Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Nuclear Posture Review

RE: The National Security Strategy of 2010. Or 2006. Whatever.

If Max is with his former boss in being underwhelmed by the 2010 NSS, then I’m with Max. His comparison to Bush’s 2002 NSS is the first one that came to my mind: like it or loathe it, that NSS took the risk of actually saying something clear, bold, and controversial. Of course, Bush paid the price for that, which is why Obama — as every future administration will do — ensured that he fulfilled the legal requirement to produce an NSS in the most boring, committee-driven, toss-a-bone-to-everyone way.

Of course there is, to put it charitably, something a touch eccentric in the idea that we should publish our actual security strategy for enemy consumption. But the fashion is spreading. Britain, heaven help us, now produces an NSS too. And instead of updating it every four years, it is aiming for annual updates, which will turn an increasingly pointless quadrennial marathon into a continuous plod. The really painful thing is that Britain’s 2009 strategy is even more obviously an omnibus than Obama’s: it weighs in at 112 pages, almost double the size of its 2008 edition. A strategy of 60 pages is no strategy. A strategy of 112 is even less of one.

But I will disagree, just slightly, with Max’s take that this is Bush 2006 redux, said more nicely. There is more to it than that. First, this is the third major strategy document the administration has published in recent months: first there was the Quadrennial Defense Review, then the Nuclear Posture Review, and now the NSS. What stands out for me is that none of these documents did what it promised to do on the front cover. The QDR was crafted to justify policies that had already been selected before the review process concluded. The NPR was designed not as a serious assessment of the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy but rather as an essay in nonproliferation by public diplomacy.

And while the NSS may in substance have a lot in common with Bush 2006, it tries very hard to avoid admitting that, which means the strategy is ultimately at war with itself. Perhaps this is what we have to expect when an engagement- and soft-power-minded administration comes up against the realities of the world and the legal requirement to produce strategic reviews, but that does not make the results any more impressive.

Second, in its more forthright areas, the NSS has almost nothing to do with the administration’s actual policies. There is a promise of “seamless coordination among Federal, state, and local govern­ments to prevent, protect against, and respond to threats and natural disasters.” Seamless coordination, meet the Gulf oil spill. There is the inevitable nod toward creating an international system where “nations have incentives to act responsibly, while facing consequences when they do not.” Consequences, meet Iran, Venezuela, Burma, and Sudan. And there is the “if it wasn’t so serious I’d be laughing” claim that “our commitment to deficit reduction will discipline us to make hard choices, and to avoid overreach.” Deficit reduction, meet President Obama.

And third — and to me most troubling — while the NSS lists a great many problems, it is a good deal less adept at explaining why they exist. Al-Qaeda “are not religious leaders, they are killers.” Fine: but Islamism is an ideology, and simply denying that it has any religious content at all achieves nothing. “For decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has endangered the security of the region and the United States and failed to live up to its international responsibilities.” True: but this is not because its leaders are dense, or have had no opportunities to change their ways. It’s because they have both an ideology and an interest in preserving their regime. In Russia, “We support efforts … to promote the rule of law, accountable government, and universal values.” Great: but that has nothing at all to do with Vladimir Putin’s vision for Russia.

The fundamental problem with the NSS isn’t that it’s warmed-over Bush. It’s that at its core it has an incoherent model of the world, and especially of the state system and the international order built on it. For the NSS, problems exist, but they are not caused by ideologies. They are caused by governments that for some reason will not cooperate, or movements that mysteriously want to kill people, or global forces that for some reason have sprung into being. Indeed, the NSS’s only mention of ideology is to claim that it is an irrelevant, old-fashioned concept that no longer causes wars. This is ridiculous. Ideology — and the regime interests the hostile ideologies define — is what makes engagement a fallacy and the NSS’s vision of a renewed international order a non-starter: if every state really wanted the existing order to work, it would do so.

