Commentary Magazine


Topic: Madam Secretary

Nuclear Equivalence

Talk about pointless gestures. The administration has disclosed the number of nuclear warheads in our arsenal — 5,113, if you were wondering. That’s down from a high of 31,255 nukes in 1967. Like other big figures, such as the size of the intelligence budget, that were once classified, the release of this information does nothing to endanger our national security, as far as I can tell. But what point is it supposed to serve? Here is what Secretary of State Clinton had to say:

“We think it is in our national security interest to be as transparent as we can about the nuclear program of the United States,” she told reporters at a high-level nuclear conference in New York, where she announced the change in policy. “We think that builds confidence.”

I don’t want to make too big a deal of what is a relatively small point in and of itself, but this seems to demonstrate an odd belief that U.S. military capacity is part of the problem, not the solution, to the world’s problems. Implicit in Madam Secretary’s statement is a sort of moral equivalence, which suggests that our nukes are, at some level, just as problematic as those of, say, North Korea, and that if we show the right path toward transparency and arms control, rogue states will follow our lead.

In reality, American nukes are as different from those being built by Iran or North Korea as a cop’s handgun is from a gun wielded by a serial killer. What counts is not killing capacity but in whose hands it resides. No one worries about British or French or American nukes. Nor should anyone worry about Israeli nukes — as long as Israel doesn’t face annihilation, they will never be used.

That’s because countries like the U.S. and Israel have democratic systems with checks and safeguards against capricious use of the ultimate weapons. The problem with Iran is that it has no such safeguards. If it were to acquire nukes, its weapons would be in the hands of millenarian religious fanatics who jail or kill anyone who criticizes them. Seeing America downsize its nuclear arsenal or disclose its size won’t make the mullahs follow suit; if anything, it will embolden them to be more aggressive because they will see the latest gestures by the administration (correctly) as an indication of our lack of resolve to stop them.

Talk about pointless gestures. The administration has disclosed the number of nuclear warheads in our arsenal — 5,113, if you were wondering. That’s down from a high of 31,255 nukes in 1967. Like other big figures, such as the size of the intelligence budget, that were once classified, the release of this information does nothing to endanger our national security, as far as I can tell. But what point is it supposed to serve? Here is what Secretary of State Clinton had to say:

“We think it is in our national security interest to be as transparent as we can about the nuclear program of the United States,” she told reporters at a high-level nuclear conference in New York, where she announced the change in policy. “We think that builds confidence.”

I don’t want to make too big a deal of what is a relatively small point in and of itself, but this seems to demonstrate an odd belief that U.S. military capacity is part of the problem, not the solution, to the world’s problems. Implicit in Madam Secretary’s statement is a sort of moral equivalence, which suggests that our nukes are, at some level, just as problematic as those of, say, North Korea, and that if we show the right path toward transparency and arms control, rogue states will follow our lead.

In reality, American nukes are as different from those being built by Iran or North Korea as a cop’s handgun is from a gun wielded by a serial killer. What counts is not killing capacity but in whose hands it resides. No one worries about British or French or American nukes. Nor should anyone worry about Israeli nukes — as long as Israel doesn’t face annihilation, they will never be used.

That’s because countries like the U.S. and Israel have democratic systems with checks and safeguards against capricious use of the ultimate weapons. The problem with Iran is that it has no such safeguards. If it were to acquire nukes, its weapons would be in the hands of millenarian religious fanatics who jail or kill anyone who criticizes them. Seeing America downsize its nuclear arsenal or disclose its size won’t make the mullahs follow suit; if anything, it will embolden them to be more aggressive because they will see the latest gestures by the administration (correctly) as an indication of our lack of resolve to stop them.

Read Less

A Very Unserious Summit

The nuclear summit is underway in Washington, D.C. An air of unreality pervades because the greatest nuclear threat of our time goes unaddressed. At times, the degree to which Obama evades the Iranian issue is jaw-dropping. This report explains:

“The central focus of this nuclear summit is the fact that the single biggest threat to U.S. security — both short term, medium term and long term — would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said Sunday afternoon. “If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically and from a security perspective would be devastating. And we know that organizations like al-Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon — a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using.”

Actually, the single greatest threat — and the most likely means for a terrorist organization to possibly obtain a nuclear weapon — is the mullahs’ nuclear program. About that, the president offers the moral power of example (i.e., our own disarmament) and watered-down sanctions.

