Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Still talking nuclear policy

To be sure the president has taken some lumps over this supposed policy change on our nuclear weapons posture. Yesterday, I took Barry to task over this transparent departure from over sixty years of US national security policy, and while many agreed with me that this was a serious mistake on the president's part some just yawned. Max Boot of Commentary Magazine was one of those that did yawn, but after reading his reasons for doing so, I can understand his position. (HT to Hugh Hewitt) Mr. Boot writes:

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.

(I agree with Mr. Boot on that latter point. President Truman was the first and only president to ever order the use of nuclear weapons, and he did so to end our hostilities with Japan. That was anything but an easy choice to make. President Truman understood the gravity of using such a weapon, and insisted that we give the Japanese enough notice we were going to use the weapons; giving the Japanese a chance to surrender. But even he wasn't blind to the fact that, more than likely, they wouldn't concede. But as the only president to ever employ such weapons, he had keen insight into the mental throes that go with issuing such an order. No president wants to unleash such a weapon unless it is literally our last resort.)

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.

(Another true statement from Mr. Boot. Given the rhetoric from this White House with regard to Iran, it's no secret that Barry wouldn't lift a finger even if Iran not only revealed they had nuclear weapons, but also used one on one of its neighbors. As I have repeatedly stated there is doubt that Iran would play a game of chicken with a handful of nukes. They'd likely use them to blackmail their neighbors, and areas of Europe within the reach of their missiles. It's not a nuclear strike we should be worried about, but rather how blackmailed nations would act with regard to America. Of course with the way Barry is acting towards our allies, Iran won't need to use nukes to blackmail them into leaving us in the cold. Barry's doing a "fine" job of that on his own.)

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

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.

It is, literally, posturing. Barry went out of his way to assuage fears the US might use its nuclear arsenal against any nation that might hit us with a WMD. But it doesn't help this nation to know that the nuclear option is now openly off the table. Before now nations would have to weigh a decision to attack us with a WMD out of fear of what our retaliation might be. (As we don't use chemical or biological weapons, we have only one, serious response at our disposal, and it's now officially off the table.)

Mr. Boot is correct: 99% of the time the president would opt out of using nuclear weapons. Recall 11 September 2001 when nineteen foreign-born jihadists hijacked four jetliners, and turned them into a WMD. Nearly 3000 Americans died that die in the worst attack in US history. Did President Bush order a nuclear strike on Afghanistan once the perpetrators were discovered and researched?

No, he didn't.

I'm sure there is a whole host of reasons why that option either wasn't entertained, or was taken off the table eventually. Among them, most likely, would have been the civilian casualties that would've been guaranteed had such a strike been ordered. And that is one reason why no president wants to make that call. But the point of the change is that the decision has always been in the hands of the president. Barry's decision is to remove that aspect of our arsenal off the table in 99% of the cases.

Like anything else that comes out of this administration, there are mealy-mouth caveats in this decision. The fact that whether or not a nation is in compliance with the nuclear nonproliferation treaty should be irrelevant. It really doesn't matter if they are or not if they've decided to strike the US. For over sixty years this nation sat upon a threat that if we were ever struck by a WMD, or our allies were, that we would respond with a nuclear strike. And that was regardless of their treaty compliance. We never left ourselves as naked and open as we are today.

I understand Max Boot's overall point which is this isn't necessarily a change in policy as much as it is posturing and preening on the world stage. Where I disagree with Mr. Boot is on this simple fact: Since the development of nuclear weapons, the Left has busied themselves with attempting to disarm us. The fight has been long, and up until this declaration they had failed. But Barry's in charge now, and his infamous boast back in July of 2008 that he wants to rid the world of nuclear weapons has emboldened his supporters to push us in this direction, deterrence be damned.

We live in a very dangerous world, and the only thing that kept the majority of our enemies at bay was the fact that we had a weapon they didn't have, and that weapon could literally annihilate them. Now that threat is off the table; empty and as dangerous as a toothless guard dog. While Barry pats himself on the back for this decision, our enemies are licking their lips, sharpening their knives, and preparing to hit us in more bold actions than what we've experienced since 11 September. Recall, if you will, the intelligence assessment handed to Congress back in February that stated al Qaeda was planning more stealthy and devastating attacks on the US, primarily focusing on our computer networks.

While some may think that such an attack couldn't ravage or wreak havoc across the nation, they're dead wrong on so many levels. The world runs on computers. Imagine a cyber-attack on a level that shuts down just one-quarter of the nation's power grid. Imagine the havoc created on our streets;
envision the chaos in hospitals;visualize the Hell that would be wreaked on businesses.

Traffic lights stop working. In the ensuing bedlam, On-Star units don't work. No way to get help after accidents. (Not all cars have On-Star, I know, but most new cars do have it. And if you think the cellphone is going to work, think again.) We have evidence that elements of al Qaeda have been researching and utilizing cyber-terrorism. (HT to Dr. Rusty Shackleford) And remember that Barry specifically included cyber-attacks in his declaration that we wouldn't use nukes no matter the overall it might do to the nation.

Regardless of how you might feel about the declaration from Barry -- for or against nuclear weapons -- you can't tell me that our posture for sixty-plus years hasn't served America well. That defense posture kept China, Russia, and even Cuba at bay. Even after the break-up of the Soviet Union, when fears ran high about rogue Russian warheads leading to an "outbreak" of nuclear proliferation, the US was safe because of this doctrine. And even if Mr. Boot is correct, and no president would actually follow through on a nuclear strike, the threat always remained, and caused our enemies to take a moment of pause before deciding whether or not it was worth it to provoke that level of reciprocity.

Publius II


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