Barack Obama criticized Hillary Clinton on Sunday for her threat to “totally obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel. He said on Meet the Press,
‘MR. RUSSERT: Hillary Clinton was asked about if Iran launched a nuclear attack against Israel, and this is the answer she gave. Let’s listen.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): (From “Good Morning America”) Well, the question was, “If Iran were to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, what would our response be?” And I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran. And I want them to understand that.
We would be able to totally obliterate them.
MR. RUSSERT: “Obliterate them.”
SEN. OBAMA: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you think of that language?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, it’s not the language that we need right now, and I think it’s language that’s reflective of George Bush. We have had a foreign policy of bluster and saber-rattling and tough talk, and, in the meantime, we make a series of strategic decisions that actually strengthen Iran. So–and, you know, the irony is, of course, Senator Clinton, during the course of this campaign, has at times said, “We shouldn’t speculate about Iran.” You know, “We’ve got to be cautious when we’re running for president.” She scolded me on a couple of occasions about this issue, and yet, a few days before an election, she’s willing to use that language. But in terms of… terms of…
MR. RUSSERT: But would you…
SEN. OBAMA: …in terms of…
MR. RUSSERT: Would you respond against Iran?
SEN. OBAMA: It–Israel is a ally of ours. It is the most important ally we have in the region, and there’s no doubt that we would act forcefully and appropriately on any attack against Iran, nuclear or otherwise. So–but it is important that we use language that sends a signal to the world community that we’re shifting from the sort of cowboy diplomacy, or lack of diplomacy, that we’ve seen out of George Bush. And this kind of language is not helpful. When Iran is able to go to the United Nations complaining about the statements made and get some sympathy, that’s a sign that we are taking the wrong approach.”
I had complained at the time that this diction is monstrous. I mean, it is surreal to have Democrats discussing whether it is appropriate for the US to “totally obliterate” another country. It would be one thing if she had threatened the Iranian military. Targeting civilians, who would be included in the “total” obliteration, is a war crime.
Clinton stood by her remarks: “I don’t think it’s time to equivocate. [Iran has] to know they would face massive retaliation. That is the only way to rein them in.” The premise that “they” only understand the language of massive violence is in fact a rightwing premise more characteristic of W. and Ariel Sharon than of the Democratic Party tradition.
Clinton’s remarks would not be unusual if she had confined herself to saying that the US would forcefully retaliate for any WMD attack on Israel (though the US has no treaty obligations that would require such a response, unlike in the case of NATO). It was the “totally obliterate” phrase that that was objectionable, insofar as it implied the commission of a crime against humanity.