Neither Obama’s credibility nor America’s deterrent capability was enhanced by either the START treaty or the Nuclear Posture Review. So Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates took to the airwaves Sunday to assure us that the Obami really weren’t doing great damage to our national security. Hillary seemed to fudge on the “no nuclear response to a NPT signtory’s attack” when she tried to bluster her way through her interview on Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Are non-nuclear weapons so good now, Madam Secretary, that we don`t have to rely on nuclear weapons anymore?

CLINTON: We rely on both, Bob. And I think that`s the point that Secretary Gates is making. We`ve maintained a strong, robust nuclear deterrent as set forth in the nuclear posture review. But we have also in this administration moved toward a global strike capability to enhance our conventional response.

And we have an enormous amount of firepower conventionally. And it is also clear that this is putting everybody on notice. We don`t want more countries to go down the path that North Korea and Iran are. And some countries might have gotten the wrong idea if they looked at those two over the last years. And so we want to be very clear. We will not use nuclear weapons in retaliation if you do not have nuclear weapons and are in compliance with the NPT.

But we leave ourselves a lot of room for contingencies. If we can prove that a biological attack originated in a country that attacked us, then all bets are off, if these countries have gone to that extent. So we want to deal with the nuclear threat first and foremost, because that’s the one that we face right today.

All bets are off? Well, the nuclear option is, if we believe the Nuclear Posture Review. But maybe it doesn’t say what we mean. Or maybe it’s getting increasingly hard to figure out whether we are serious about deterring rogue states or not. Indeed, the administration is increasingly flighty and obtuse, making it hard to parse the often inconsistent rhetoric. Iran’s nuclear bomb would be unacceptable, but maybe we can’t do anything about it. The greatest threat is a terrorist organization with a nuclear bomb, but we’re increasingly lackadaisical about denying one to the most active state sponsor of Islamic terrorists. We aren’t going to retaliate against an NPT signatory after a devastating chemical or biological attack, but who knows.

If there is any rhyme or reason to this, it no doubt eludes both friends and foes. It does, however, convince many that this president doesn’t really appreciate how to project American strength and keep our adversaries at bay. The summit, therefore, promises not only to be irrelevant but also counterproductive to our national-security interests.

The nuclear summit is underway in Washington, D.C. An air of unreality pervades because the greatest nuclear threat of our time goes unaddressed. At times, the degree to which Obama evades the Iranian issue is jaw-dropping. This report explains:

“The central focus of this nuclear summit is the fact that the single biggest threat to U.S. security — both short term, medium term and long term — would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said Sunday afternoon. “If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically and from a security perspective would be devastating. And we know that organizations like al-Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon — a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using.”

Actually, the single greatest threat — and the most likely means for a terrorist organization to possibly obtain a nuclear weapon — is the mullahs’ nuclear program. About that, the president offers the moral power of example (i.e., our own disarmament) and watered-down sanctions.

Neither Obama’s credibility nor America’s deterrent capability was enhanced by either the START treaty or the Nuclear Posture Review. So Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates took to the airwaves Sunday to assure us that the Obami really weren’t doing great damage to our national security. Hillary seemed to fudge on the “no nuclear response to a NPT signtory’s attack” when she tried to bluster her way through her interview on Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Are non-nuclear weapons so good now, Madam Secretary, that we don`t have to rely on nuclear weapons anymore?

CLINTON: We rely on both, Bob. And I think that`s the point that Secretary Gates is making. We`ve maintained a strong, robust nuclear deterrent as set forth in the nuclear posture review. But we have also in this administration moved toward a global strike capability to enhance our conventional response.

And we have an enormous amount of firepower conventionally. And it is also clear that this is putting everybody on notice. We don`t want more countries to go down the path that North Korea and Iran are. And some countries might have gotten the wrong idea if they looked at those two over the last years. And so we want to be very clear. We will not use nuclear weapons in retaliation if you do not have nuclear weapons and are in compliance with the NPT.

But we leave ourselves a lot of room for contingencies. If we can prove that a biological attack originated in a country that attacked us, then all bets are off, if these countries have gone to that extent. So we want to deal with the nuclear threat first and foremost, because that’s the one that we face right today.

All bets are off? Well, the nuclear option is, if we believe the Nuclear Posture Review. But maybe it doesn’t say what we mean. Or maybe it’s getting increasingly hard to figure out whether we are serious about deterring rogue states or not. Indeed, the administration is increasingly flighty and obtuse, making it hard to parse the often inconsistent rhetoric. Iran’s nuclear bomb would be unacceptable, but maybe we can’t do anything about it. The greatest threat is a terrorist organization with a nuclear bomb, but we’re increasingly lackadaisical about denying one to the most active state sponsor of Islamic terrorists. We aren’t going to retaliate against an NPT signatory after a devastating chemical or biological attack, but who knows.

