The moderator asked a very clear question* as to when the candidates (hypothetically as President) would authorize the use of nuclear weapons.
Neither candidate answered the question. Both talked about the awful destructive power of nukes. Both fretted about nuclear proliferation. But neither could articulate a policy for the use of nuclear weapons.
One of the glories of our Constitution is civilian control of the military. The Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces is an elected civilian President. But this carries the awesome responsibility of callling for the use of force, up to and including authorization of a nuclear strike.
It seems like the candidates (except John McCain so far) are disowning the Commander in Chief role that they might have to fill.
During the Presidential candidates' debate, Sens. McCain and Obama got into an exchange about wearing bracelets to honor military casualties. What bugged me about Sen. Obama was how he quoted the soldier's mother, asking that the President make sure that no other mother ever suffer the same pain.
In all fairness, Sen. Obama did not say he promised that. But he left it hanging in the air. Can we really elect the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces with the expectation that s/he will never send troops into action, and that there will be no casualties?
If that is our expectation, we are in serious denial. And if a candidate thinks there can be a "no casualties" promise, this is even worse than Pres. Bush Sr.'s "Read my lips: no more taxes" gaffe.
The would- be Commanders in Chief need to articulate a view of the appropriate use of military force.
*TitusOneNine linked to a transcript of last night's debate. Here's the question on nukes:
IFILL: Governor, on another issue, interventionism, nuclear weapons. What should be the trigger, or should there be a trigger, when nuclear weapons use is ever put into play?
PALIN: Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be all, end all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period.
Our nuclear weaponry here in the U.S. is used as a deterrent. And that's a safe, stable way to use nuclear weaponry.
But for those countries -- North Korea, also, under Kim Jong Il -- we have got to make sure that we're putting the economic sanctions on these countries and that we have friends and allies supporting us in this to make sure that leaders like Kim Jong Il and Ahmadinejad are not allowed to acquire, to proliferate, or to use those nuclear weapons. It is that important.
Can we talk about Afghanistan real quick, also, though?
PALIN: OK, I'd like to just really quickly mention there, too, that when you look back and you say that the Bush administration's policy on Afghanistan perhaps would be the same as McCain, and that's not accurate.
The surge principles, not the exact strategy, but the surge principles that have worked in Iraq need to be implemented in Afghanistan, also. And that, perhaps, would be a difference with the Bush administration.
Now, Barack Obama had said that all we're doing in Afghanistan is air-raiding villages and killing civilians. And such a reckless, reckless comment and untrue comment, again, hurts our cause.
That's not what we're doing there. We're fighting terrorists, and we're securing democracy, and we're building schools for children there so that there is opportunity in that country, also. There will be a big difference there, and we will win in -- in Afghanistan, also.
IFILL: Senator, you may talk about nuclear use, if you'd like, and also about Afghanistan.
BIDEN: I'll talk about both. With Afghanistan, facts matter, Gwen.
The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge -- the surge principles used in Iraq will not -- well, let me say this again now -- our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan, not Joe Biden, our commanding general in Afghanistan.
He said we need more troops. We need government-building. We need to spend more money on the infrastructure in Afghanistan.
Look, we have spent more money -- we spend more money in three weeks on combat in Iraq than we spent on the entirety of the last seven years that we have been in Afghanistan building that country.
Let me say that again. Three weeks in Iraq; seven years, seven years or six-and-a-half years in Afghanistan. Now, that's number one.
Number two, with regard to arms control and weapons, nuclear weapons require a nuclear arms control regime. John McCain voted against a Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty that every Republican has supported.
John McCain has opposed amending the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty with an amendment to allow for inspections.
John McCain has not been -- has not been the kind of supporter for dealing with -- and let me put it another way. My time is almost up.
Barack Obama, first thing he did when he came to the United States Senate, new senator, reached across the aisle to my colleague, Dick Lugar, a Republican, and said, "We've got to do something about keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists."
They put together a piece of legislation that, in fact, was serious and real. Every major -- I shouldn't say every -- on the two at least that I named, I know that John McCain has been opposed to extending the arms control regime in the world.