The NSS’s approach is, in the end, both solipsistic and contradictory: by claiming that everyone has moved beyond ideology, it ignores reality and presents a vision that is actually deeply ideological. And that makes it a pretty fair summary of the Obama administration’s approach to the world.

If Max is with his former boss in being underwhelmed by the 2010 NSS, then I’m with Max. His comparison to Bush’s 2002 NSS is the first one that came to my mind: like it or loathe it, that NSS took the risk of actually saying something clear, bold, and controversial. Of course, Bush paid the price for that, which is why Obama — as every future administration will do — ensured that he fulfilled the legal requirement to produce an NSS in the most boring, committee-driven, toss-a-bone-to-everyone way.

Of course there is, to put it charitably, something a touch eccentric in the idea that we should publish our actual security strategy for enemy consumption. But the fashion is spreading. Britain, heaven help us, now produces an NSS too. And instead of updating it every four years, it is aiming for annual updates, which will turn an increasingly pointless quadrennial marathon into a continuous plod. The really painful thing is that Britain’s 2009 strategy is even more obviously an omnibus than Obama’s: it weighs in at 112 pages, almost double the size of its 2008 edition. A strategy of 60 pages is no strategy. A strategy of 112 is even less of one.

But I will disagree, just slightly, with Max’s take that this is Bush 2006 redux, said more nicely. There is more to it than that. First, this is the third major strategy document the administration has published in recent months: first there was the Quadrennial Defense Review, then the Nuclear Posture Review, and now the NSS. What stands out for me is that none of these documents did what it promised to do on the front cover. The QDR was crafted to justify policies that had already been selected before the review process concluded. The NPR was designed not as a serious assessment of the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy but rather as an essay in nonproliferation by public diplomacy.

And while the NSS may in substance have a lot in common with Bush 2006, it tries very hard to avoid admitting that, which means the strategy is ultimately at war with itself. Perhaps this is what we have to expect when an engagement- and soft-power-minded administration comes up against the realities of the world and the legal requirement to produce strategic reviews, but that does not make the results any more impressive.

Second, in its more forthright areas, the NSS has almost nothing to do with the administration’s actual policies. There is a promise of “seamless coordination among Federal, state, and local govern­ments to prevent, protect against, and respond to threats and natural disasters.” Seamless coordination, meet the Gulf oil spill. There is the inevitable nod toward creating an international system where “nations have incentives to act responsibly, while facing consequences when they do not.” Consequences, meet Iran, Venezuela, Burma, and Sudan. And there is the “if it wasn’t so serious I’d be laughing” claim that “our commitment to deficit reduction will discipline us to make hard choices, and to avoid overreach.” Deficit reduction, meet President Obama.

And third — and to me most troubling — while the NSS lists a great many problems, it is a good deal less adept at explaining why they exist. Al-Qaeda “are not religious leaders, they are killers.” Fine: but Islamism is an ideology, and simply denying that it has any religious content at all achieves nothing. “For decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has endangered the security of the region and the United States and failed to live up to its international responsibilities.” True: but this is not because its leaders are dense, or have had no opportunities to change their ways. It’s because they have both an ideology and an interest in preserving their regime. In Russia, “We support efforts … to promote the rule of law, accountable government, and universal values.” Great: but that has nothing at all to do with Vladimir Putin’s vision for Russia.

The fundamental problem with the NSS isn’t that it’s warmed-over Bush. It’s that at its core it has an incoherent model of the world, and especially of the state system and the international order built on it. For the NSS, problems exist, but they are not caused by ideologies. They are caused by governments that for some reason will not cooperate, or movements that mysteriously want to kill people, or global forces that for some reason have sprung into being. Indeed, the NSS’s only mention of ideology is to claim that it is an irrelevant, old-fashioned concept that no longer causes wars. This is ridiculous. Ideology — and the regime interests the hostile ideologies define — is what makes engagement a fallacy and the NSS’s vision of a renewed international order a non-starter: if every state really wanted the existing order to work, it would do so.

