For years, Washingtons conventional wisdom has held that candidates for President are judged not by their wisdom, but rather by their adherence to hackneyed rhetoric that make little sense beyond the Beltway. When asked whether he would use nuclear weapons to take out terrorist targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Barack Obama gave the sensible answer that nuclear force was not necessary, and would kill too many civilians. Conventional wisdom held this up as a sign of inexperience. But if experience leads you to make gratuitous threats about nuclear use inflaming fears at home and abroad, and signaling nuclear powers and nuclear aspirants that using nuclear weapons is acceptable behavior, it is experience that should not be relied upon.
Barack Obamas judgment is right. Conventional wisdom is wrong. It is wrong to propose that we would drop nuclear bombs on terrorist training camps in Pakistan, potentially killing tens of thousands of people and sending Americas prestige in the world to a level that not even George Bush could take it. We should judge presidential candidates on their judgment and their plans, not on their ability to recite platitudes.
Now, obviously, the next step would be to develop some clearer actual policy differentiation. Silly as it was for Hillary Clinton’s campaign to criticize Obama for being unwilling to launch a nuclear attack on Pakistan, I’m pretty sure President Clinton won’t use nuclear weapons in South Asia either. But since both campaigns seem to think that public disagreements about foreign policy serve their interests, maybe I can hold hope open that they’ll move on to some broader issues.