Hillary on Obama's new nuke policy: If we're hit with a bio attack, "all bets are off"

If this seems familiar, that’s because it follows the same M.O. as The One’s decision to order the surge in Afghanistan. He caught a ton of flak after that for adding a timetable to begin drawing down in 2011; it fell to Gates to do damage control afterward by explaining that a date certain to begin withdrawing says nothing about the pace of withdrawal or the number of troops to be withdrawn. Translation: Yes, they’ll throw the left a bone by pulling a few units out by the deadline, but no one should expect much more than that if conditions are bad.

Another day, another burst of anger over foreign policy, another opportunity for damage control. Would Obama really take nukes off the table if America’s attacked with bioweapons, as the NYT reported? Nah, says the woman who once hinted that a nuke strike on Israel would mean us turning Tehran into a parking lot:

The revised nuclear policy says that the United States will not use nuclear weapons to respond to a chemical or biological attack from a non-nuclear country. The policy, however, leaves significant contingencies, said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates…

“We were concerned about the biological weapons,” Gates said, “and that’s why the president was very clear … if we see states developing biological weapons that we begin to think endanger us or create serious concerns, that he reserves the right to revise this policy.”

Clinton added, “If we can prove that a biological attack originated in a country that attacked us, then all bets are off.”

Gates also pointed out that the policy dictates that any country that uses chemical or biological weapons against the U.S. will “suffer a devastating conventional retaliation.”

They’re saying two slightly different things here while the NYT report seemed to say something else entirely. According to the Times, we might respond with nuclear weapons to a biological attack if and only if the attack came from a country with a big bio stockpile. The idea being, I guess, that we’d have to retaliate dramatically to avert a follow-up attack. Gates seems to be saying here that merely building a big stockpile will be enough to put nukes back on the table, whether we’re attacked or not. Hillary seems to be saying the opposite, that a bioattack will put nukes on the table whether there’s a big stockpile or not. What’s it all about, Alfie? Writ large, this seems like a de facto admission that it all depends on how threatened people feel, and if there’s enough political pressure to retaliate they’ll do what has to be done.

All of that comes from “Face the Nation.” Tapper followed up on “This Week” by asking Gates why he’s suddenly cool with a policy that kinda sorta takes nukes off the table for WMD attacks when he wasn’t cool with it two years ago. I wondered that myself in the Obama/Palin post. The answer: Better missile defense + the new non-nuclear ICBM program = more deterrence options today, which in turn makes nuclear retaliation less necessary. Which is lovely spin, but (a) missile defense still has a long way to go and (b) given America’s air superiority, the non-nuclear ICBM is really more useful as a preemptive weapon for lightning strikes, not as an after-the-fact deterrent. Not sure why either of them would make North Korea think twice before firing off, say, chemical-tipped long-range missiles at the west coast. Then again, because North Korea hasn’t signed the NPT, they’re still on The One’s nuclear target list. See why we’ve been saying that the new protocol doesn’t change much?

The Gates exchange comes in the second half of the clip; the first half is Hillary explaining that Iran’s mad pursuit of nukes is actually helping us by convincing people how crazy they are. Or something.