The NSS’s approach is, in the end, both solipsistic and contradictory: by claiming that everyone has moved beyond ideology, it ignores reality and presents a vision that is actually deeply ideological. And that makes it a pretty fair summary of the Obama administration’s approach to the world.

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

RE: Obama’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Fantasy

Hillary Clinton declared of the new START treaty, “The treaty also shows the world — particularly states like Iran and North Korea — that one of our top priorities is to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime and keep nuclear materials out of the wrong hands.” Sigh. One hopes they really don’t believe this gibberish — that small reductions in the stockpiles of two nuclear powers have any impact on the mullahs’ determination to get their hands on just one bomb. But, alas, they seem to be sincere, and that’s the danger.

Turning to the other nuclear news of the week, John Noonan contends that the Nuclear Posture Review could have been a lot worse. Thanks to Defense Secretary Gates:

It preserved both the structure and readiness of America’s nuclear force, as the missile-bomber-submarine triad will remain intact, and there will be no “de-alerting” of ICBMs. Additionally, the NPR acknowledged that rapidly developing security scenarios may require a nuclear first strike. First strike, alerted ICBMs, and a three-system nuclear triad were all key bugaboos that the go-to-zero egalitarians wanted gone. Gates left them disappointed.

No doubt to their eternal annoyance, the secretary took the NPR a step further. He acknowledged that missile defense will play a critical role in America’s security future. He called for follow-ons to the Ohio Class ballistic missile submarine and the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (which has been on alert since the Nixon administration). Gates also clearly dictated the need for significant life extension to the current inventory of nuclear weapons, a proposal that prompted nose turning from the Obama White House.

But it also — because this is the sort of thing Obama cannot be dissuaded from doing — included the goofy renunciation of nuclear weapons that allows us to use nuclear weapons only to defend ourselves against a biological or chemical attack against a country that is not in compliance with the NPT. (Imagine the inane conversation after such a strike — “Hmm, is Syria in compliance? Does Hezbollah count, as it’s not a country at all?”) On one level, it’s nonsense because in all likelihood, NPT signatories aren’t going to attack us, and if they did — and a million Americans were dead — no president is going to take any option off the table. But on another level, like Clinton’s inanity on START, it projects foolishness and removes strategic ambiguity that is useful in deterring all manner of rogue states. As Noonan comments:

The problem is the fact that Obama has tampered with a simple, effective nuclear policy that keeps the bad guys in check. That is, use a WMD of any sort on the U.S. or her allies and the response will be apocalyptic in its devastation. That doesn’t necessarily have to be true, it just has be to perceived as true by potential adversaries. Deterrence is predicated on fear of force, not force itself. It’s classic Sun Tzu — “to subdue your enemies without fighting is supreme excellence.”

Taking military force off the table with Iran, hoping the START treaty impresses the mullahs, and forswearing a nuclear response to defend the country — these are unserious and unhelpful gestures that are recognized by our enemies as evidence of a feckless administration reluctant to use force or even the threat of force. We are less safe because of it.

Hillary Clinton declared of the new START treaty, “The treaty also shows the world — particularly states like Iran and North Korea — that one of our top priorities is to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime and keep nuclear materials out of the wrong hands.” Sigh. One hopes they really don’t believe this gibberish — that small reductions in the stockpiles of two nuclear powers have any impact on the mullahs’ determination to get their hands on just one bomb. But, alas, they seem to be sincere, and that’s the danger.

Turning to the other nuclear news of the week, John Noonan contends that the Nuclear Posture Review could have been a lot worse. Thanks to Defense Secretary Gates:

It preserved both the structure and readiness of America’s nuclear force, as the missile-bomber-submarine triad will remain intact, and there will be no “de-alerting” of ICBMs. Additionally, the NPR acknowledged that rapidly developing security scenarios may require a nuclear first strike. First strike, alerted ICBMs, and a three-system nuclear triad were all key bugaboos that the go-to-zero egalitarians wanted gone. Gates left them disappointed.

