of Iran, and they were taunting American sailors who were on a nearby ship. He said, you know, if they taunted our sailors, I’d blow them out of the water and start another war. That’s —
TRUMP: That would not start a war.
CLINTON: That’s bad judgment. That is not the right temperament to be commander in chief, to be taunted and the worst part —
TRUMP: They were taunting us —
Holy shit, Donald: Your opponent just showed she was a part of the only successful US effort to use a combination of force and negotiation to delay an emergent nuclear power and you gotta wipe your crybaby eyes and take her bait? Trump could have simply denied that he ever talked about taunting. It’s clear that Clinton can keep a cool head and not be taunted
And I have to note here that Clinton said that Iran was “weeks away”. This is likely an exaggeration. I don’t know for sure, she has had access to secret information. But if it’s a lie, it’s a understandable and presidential lie. Openness and honesty have never been part of US strategic policy. If this is dishonesty, it’s the kind I like.
First Use, Trump Flubs and Clinton Evades:
The next question in the debate was about Obama’s refusal to commit to a “no first use” nuclear policy. To this I have to say that US policy has always included rare conditions for first use, and Obama’s Stockpile Stewardship program includes a perfect weapon for first use.
Trumps answer was muddled:
Well, I have to say that, you know, for, what Secretary Clinton was saying about nuclear with Russia. She’s very cavalier in the way she talks about various countries. But Russia has been expanding their, they have a much newer capability than we do. We have not been updating from the new standpoint. I looked the other night, I was seeing B-52s, they’re old enough that your father, your grandfather could be flying them. We are not keeping up with other countries. I’d like everybody to end it, just get rid of it, but I would certainly not do first strike.
I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over. At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table. Because you look at some of these countries, you look at North Korea, we’re doing nothing there. China should solve that problem for us. China should go into North Korea, China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea.
Well, he’s partly right. The B-52 is old, but so are my beloved bears. Both planes have been converted mainly to standoff stealth missile platforms since the late seventies. And yes, Russia has made great progress refitting and reconfiguring their nuclear weapons in the last few years. I’m impressed, but all this was allowed according to the last full nuclear weapons negotiations the US and Russia had back when Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton were in charge. Keep in mind that the US and UK deployed Trident D5 at in the 90’s when Russia could barely send a sub out to sea.
Trump is partially right that many US nuclear systems are at a low state of rediness. But I bet he could not even name the most troubled part of US nuclear forces. Clinton could.
But enough about Trump. Here is Hillary Clinton’s response:
Let me start by saying words matter. Words matter when you run for president, and they really matter when you are president. And I want to reassure our allies in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere that we have mutual defense treaties, and we will honor them. It is essential that America’s word be good. And so I know that this campaign has caused some questioning and some worries on the part of many leaders across the globe. I’ve talked with a number of them. But I want to, on behalf of myself, and I think on behalf of a majority of the American people say that, you know, our word is good.
Now this is acting like a president. She looked into the camera rather than at the audience. She addressed the world, not just the US. And she said “Yes”. Yes Japan; Yes South Korea, Yes even Europe if it comes to that. Yes, we will fulfill our end of the deal if it comes to that. But her answer was so evasive. She never answered the question directly. This answer proves she should be president.
Is The Board endorsing a candidate?
Yes, sort of. The Nuclear Friday aspect of The Board fully endorses Clinton. She’s the best peace-hawk since a president I will not name because many hate him. But y’all all know it was Carter if you read Nuclear Friday. Carter/Brown/Brzezinski were the most hard-assed Cold War team. Hillary Clinton seems similarly strong.