Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What They Said

John Hinderaker

Today President Obama announced a new strategic policy with regard to the use of nuclear weapons. The New York Times reports:

President Obama said Monday that he was revamping American nuclear strategy to substantially narrow the conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons. … To set an example, the new strategy renounces the development of any new nuclear weapons, overruling the initial position of his own defense secretary.

For the first time, the United States is explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.

On its face, that is unbelievably stupid. A country attacks us with biological weapons, and we stay our hand because they are “in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty”? That is too dumb even for Barack Obama. The administration hedged its commitment with qualifications suggesting that if there actually were a successful biological or chemical attack, it would rethink its position. The Times puts its finger on what is wrong with the administration’s announcement:

It eliminates much of the ambiguity that has deliberately existed in American nuclear policy since the opening days of the cold war.

That’s exactly right. The cardinal rule, when it comes to nuclear weapons, is keep ‘em guessing. We want our enemies to believe that we may well be crazy enough to vaporize them, given sufficient provocation; one just can’t tell. There is a reason why that ambiguity has been the American government’s policy for more than 50 years. Obama cheerfully tosses overboard the strategic consensus of two generations.

Stephen Green:

For decades, and especially after the US destroyed its chemical and biological weapons stores in the early 1970s, our policy has been simple: A nuke bomb is a chemical bomb is a biological bomb. We did not discern between WMDs — and we would retaliate with our own WMDs if struck by enemy WMDs.

And since we had no chemical or biological weapons, that meant one thing: We’re coming after you with nukes. Result? No weapon of mass destruction has ever been used against the United States. Pretty cool, that.

We went even further than that to keep the peace, believe it or not. During the Cold War, the Soviets loudly proclaimed they would never be the first to use nuclear weapons. (Although their defense posture, weapons procurement, and doctrine all showed that proclamation to be disingenuous at best.) Moscow then dared us to make the same commitment. And we stayed silent instead.

Result? The Soviets tread more gently than they otherwise might have. Because one treads lightly in a minefield — especially a nuclear one. Never define exactly what enemy action would make you push the button, and you keep the strategic initiative. Important, that.

Well, yesterday Obama — facing no pressure or need to change anything at all — quite recklessly turned over the strategic initiative (operational, too, for that matter) to the other guys.

Little countries can now act, with chemical or biological agents, sure in the knowledge that however we respond, we will respond with less. The other guy now gets to determine how much punishment he is willing to take. Before yesterday, we determined how much punishment we were willing to dish out (plenty).

Rudy Giuliani:

President Obama thinks we can all hold hands, sing songs, and have peace symbols. North Korea and Iran are not singing along with the president. Knowing that, it just doesn’t make sense why we would reduce our nuclear arms when we face these threats.

The president doesn’t understand the concept of leverage. He’s taken away our military option and it looks like he would prevent Israel from using a military option. He also hasn’t gotten Russia or China to agree. With Russia, he should have made them put their cards on the table. Instead, like with the missile shield, he gave up and got nothing for it. He negotiated against himself. That is like reducing the price of your house before you get an offer.

Leverage means the other guy has to be afraid of you. I worked for a president, Ronald Reagan, who understood that brilliantly, and that’s how he won the Cold War. You need to appear to be unpredictable. [Reagan’s] State Department understood that you need to create pressure, to create something they’re afraid of. Tell me where Obama has done that.

What I said, when I read the first reports last night: "He's a damn fool."

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