No doubt to their eternal annoyance, the secretary took the NPR a step further. He acknowledged that missile defense will play a critical role in America’s security future. He called for follow-ons to the Ohio Class ballistic missile submarine and the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (which has been on alert since the Nixon administration). Gates also clearly dictated the need for significant life extension to the current inventory of nuclear weapons, a proposal that prompted nose turning from the Obama White House.

But it also — because this is the sort of thing Obama cannot be dissuaded from doing — included the goofy renunciation of nuclear weapons that allows us to use nuclear weapons only to defend ourselves against a biological or chemical attack against a country that is not in compliance with the NPT. (Imagine the inane conversation after such a strike — “Hmm, is Syria in compliance? Does Hezbollah count, as it’s not a country at all?”) On one level, it’s nonsense because in all likelihood, NPT signatories aren’t going to attack us, and if they did — and a million Americans were dead — no president is going to take any option off the table. But on another level, like Clinton’s inanity on START, it projects foolishness and removes strategic ambiguity that is useful in deterring all manner of rogue states. As Noonan comments:

The problem is the fact that Obama has tampered with a simple, effective nuclear policy that keeps the bad guys in check. That is, use a WMD of any sort on the U.S. or her allies and the response will be apocalyptic in its devastation. That doesn’t necessarily have to be true, it just has be to perceived as true by potential adversaries. Deterrence is predicated on fear of force, not force itself. It’s classic Sun Tzu — “to subdue your enemies without fighting is supreme excellence.”

Taking military force off the table with Iran, hoping the START treaty impresses the mullahs, and forswearing a nuclear response to defend the country — these are unserious and unhelpful gestures that are recognized by our enemies as evidence of a feckless administration reluctant to use force or even the threat of force. We are less safe because of it.

Read Less

Obama’s Nuclear Sideshow

So Presidents Obama and Medvedev have signed a new nuclear-arms reduction accord. Big deal. The actual cuts called for under the treaty are modest because of accounting tricks that allow a B-52 bomber, which can carry 20 nuclear warheads, to be counted as one “weapon.” The treaty doesn’t affect at all the thousands of tactical nuclear warheads or strategic warheads in storage.

During the Cold War this no doubt would have been hailed as a “breakthrough” but today the treaty seems like an anachronism — a throwback to the world of rotary-dial phones, cars with tail fins, and superpower confrontations. What, one wonders, is the point?

Perhaps Obama hopes this will somehow push the “reset” button on U.S.-Russia relations. If so, I suspect he is deceiving himself; Russia is willing to sign the treaty but not sign off on truly tough sanctions on Iran. Perhaps Obama simply revels in diplomacy for its own sake. If so, this is one of the less harmful manifestations of that proclivity. And perhaps this is part of his larger project to eliminate nuclear weapons in general.

That is a superficially alluring proposition, which is simply impossible to implement in this imperfect world: How would you ever make sure that rogue regimes don’t hide nukes or build new ones in the future? The answer is you can’t, so the U.S. has no option but to keep its nuclear deterrent robust. I don’t think the recent moves by Obama, from the Nuclear Posture Review to the START treaty, jeopardize our deterrent — so I, unlike some on the Right, am not unduly alarmed by them.

I do think, however, that it would be good if he were to commit to doing more for modernizing our nuclear forces, including holding out the possibility of building new nuclear weapons in the future — something that he has rejected for the moment and that perhaps Senate Republicans can force him to reconsider as the price of START ratification. But as I have indicated before, I think all of this is basically a sideshow. The real action isn’t happening in Prague. It’s in Tehran, where the mullahs are getting ever closer to a nuclear weapon — and they won’t be convinced to give up their atomic ambitions because the U.S. is willing to cut is own arsenal. If anything, American concessions embolden Iran into thinking that we are a “weak horse” that can be defied with impunity.

