Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Incomprehensible Nuclear Posture Review

It’s sometimes hard to fathom what Obama is up to. What possible rationale would there be for “revamping American nuclear strategy to substantially narrow the conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons, even in self-defense”? Why would we want to announce a new posture that ”eliminates much of the ambiguity that has deliberately existed in American nuclear policy since the opening days of the cold war”? It seems absurd to be “explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.” All of this only reinforces the perception that Obama is dangerously obsessed with unilateral gestures and disarmament. Even the New York Times concedes:

Mr. Obama’s new strategy is bound to be controversial, both among conservatives who have warned against diluting the United States’ most potent deterrent and among liberals who were hoping for a blanket statement that the United States would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.

And while we are signaling to potential foes that they can take a potshot at the U.S. without risking a nuclear blowback, Obama makes crystal clear just how unserious he is about taking out Iran’s nuclear capability:

Mr. Obama said he wanted a new United Nations sanctions resolution against Iran “that has bite,” but he would not embrace the phrase “crippling sanctions” once used by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. And he acknowledged the limitations of United Nations action. “We’re not naïve that any single set of sanctions automatically is going to change Iranian behavior,” he said, adding “there’s no light switch in this process.”

In other words, the nuclear-free world that Obama is envisioning had better prepare itself to include Iran in the nuclear club because Obama sees no “switch” (certainly not any military action) to forestall a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state.

I imagine that the average American looking at this would recoil. Why foreswear defensive use of nuclear force? Why remove strategic ambiguity? Why give the signal that crippling sanctions aren’t in the cards? These are the questions lawmakers and voters should and will be asking themselves. If this is really the course Obama intends to pursue, Americans may well conclude he is making them and our allies less safe and the world more vulnerable to aggressors.