Jeffrey LewisMore Senator Clinton on Nuclear Weapons

Senator Clinton, on the campaign trail, takes nuclear weapons back off the table with regard to Iran and pledges to work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons:

Question 1: I’m five months pregnant and really appreciate what you had to say this morning. However, I’m worried about really large issues too, like nuclear weapons. Will you work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons as president?

Answer: Yes I will.

Questioner then asked: You’ll commit to work towards abolition?

Answer: Yes. I have an article coming out in Foreign Affairs that outlines what I will do.

Question 2: “Thank you for talking about supporting women and girls. Will you also support Iraninan women and girls by taking nuclear weapons off the table regarding Iran?”

Answer: “Oh yes, nuclear weapons are off the table.”

One may recall that Clinton, in August 2007, criticized Barack Obama for ruling out the use of nuclear weapons to target Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, stating “I don’t believe any president should make blanket statements with the regard to use or nonuse” of nuclear weapons.


After that comment, Jeff Zeleny in the New York Times pointed out that Clinton, in an interview with Bloomberg Television in April 2006, said “I would certainly take nuclear weapons off the table” with regard to Iran.”


The campaign trotted out spokesman Phil Singer to deny any inconsistency between her criticism of Obama and her April 2006 comment on that grounds that the Bush Administration started the saber-rattling and, anyway, she wasn’t a presidential candidate:

She was asked to respond to specific reports that the Bush-Cheney administration was actively considering nuclear strikes on Iran even as it refused to engage diplomatically. She wasn’t talking about a broad hypothetical nor was she speaking as a presidential candidate. Given the saber-rattling that was coming from the Bush White House at the time, it was totally appropriate and necessary to respond to that report and call it the wrong policy.

Flippity-floppity. Flippity-floppity. Nobody squirms quite like a press flack.

Not sure what poor ol’ Phil Singer will say this time. Clinton was speaking as a Presidential candidate and the Bush Administration, well, think what you may of them and their foreign policy — I am back to “incompetent” after a few weeks at “disgraceful” — but they hadn’t been rattling the sabers when she made that comment. (As if on cue, Bush then weighed in with well-timed silliness.)

Oh and, while we’re pointing out this stuff out, her Foreign Affairs article stops well short of endorsing elimination, noting only that she shares the view of “every president from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton, of reducing reliance on nuclear weapons.”


As is clear from my op-ed with Ivo Daalder in the Financial Times, I prefer Obama and think he had the better of the argument.

But I also think Clinton would make a fine President who would conduct a foreign policy that is neither of the adjectives I used in reference to our current policy.

So, it burns me up when she suggests Obama is inexperienced for saying things that are, first, correct and, second, what she, presumably, also believes. It doesn’t bother me because it is unfair to Obama — he is a big boy and political campaigns are unfair.

Rather, by using our nuclear posture to bash other Democratic candidates, Senator Clinton closes off her options once in office to make changes in US nuclear strategy and nonproliferation policy that are sensible, overdue and would enjoy bipartisan support.


  1. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    Inexperience is not a big issue with respect to a Presidential candidate. Look what a very experienced Defense / Foreign Policy team got us – a quagmire in Iraq, a financial hole, and a sharp drop in US prestige, credibility and respect around the world. One might say they are very competent at doing that.

    What is far more important is a sense of how / what / who the policy teams will look like under different candidates. On this issue, we know little and need to know a lot more.

    I don’t put much faith in what they say on the campaign trail, which can all change (flip or flop or flutter, or go non-linear) with the political winds of a campaign.

    What I do care about is their ability to adapt / learn on the job, ability to recruit and retain a great policy team, ability to inspire and willingness to tweak / fix things as they inevitably get derailed on the way to their goals.

    It would help the Democrat’s marketability to the overall electorate to conduct a tad of arms control within the party – so they paint themselves into fewer corners in the event that they actually have to run the country after the election.

  2. ZDC

    I’m confused – if Hillary Clinton has displayed a willingness to “flip-flop” on nuclear policy, how has she “closed off options” once in office? Wouldn’t strident adherence to a single viewpoint do more to “close off options”?

  3. Matthew Bunn (History)

    For more on the candidates’ views on abolition of nuclear weapons, and on other arms control issues, check out their responses to the Council for a Livable World’s questionnaire:

  4. Americaneocon (History)


    I’ve said it many times – that’s what I hate most about Clnton.

  5. AtomAnalyst

    Excellent analysis, but it gets worse, Jeffrey.

    Here’s what Senator Clinton wrote in her Foreign Affairs essay (, which according to the transcript she mentioned to one of her questioners and which was released the very next day:

    “Iran must conform to its nonproliferation obligations and must not be permitted to build or acquire nuclear weapons. If Iran does not comply with its own commitments and the will of the international community, all options must remain on the table.”

  6. Russ Wellen (History)

    If “by using our nuclear posture to bash other Democratic candidates, Senator Clinton closes off her options once in office to make changes in US nuclear strategy and nonproliferation policy,” how would she, in your estimation, make a fine president, Jeffrey?

    Don’t mean to be dramatic, but because it’s so hard to pin her down, a Clinton presidency scares the living daylights out of me.

  7. Arch (History)

    As some of us used to say sarcastically, no matter the party in power, “There is no contradiction, and nothing represents a change in current policy.” This defensive posture applies to all the candidates, who will invariably discontent some voter bloc if they dare to say something serious during the runup to the elections.