So Presidents Obama and Medvedev have signed a new nuclear-arms reduction accord. Big deal. The actual cuts called for under the treaty are modest because of accounting tricks that allow a B-52 bomber, which can carry 20 nuclear warheads, to be counted as one “weapon.” The treaty doesn’t affect at all the thousands of tactical nuclear warheads or strategic warheads in storage.

During the Cold War this no doubt would have been hailed as a “breakthrough” but today the treaty seems like an anachronism — a throwback to the world of rotary-dial phones, cars with tail fins, and superpower confrontations. What, one wonders, is the point?

Perhaps Obama hopes this will somehow push the “reset” button on U.S.-Russia relations. If so, I suspect he is deceiving himself; Russia is willing to sign the treaty but not sign off on truly tough sanctions on Iran. Perhaps Obama simply revels in diplomacy for its own sake. If so, this is one of the less harmful manifestations of that proclivity. And perhaps this is part of his larger project to eliminate nuclear weapons in general.

That is a superficially alluring proposition, which is simply impossible to implement in this imperfect world: How would you ever make sure that rogue regimes don’t hide nukes or build new ones in the future? The answer is you can’t, so the U.S. has no option but to keep its nuclear deterrent robust. I don’t think the recent moves by Obama, from the Nuclear Posture Review to the START treaty, jeopardize our deterrent — so I, unlike some on the Right, am not unduly alarmed by them.

I do think, however, that it would be good if he were to commit to doing more for modernizing our nuclear forces, including holding out the possibility of building new nuclear weapons in the future — something that he has rejected for the moment and that perhaps Senate Republicans can force him to reconsider as the price of START ratification. But as I have indicated before, I think all of this is basically a sideshow. The real action isn’t happening in Prague. It’s in Tehran, where the mullahs are getting ever closer to a nuclear weapon — and they won’t be convinced to give up their atomic ambitions because the U.S. is willing to cut is own arsenal. If anything, American concessions embolden Iran into thinking that we are a “weak horse” that can be defied with impunity.

Read Less

What Ahmadinejad Has Right

Robert Gates says the new Nuclear Posture Review — which specifically says that the U.S. reserves the right to nuke countries in violation of non-proliferation treaties — is designed to send a “strong message” to Iran and North Korea:

“If you’re going to play by the rules … then we will undertake certain obligations to you,” [Gates] said. “But if you’re not going to play by the rules, if you’re going to be proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you.”

All options on the table? Really? Does anyone think that the Obama administration will use force — much less nuclear force — against Iran? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad certainly doesn’t, to judge by his reaction to the Nuclear Posture Review. He is hardly acting like the leader of a country under threat of annihilation by the world’s sole superpower. Here is what he had to say:

“American materialist politicians, whenever they are beaten by logic, immediately resort to their weapons like cowboys,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech before a crowd of several thousand in northwestern Iran.

“Mr. Obama, you are a newcomer (to politics). Wait until your sweat dries and get some experience. Be careful not to read just any paper put in front of you or repeat any statement recommended,” Ahmadinejad said in the speech, aired live on state TV.

Ahmadinejad said Obama “is under the pressure of capitalists and the Zionists” and vowed Iran would not be pushed around. “(American officials) bigger than you, more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you,” he said, addressing Obama.

That sums up the Iranian mindset quite nicely, and for once, I think Ahmadinejad has a point. He’s right that previous American politicians — presumably the bullying line is a reference to Dubya — didn’t “do a damn thing” about the Iranian nuclear program. Given that reality, what chance is there that Obama will do something? The odds are pretty much nil, which is why the threat continued in the Nuclear Posture Review is so hollow.

Robert Gates says the new Nuclear Posture Review — which specifically says that the U.S. reserves the right to nuke countries in violation of non-proliferation treaties — is designed to send a “strong message” to Iran and North Korea:

“If you’re going to play by the rules … then we will undertake certain obligations to you,” [Gates] said. “But if you’re not going to play by the rules, if you’re going to be proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you.”

