My impression is that the proposal to extend the U.S. nuclear umbrella to Israel and other U.S. allies in the Middle East — Hillary Clinton called it “an umbrella of deterrence” — which had been raised during Wednesday’s presidential debate, has not been receiving a lot of attention in the media today. Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow seem to agree with me.

In fact, Maddow described the proposal as an “elephant that has been shoved into the room” and suggested that the lack of media coverage of the story was the “greatest burying of a lead story.” Olbermann argued that Clinton’s proposal placed her “to the right of McCain” and the White House in the foreign policy debate.  Indeed, it basically commits the U.S. to respond with a massive retaliation against Iran if it attacks Israel and Saudi Arabia (and Kuwait and Egypt and Jordan and UAE and…). The underlying assumption seems to be that Iran will use nuclear weapons to attack these countries.

Now… Olbermann and Maddow pointed out that the famous National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) found that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons development program in the fall of 2003, that it doesn’t have nuclear weapons and that it won’t have the technical capability to process plotonium in order to develop a bomb before 2015. Yet ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in a question directed to Barack Obama and Clinton in her comments, were basically dismissing the the NIE conclusions and taking the side of President Buscheney and the neocons on this issue:

Senator Obama, let’s stay in the region. Iran continues to pursue a nuclear option. Those weapons, if they got them, would probably pose the greatest threat to Israel. During the Cold War, it was the United States policy to extend deterrence to our NATO allies. An attack on Great Britain would be treated as if it were an attack on the United States. Should it be U.S. policy now to treat an Iranian attack on Israel as if it were an attack on the United States?

In fact, as I suggested in my earlier post the proposal to extend the U.S. nuclear umbrella to Israel, which Stephanopoulos raised during the debate for the candidates’ consideration, is the brain child of Charles Krauthammer. Hillary now wants to extend it to the rest of the Middle East.

Obama sounded a bit more reasonable in the debate:

As I’ve said before, I think it is very important that Iran understands that an attack on Israel is an attack on our strongest ally in the region, one that we — one whose security we consider paramount, and that — that would be an act of aggression that we — that I would — that I would consider an attack that is unacceptable, and the United States would take appropriate action.”

But he seemed to be extending an open-ended commitment to Israel without explaining why Israel with its own nuclear military capability will not be able to deter Iran from attacking it (if and when Iran acquires the bomb) or to retaliate against the Iranians, as I suggested in an article in TAC. (It’s not surprising that the neocons at the American Thinker are critical of Obama’s response because he wasn’t as committed as Clinton on the issue of extending the U.S. nuclear umbrella to Israel).

BTW, in an analysis that I published in the Nieman Report I proposed several questions on Iran that the media should address the presidential candidates:

Q. The recent incident in the Strait of Hormuz highlighted the danger that provocations by either side or just misunderstanding could ignite a Tonkin-Gulf-like military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran that could degenerate into an all-out war. Do you believe that President Bush has the legal power to retaliate militarily against an alleged Iranian provocation without Congressional authorization?

Q. Are you concerned about a so-called “surprise” in a form of a Tonkin-Gulf-in-the-Persian-Gulf that could affect the outcome of the election? Have you or your aides raised this issue with officials in the administration or discussed it with your colleagues in Congress?

Q. Under what circumstances can President Bush count on your support if he decides to strike Iran before the election in November? Under what circumstances would he not have your support?

Q. The Israelis have also warned that they could take a unilateral action and strike against Iran’s nuclear sites if the U.S. and the international community fail to prevent the Iranians from pursuing their nuclear military program. Should the president demand that Israel get U.S. permission before deciding to strike Iran’s nuclear sites? What should the consequences be if Israel attacks without U.S. permission?

Q. Would you agree to supply Israel with bunker busting bombs to help it destroy the Iranian installations?

Q. Can the Israeli government count on your support if it decides to strike Iran before the election in November?

I hope that these question will be addressed to the candidates in the next debate. But I’m not holding my breath.