Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has been critical of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., for recent foreign policy pronouncements. But some Obama allies say Clinton is guilty of having made remarks quite similar to the ones she's criticized as unpresidential and careless.
Obama recently said when it comes to terrorist targets in Afghanistan or Pakistan, nuclear weapons are off the table, comments pounced upon by Clinton at a press conference.
"I think presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use, or non-use, of nuclear weapons," she said. "Presidents since the Cold War have used nuclear deterrence to keep the peace. And I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons."
But in an April 2006 interview with Bloomberg News' Al Hunt, Clinton took the use of nuclear weapons off the table when discussing possible U.S. military options against Iran, if its leaders continue to pursue nuclear weapons.
"Senator, you sit in the Armed Services Committee," Hunt said. "There were reports this weekend, the 'Washington Post' and elsewhere, that the United States is considering a military option against Iran if it won't relinquish any ambitions to nuclear weapons. The 'New Yorker' even said that we're considering using nuclear — tactical nuclear weapons. Should those options be on the table when it comes to Iran?"
"I have said publicly no option should be off the table," Clinton said, "but I would certainly take nuclear weapons off the table. And this administration has been very willing to talk about using nuclear weapons in a way we haven't seen since the dawn of a nuclear age. I think that's a terrible mistake." The seeming contradiction was first reported by The Associated Press' Beth Fouhy.
Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer told ABC News that the circumstances were quite different and did not constitute a contradiction. "She was asked about a specific report and asked as a senator sitting on the Armed Services Committee -- not as a presidential candidate," Singer said. "The words presidents and presidential candidates use have ramifications, which is why they rarely if ever discuss the use of nuclear weapons."
But another Democratic White House hopeful, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., saw both rivals' comments as similar -- and similarly irresponsible. "I was disappointed to learn that Mrs. Clinton, like Mr. Obama, would make such an unwise categorical statement about military options," Dodd said in a statement Thursday. "If nothing else, these kinds of careless statements expose the difference in the candidates' depth of experience and understanding when it comes to the complex world of foreign policy and military affairs."
Clinton also criticized a recent Obama foreign policy address in which he expressed a willingness to attack high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan, with or without the permission of that nation's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets (in Pakistan) and President Musharraf will not act, we will," Obama said.
At a Democratic forum hosted by the AFL-CIO earlier this week, Clinton cautioned, "you can think big, but remember, you shouldn't always say everything you think if you're running for president, because it has consequences across the world."
Clinton also said that Obama made "a very big mistake to telegraph that and to destabilize the Musharraf regime, which is fighting for its life against the Islamic extremists who are in bed with al Qaeda and Taliban. And remember, Pakistan has nuclear weapons. The last thing we want is to have al-Qaeda-like followers in charge of Pakistan and having access to nuclear weapons." She also said, "I do not believe people running for president should engage in hypotheticals."
But Obama allies point out that on the same day Obama gave that foreign policy address, Clinton was asked in an interview with American Urban Radio Network how she felt about the same subject and she responded, "If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured."
Singer said she was stating a policy goal, not "telegraphing" specific military action and she didn't address Musharraf in her answer.