All options on the table? Really? Does anyone think that the Obama administration will use force — much less nuclear force — against Iran? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad certainly doesn’t, to judge by his reaction to the Nuclear Posture Review. He is hardly acting like the leader of a country under threat of annihilation by the world’s sole superpower. Here is what he had to say:

“American materialist politicians, whenever they are beaten by logic, immediately resort to their weapons like cowboys,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech before a crowd of several thousand in northwestern Iran.

“Mr. Obama, you are a newcomer (to politics). Wait until your sweat dries and get some experience. Be careful not to read just any paper put in front of you or repeat any statement recommended,” Ahmadinejad said in the speech, aired live on state TV.

Ahmadinejad said Obama “is under the pressure of capitalists and the Zionists” and vowed Iran would not be pushed around. “(American officials) bigger than you, more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you,” he said, addressing Obama.

That sums up the Iranian mindset quite nicely, and for once, I think Ahmadinejad has a point. He’s right that previous American politicians — presumably the bullying line is a reference to Dubya — didn’t “do a damn thing” about the Iranian nuclear program. Given that reality, what chance is there that Obama will do something? The odds are pretty much nil, which is why the threat continued in the Nuclear Posture Review is so hollow.

Read Less

Obama’s Empty Nuclear Posturing

I find it hard to get excited about the Nuclear Posture Review released today by the Obama administration, in part because the relationship between “declaratory” nuclear policy and actual nuclear policy has always been tenuous at best. During the Cold War, the U.S. always reserved the right of first use of nuclear weapons, meaning that it if the Red Army rolled into Europe, we would supposedly nuke Moscow. What would have happened in an actual World War III is hard to know, but there is good reason to doubt that any U.S. president would have been the first to order nuclear escalation, whether the Russian hordes were crossing the Fulda Gap or not.

Likewise, today, for all the speculation going on about whether the U.S. will extend its nuclear umbrella to Iran’s neighbors in case the Islamic Republic acquires nuclear weapons, there is good cause to doubt whether the U.S. (especially under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Barack Obama!) would really be prepared to incinerate Tehran in the event of Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia or even Israel.

Thus, I don’t attach much significance to the Obama administration’s narrowing the categories under which the U.S. would supposedly use nuclear weapons. As the Washington Post account notes:

Under the new policy, the administration will foreswear the use of the deadly weapons against nonnuclear countries, officials said, in contrast to previous administrations, which indicated they might use nuclear arms against nonnuclear states in retaliation for a biological or chemical attack.

But Obama included a major caveat: The countries must be in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations under international treaties. That loophole would mean Iran would remain on the potential target list.

I suppose the administration gets credit for resisting liberal pressure to foreswear any first use of nukes, but, to my mind, any such policy, whether it remains on the books or not, is not terribly credible. It’s fine to keep a small nugget of deterrence alive by not formally burying it, but it’s hard to imagine the U.S. ever using nukes unless it had first been attacked with WMD – meaning nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. The Obama review says that countries that employ only biological or chemical weapons won’t be nuked unless they’re out of compliance with nuclear nonproliferation treaties. Actually, the administration is leaving even more wiggle room than that. According to the New York Times:

White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.

In short, the Obama policy isn’t that big of a change from the policy it inherited. It is, as the Washington Post has it, a “middle course.”

To my mind, the real test of our nonproliferation policy isn’t how we claim we will respond to hypothetical scenarios but rather what we do about actual current dangers. In regard to Iran – the world’s No. 1 proliferation threat – the auguries aren’t propitious, with the Financial Times reporting that a new round of sanctions won’t be on the UN Security Council agenda in April. Thus, Obama’s threats to hit Iran with tough sanctions if his entreaties to talk were rejected are increasingly being exposed as hollow. That kind of wishy-washiness is something that Iran and other rogue regimes understand. By comparison, the theoretical language contained in the Nuclear Posture Review seems more like, well, academic posturing.

