A year ago, Hillary Clinton said she “would certainly take nuclear weapons off the table” when it came to confronting Iran about its expanding nuclear program. That comment contrasts conspicuously with her more recent statement, on Aug. 2, in response to fellow Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s similar statement that nuclear weapons were “not on the table” for him in a hypothetical discussion about targeting terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Presidents should be careful at all times in discussing the use and nonuse of nuclear weapons,” Clinton countered later that same day. “Presidents since the Cold War have used nuclear deterrents to keep the peace, and I don’t believe any president should make blanket statements with the regard to use or nonuse of nuclear weapons.”

Once again, as with her stance on the Iraq war, Clinton’s record has been inconsistent when it comes to how, when and against whom she would take military action were she to become the U.S. commander in chief. Perhaps she has decided, or been urged by her advisers, to strike an aggressive pose in order to compensate for being a woman in a race for the presidency, a situation that some voters might view as virtually irreconcilable. But balancing “I’m your girl” wink-wink affability with “I can play with the big boys and their big guns” credibility is one thing, and going so far as to introduce even the dim possibility of pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons in a notoriously volatile region is entirely another.

In their coverage, such as it was, mainstream media outlets largely focused on Clinton’s apparent self-contradiction — as her campaign reps gestured at contextual differences in an attempt to integrate her two remarks — or on her bids to cast Obama as a foreign policy neophyte. However, for Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the biggest issue raised by Clinton’s comments isn’t so much consistency as it is her character, and by extension her ability to effectively serve as America’s president. Here, Kucinich sounds off to Truthdig’s Associate Editor Kasia Anderson about his concerns about Clinton’s nuclear politics and their global implications.

Kasia Anderson: What’s your reaction to Sen. Clinton’s comeback to Sen. Obama about the possibility of using nuclear weapons against terrorists in Pakistan or Afghanistan?

Dennis Kucinich: I think that that single comment by Sen. Clinton raises questions about her fitness for the presidency. In a week in which we observe the [anniversaries of the] tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, any American presidential candidate who rattles the nuclear saber must be viewed with the greatest amount of skepticism. Given Sen. Clinton’s commitment to the neocon doctrines of pre-emption, unilateralism and first strike, all Americans should be very concerned about how she would use the power of the presidency.

There’s another question here, and that is: Is she unaware of the fragility of conditions on the Asian subcontinent with respect to nuclear parity and first-strike concerns? Does she really mean what she says, and is she ready to take responsibility for potentially catalyzing a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan? Has she really thought this through? This really raises questions about whether she has the thoughtfulness to be able to lead the nation. Given her willingness to attack Iraq without any evidence whatsoever, without having read any of the documents, without having done any of the research — is she that susceptible that she’s willing to reach for the nuclear football?

Anderson: Can you say more about first-use doctrine in this context?

Kucinich: There’s a doctrine of first use which really is a violation of international law. The first-use doctrine is the prelude to Armageddon. We live in a time where the entire world understands the imperative of getting rid of nuclear weapons, and Sen. Clinton’s lack of awareness of the danger of that kind of rhetoric legitimates the first-strike doctrine among all nations. And so, in some ways, her comments necessitate a deep discussion within the Democratic Party about what we stand for.

I believe in strength through peace, through enforcing the [Nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty, which at its heart calls for nuclear abolition. We should be talking about nuclear abolition, not about first strike. This desire for aggressiveness with nuclear weapons is chilling and requires the most intense scrutiny of someone’s position on the most basic issue of survival of the planet. Jonathan Schell was writing about these things decades ago — about the effects of the use of nuclear weapons. I don’t understand why [Clinton] feels this need to look tough with respect to weapons. What kind of calculations could she possibly be making?

Everyone knows that there is no survivability from a nuclear attack, and that the use of nuclear weapons brings about ecocide. At a time when we’re worried about the health of the planet, that someone would talk about using nuclear weapons shows a willingness to misuse power that could lead to the destruction of the planet itself. We can all have these discussions about global climate change, and we all want to work together to improve the quality of life on the planet. But the first-strike doctrine changes everything, because it invites the use of nuclear weapons, which destroy not only the target nation but the nation that uses them.

I think that what we’ve seen in the past is a real weakness that comes from a willingness to use deadly force without regard to the facts. This is not only a political question; this is a question of character.

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