If there is any rhyme or reason to this, it no doubt eludes both friends and foes. It does, however, convince many that this president doesn’t really appreciate how to project American strength and keep our adversaries at bay. The summit, therefore, promises not only to be irrelevant but also counterproductive to our national-security interests.

Read Less

Iran Strike, Out

In case you missed it, the Obama administration has unequivocally taken the option of a military strike off the Iran-policy table. Here is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a February 15 Al Jazeera interview:

MR. FOUKARA: Just as a follow-up to what you said about Iran, Madam Secretary, you said in your speech before the U.S.-Islamic World Forum that more pressure should be applied to Iran. And there are a lot of people in the Middle East wondering if the United States is planning, at any one time, whether before the withdrawal from Iraq or after the withdrawal from Iraq, planning to launch a military attack of one kind or another against Iran.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. We are planning to try to bring the world community together in applying pressure to Iran through sanctions adopted by the United Nations that will be particularly aimed at those enterprises controlled by the Revolutionary Guard which we believe is, in effect, supplanting the government of Iran. I mean, that is how we see it. We see that the Government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the parliament, is being supplanted, and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. Now, that is our view.

And so, what we are trying to do is to send a message to Iran, a very clear message, that we still would be open to engagement, we still believe that there is a different path for Iran to take. But we want the world united in sending an unequivocal message to Iran that, “We will not stand idly by while you pursue a nuclear program that can be used to threaten your neighbor, and even beyond.” And we hope to try to influence the decision making within Iran. And that is our goal.

If you don’t believe that no means no, check out the follow-up:

MR. FOUKARA: So, Madam Secretary, now you are saying there is no plan on the part of the United States to launch an attack? Not in the immediate future, not in the middle term, not in the long term?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are interested in changing Iran’s behavior and — now, we will always defend ourselves, and we will always defend our friends and allies. And we will certainly defend countries here in the Gulf who face the greatest immediate nearby threat from Iran. But we have pursued a dual track, not a triple track, but a dual-track approach of engagement and potential pressure, and that is what we’re focused on.

Anyone remember this? “I don’t think the President of the United States takes military options off the table, but I think that we obviously have to measure costs and benefits in all the decisions that we make.” — Barack Obama, the New York Times, January 11, 2007

In case you missed it, the Obama administration has unequivocally taken the option of a military strike off the Iran-policy table. Here is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a February 15 Al Jazeera interview:

MR. FOUKARA: Just as a follow-up to what you said about Iran, Madam Secretary, you said in your speech before the U.S.-Islamic World Forum that more pressure should be applied to Iran. And there are a lot of people in the Middle East wondering if the United States is planning, at any one time, whether before the withdrawal from Iraq or after the withdrawal from Iraq, planning to launch a military attack of one kind or another against Iran.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. We are planning to try to bring the world community together in applying pressure to Iran through sanctions adopted by the United Nations that will be particularly aimed at those enterprises controlled by the Revolutionary Guard which we believe is, in effect, supplanting the government of Iran. I mean, that is how we see it. We see that the Government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the parliament, is being supplanted, and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. Now, that is our view.

And so, what we are trying to do is to send a message to Iran, a very clear message, that we still would be open to engagement, we still believe that there is a different path for Iran to take. But we want the world united in sending an unequivocal message to Iran that, “We will not stand idly by while you pursue a nuclear program that can be used to threaten your neighbor, and even beyond.” And we hope to try to influence the decision making within Iran. And that is our goal.

If you don’t believe that no means no, check out the follow-up:

MR. FOUKARA: So, Madam Secretary, now you are saying there is no plan on the part of the United States to launch an attack? Not in the immediate future, not in the middle term, not in the long term?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are interested in changing Iran’s behavior and — now, we will always defend ourselves, and we will always defend our friends and allies. And we will certainly defend countries here in the Gulf who face the greatest immediate nearby threat from Iran. But we have pursued a dual track, not a triple track, but a dual-track approach of engagement and potential pressure, and that is what we’re focused on.

Anyone remember this? “I don’t think the President of the United States takes military options off the table, but I think that we obviously have to measure costs and benefits in all the decisions that we make.” — Barack Obama, the New York Times, January 11, 2007

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.