I find it hard to get excited about the Nuclear Posture Review released today by the Obama administration, in part because the relationship between “declaratory” nuclear policy and actual nuclear policy has always been tenuous at best. During the Cold War, the U.S. always reserved the right of first use of nuclear weapons, meaning that it if the Red Army rolled into Europe, we would supposedly nuke Moscow. What would have happened in an actual World War III is hard to know, but there is good reason to doubt that any U.S. president would have been the first to order nuclear escalation, whether the Russian hordes were crossing the Fulda Gap or not.

Likewise, today, for all the speculation going on about whether the U.S. will extend its nuclear umbrella to Iran’s neighbors in case the Islamic Republic acquires nuclear weapons, there is good cause to doubt whether the U.S. (especially under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Barack Obama!) would really be prepared to incinerate Tehran in the event of Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia or even Israel.

Thus, I don’t attach much significance to the Obama administration’s narrowing the categories under which the U.S. would supposedly use nuclear weapons. As the Washington Post account notes:

Under the new policy, the administration will foreswear the use of the deadly weapons against nonnuclear countries, officials said, in contrast to previous administrations, which indicated they might use nuclear arms against nonnuclear states in retaliation for a biological or chemical attack.

But Obama included a major caveat: The countries must be in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations under international treaties. That loophole would mean Iran would remain on the potential target list.

I suppose the administration gets credit for resisting liberal pressure to foreswear any first use of nukes, but, to my mind, any such policy, whether it remains on the books or not, is not terribly credible. It’s fine to keep a small nugget of deterrence alive by not formally burying it, but it’s hard to imagine the U.S. ever using nukes unless it had first been attacked with WMD – meaning nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. The Obama review says that countries that employ only biological or chemical weapons won’t be nuked unless they’re out of compliance with nuclear nonproliferation treaties. Actually, the administration is leaving even more wiggle room than that. According to the New York Times:

White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.

In short, the Obama policy isn’t that big of a change from the policy it inherited. It is, as the Washington Post has it, a “middle course.”

To my mind, the real test of our nonproliferation policy isn’t how we claim we will respond to hypothetical scenarios but rather what we do about actual current dangers. In regard to Iran – the world’s No. 1 proliferation threat – the auguries aren’t propitious, with the Financial Times reporting that a new round of sanctions won’t be on the UN Security Council agenda in April. Thus, Obama’s threats to hit Iran with tough sanctions if his entreaties to talk were rejected are increasingly being exposed as hollow. That kind of wishy-washiness is something that Iran and other rogue regimes understand. By comparison, the theoretical language contained in the Nuclear Posture Review seems more like, well, academic posturing.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Another reason not to write sentences like: “The city is built on delineations and differentiations, and its particular beauty is owed to its artifice, to its rejection of stillness, to the almost anarchic spectacle of its many relations.” (You have contests started in your honor to guess who wrote such drivel.)

Another reason to doubt the efficacy of sanctions: “The federal government has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran, despite Washington’s efforts to discourage investment there, records show. That includes nearly $15 billion paid to companies that defied American sanctions law by making large investments that helped Iran develop its vast oil and gas reserves.”

Another reason why the Israelis, one suspects, will eventually have to take matters into their own hands: “Iran is building a new rocket launch site with North Korean assistance, Israel Radio quoted IHS Jane’s as reporting overnight Friday. … The defense intelligence group said the appearance of the launcher suggests assistance from North Korea, and that it may be intended to launch the Simorgh, a long-range Iranian-made missile unveiled in early February and officially intended to be used as a space-launch vehicle (SLV). SLV’s can be converted to be used as long-range ballistic missiles for military purposes.”

Another reason not to get into 2012 prognostications: we don’t know who is running. “After the midterm election this November, the field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 (or later) is going to get bigger and possibly better. The list is long: Mitch Daniels, John Kasich, Meg Whitman, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, and Jim DeMint. And [Rick] Perry.”

