Sen. Barack Obama yesterday said he would not use nuclear weapons to fight terrorism if elected president, drawing a rebuke from fellow Democrats who said he is showing his inexperience.
“I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance,” Mr. 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.”
His remark came in an interview with the Associated Press about handling terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Presidents, as well as most candidates running for president, when asked about military options, reflexively say they will not take anything off the table, including nuclear strikes.
Mr. Obama’s statement puts him at odds with that long-standing policy — just the latest in a series of bold but potentially risky national-security stances the Illinois Democrat and presidential hopeful has taken over the past two weeks.
During the July 23 debate, he said he would hold face-to-face negotiations as president with leaders of enemy nations, and earlier this week, he said he would invade an ally, Pakistan, if its leaders are not helpful enough in the war on terror.
Pakistan’s minister of state for information, Tariq Azeem, told Agence France-Presse that Mr. Obama showed “sheer ignorance” in threatening to take military action without the consent of an ally, while fellow Democrats blasted Mr. Obama for his military strategizing and said he is showing a lack of experience and understanding.
“Senator Obama’s assertions about foreign and military affairs have been, frankly, confusing and confused,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat. “He has made threats he should not make and made unwise categorical statements about military options.”
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat and her party’s presidential front-runner, was also pointed, telling reporters, “I don’t believe that any president should make any blanket statements.
“Let’s find Osama bin Laden and his leadership first,” she said. “I think presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing use or non-use of nuclear weapons.”
But Mrs. Clinton herself has made similar statements before, telling Bloomberg News in 2006 that when dealing with Iran, “I have said publicly no option should be off the table but I would certainly take nuclear weapons off the table.”
Mr. Obama is now trying to rally his campaign supporters to back him, sending them an e-mail asking them to register support on his Web site for his stance on meeting with enemy leaders and his promise of unilateral action in Pakistan.
“The next president must make sure that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s core leadership are captured or killed. If Pakistan or any other nation won’t act against bin Laden and his cohorts, we will,” he said in his e-mail.
The nuclear issue resonates with many in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, who have protested President Bush’s stance that a nuclear strike is always a military option, including against Iran.
Intraparty sniping wasn’t just restricted to Mr. Obama’s foreign policy yesterday. Former Sen. John Edwards, a presidential hopeful himself, attacked other Democratic candidates for accepting campaign contributions from Rupert Murdoch, the top executive at News Corporation, which owns Fox News Channel and this week struck a deal to acquire the Wall Street Journal.
“Given Fox News’ consistent efforts to demean Democrats — they have attacked the character of Senator Obama, Vice President Gore, and many others — no Democrat running for president should accept campaign money from top News Corporation executives,” Mr. Edwards said in a statement challenging fellow candidates to give back donations. “The time has come for Democrats to stop pretending to be friends with the very people who demonize the Democratic Party.”
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