Commentary Magazine


RE: Nukes Don’t Kill People

As J.E. Dyer pointed out, the Obama nuclear policy seems caught in a 1970s time warp — a faint echo of the nuclear-freeze gang, which shied away from looking at the nature of the regimes that possessed nuclear weapons. After all, it is not Israel’s widely believed possession of nuclear weapons that has panicked the region; it is the mullahs’ potential nuclear capability that has Israel and Iran’s neighbors in a quandary.

It is this absorption with physical weapons and nuclear materials, rather than the geopolitical threats that confront us, that has led to the spectacle of the nuclear summit this week. Michael Anton, the policy director for Keep America Safe and who served in George W. Bush’s National Security Council, released a statement concerned the wildly irrelevant nuclear summit:

Attempts to secure nuclear materials and prevent their sale or transfer to, or theft by, terrorist groups are worthy efforts. Unfortunately, the just-concluded Nuclear Security Summit’s non-binding communiqué and work plan is silent on the most pressing nuclear threat facing the world today—Iran.

Iran was barely addressed at the summit and once again dodged by President Obama at his concluding press conference. Yet another “serious discussion” of a sanctions regime with Russia and China—two countries with deep commercial, political and military ties with Iran—will go nowhere. The past several years have conclusively shown that Russia and China will agree to any sanctions guaranteed not to work and will water down or veto any sanctions that have real teeth.

We know what failure looks like. The prior two administrations tried a similar approach with North Korea. That country has since tested two nuclear weapons, built a nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert, and remains one of the world’s leading arms merchants to rogue states—including Iran.

As Anton points out, Obama has several times suggested that he knows his sanctions may well come up short. It’s high time someone started asking him: and then what? It’s not fair to duck it as a hypothetical question, for it is an answer we should be giving to the mullahs and to the rest of the world. We should also, of course, be laying out the consequences of the mullahs’ failure to come around. That we have not suggests there are no consequences.

Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is publicly speculating that perhaps in a year, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. When are we going to get around to a summit on that?