Another reason for Democrats to be nervous: voters trust Republicans more on eight of ten issues, including the economy, health care, taxes, social security, and national security. “Republicans lead Democrats 46% to 41% in terms of voter trust on the economy. In early January 2009, just before President Obama took office, Democrats held a nine-point lead on this issue.”

Another reason to bemoan the state of higher education (or the intellectual and ethical training of those who partake of it). Peter Robinson on the U.C. Berkeley protests over budget cuts: “We have here the vocabulary of the peace movement, of the struggle for decent conditions for migrants and other exploited workers, and of the civil-rights movement. Yet what did the protesters demand? Peace? Human rights? No. Money. And for whom? For the downtrodden and oppressed? No. For themselves. At a time when one American in 10 is unemployed and historic deficits burden both the federal government and many of the states, the protesters attempted to game the political system. They engaged in a resource grab.”

Another reason to believe Secretary Robert Gates is the most valuable member of the administration, and Joe Biden is wrong on pretty much everything: “President Barack Obama has been clear. He wants no new nukes. Pentagon chief Robert Gates has been equally direct, advocating in recent years for a new generation of warheads. … The Obama administration is acutely aware of perceptions that the Nuclear Posture Review has divided senior officials—with Vice President Joe Biden viewed as heading up an arms-control focused camp, and Gates perceived as speaking for a military and nuclear establishment that favors more funding and new weapons programs.”

Another reason not to write sentences like: “The city is built on delineations and differentiations, and its particular beauty is owed to its artifice, to its rejection of stillness, to the almost anarchic spectacle of its many relations.” (You have contests started in your honor to guess who wrote such drivel.)

Another reason to doubt the efficacy of sanctions: “The federal government has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran, despite Washington’s efforts to discourage investment there, records show. That includes nearly $15 billion paid to companies that defied American sanctions law by making large investments that helped Iran develop its vast oil and gas reserves.”

Another reason why the Israelis, one suspects, will eventually have to take matters into their own hands: “Iran is building a new rocket launch site with North Korean assistance, Israel Radio quoted IHS Jane’s as reporting overnight Friday. … The defense intelligence group said the appearance of the launcher suggests assistance from North Korea, and that it may be intended to launch the Simorgh, a long-range Iranian-made missile unveiled in early February and officially intended to be used as a space-launch vehicle (SLV). SLV’s can be converted to be used as long-range ballistic missiles for military purposes.”

Another reason not to get into 2012 prognostications: we don’t know who is running. “After the midterm election this November, the field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 (or later) is going to get bigger and possibly better. The list is long: Mitch Daniels, John Kasich, Meg Whitman, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, and Jim DeMint. And [Rick] Perry.”

Another reason for Democrats to be nervous: voters trust Republicans more on eight of ten issues, including the economy, health care, taxes, social security, and national security. “Republicans lead Democrats 46% to 41% in terms of voter trust on the economy. In early January 2009, just before President Obama took office, Democrats held a nine-point lead on this issue.”

Another reason to bemoan the state of higher education (or the intellectual and ethical training of those who partake of it). Peter Robinson on the U.C. Berkeley protests over budget cuts: “We have here the vocabulary of the peace movement, of the struggle for decent conditions for migrants and other exploited workers, and of the civil-rights movement. Yet what did the protesters demand? Peace? Human rights? No. Money. And for whom? For the downtrodden and oppressed? No. For themselves. At a time when one American in 10 is unemployed and historic deficits burden both the federal government and many of the states, the protesters attempted to game the political system. They engaged in a resource grab.”

Another reason to believe Secretary Robert Gates is the most valuable member of the administration, and Joe Biden is wrong on pretty much everything: “President Barack Obama has been clear. He wants no new nukes. Pentagon chief Robert Gates has been equally direct, advocating in recent years for a new generation of warheads. … The Obama administration is acutely aware of perceptions that the Nuclear Posture Review has divided senior officials—with Vice President Joe Biden viewed as heading up an arms-control focused camp, and Gates perceived as speaking for a military and nuclear establishment that favors more funding and new weapons programs.”

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.