Increasingly, one wonders: where are the adults? Today's political and journalistic childishness continues to astonish. But at least there are some adults looking on and reminding the rest of us of the difference between adolescent fantasies and the very grave matters at hand that deserve adult attention. One such observer is Charles Krauthammer. Another is the journalist nonpariel, Mark Steyn. Here and here, in toto, are their respective remarks on president Obama's latest laboriously choreographed self-dramatization.
There was something oddly disproportionate about the just-concluded nuclear summit to which President Obama summoned 46 world leaders, the largest such gathering on American soil since 1945. That meeting was about the founding of the United Nations, which 65 years ago seemed an event of world-historical importance.
But this one? What was this great convocation about? To prevent the spread of nuclear material into the hands of terrorists. A worthy goal, no doubt. Unfortunately, the two greatest such threats were not even on the agenda.The first is Iran, which is frantically enriching uranium to make a bomb, and which our own State Department identifies as the greatest exporter of terrorism in the world.
Nor on the agenda was Pakistan's plutonium production, which is adding to the world's stockpile of fissile material every day.
Pakistan is a relatively friendly power, but it is the most unstable of all the nuclear states. It is fighting a Taliban insurgency and is home to al-Qaeda. Suicide bombs go off regularly in its major cities. Moreover, its own secret service, the ISI, is of dubious loyalty, some of its elements being sympathetic to the Taliban and thus, by extension, to al-Qaeda.
So what was the major breakthrough announced by Obama at the end of the two-day conference? That Ukraine, Chile, Mexico and Canada will be getting rid of various amounts of enriched uranium.
What a relief. I don't know about you, but I lie awake nights worrying about Canadian uranium. I know these people. I grew up there. You have no idea what they're capable of doing. If Sidney Crosby hadn't scored that goal to win the Olympic gold medal, there's no telling what might have ensued.
Let us stipulate that sequestering nuclear material is a good thing. But, it is a minor thing, particularly when Iran is off the table, and Pakistan is creating new plutonium for every ounce of Canadian uranium shipped to the U.S.
Perhaps calculating that removing relatively small amounts of fissile material from stable friendly countries didn't quite do the trick, Obama proudly announced that the U.S. and Russia were disposing of 68 tons of plutonium. Unmentioned was the fact that this agreement was reached 10 years ago -- and, under the new protocol, doesn't begin to dispose of the plutonium until 2018. Feeling safer now?
The appropriate venue for such minor loose-nuke agreements is a meeting of experts in Geneva who, after working out the details, get their foreign ministers to sign off. Which made this parade of world leaders in Washington an exercise in misdirection -- distracting attention from the looming threat from Iran, regarding which Obama's 15 months of terminally naive "engagement" has achieved nothing but the loss of 15 months.
Indeed, the Washington summit was part of a larger misdirection play -- Obama's "nuclear spring." Last week, a START treaty, redolent of precisely the kind of Cold War obsolescence Obama routinely decries. The number of warheads in Russia's aging and decaying nuclear stockpile is an irrelevancy now that the existential U.S.-Soviet struggle is over. One major achievement of the treaty, from the point of view of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, is that it could freeze deployment of U.S. missile defenses -- thus constraining the single greatest anti-nuclear breakthrough of our time.
This followed a softening of the U.S. nuclear deterrent posture (sparing non-proliferation compliant states from U.S. nuclear retaliation if they launch a biochemical attack against us) -- a change so bizarre and literally unbelievable that even Hillary Clinton couldn't get straight what retaliatory threat remains on the table.
All this during a week when top U.S. military officials told Congress that Iran is about a year away from acquiring the fissile material to make a nuclear bomb. Then, only a very few years until weaponization.
At which point the world changes irrevocably: the regional Arab states go nuclear, the Non-Proliferation Treaty dies, the threat of nuclear transfer to terror groups grows astronomically.
A timely reminder: Syria has just been discovered transferring lethal Scud missiles to Hezbollah, the Middle East's most powerful non-state terrorist force. This is the same Syria that was secretly building a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor until the Israeli air force destroyed the facility three years ago.
But not to worry. Canadian uranium is secured. A nonbinding summit communique has been issued. And a "Work Plan" has been agreed to.
Oh yes. And there will be another summit in two years. The dream lives on.
Now that Krauthammer has warmed you up, here's Mark Steyn:
The mound of corpses being piled up around the world today is not from high-tech nuclear states but from low-tech psycho states.
In years to come — assuming, for the purposes of argument, there are any years to come — scholars will look back at President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit and marvel. For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms-control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia, and Thailand . . . but not even mentioning Germany.
Yet that’s what Obama just did: He held a nuclear gabfest in 2010, the biggest meeting of world leaders on American soil since the founding of the U.N. 65 years ago — and Iran wasn’t on the agenda.
Granted that almost all of Obama’s exciting, innovative “change we can believe in” turns out to have been exhumed direct from the sclerotic Seventies to stagger around like a rotting zombie in polyester bell-bottoms from some straight-to-video sequel, there’s still something almost touchingly quaint in the notion of an international summit on nuclear “nonproliferation” in the 21st century. Five years ago, when there was still a chance the world might prevent a nuclear Iran rather than pretending to “contain” it, I remember the bewildered look from a “nonproliferation expert” on a panel I was on after I suggested nonproliferation was a laughably obsolescent frame for this discussion. You could just about enforce nonproliferation back in the Cold War, when the only official nuclear powers were the Big Five at the U.N. Security Council and the entry level for the nuclear club was extremely expensive and technologically sophisticated. Now it’s not. If Pakistan and North Korea can be nuclear powers, who can’t? North Korea’s population is starving. Its GDP per capita is lower than Ghana’s, lower than Zimbabwe’s, lower than Mongolia’s. Which is to say its GDP is all but undetectable.
Yet it’s a nuclear power.
That’s what anachronistic nonproliferation mumbo-jumbo gets you. If you read in the paper that New Zealand had decided to go nuclear, would you lose a moment’s sleep over it? Personally, I’d be rather heartened. It would be a sign that a pampered and somnolent developed world had woken up and concluded that betting your future on the kindness of strangers is a helluva gamble. What Obama and his empty showboaters failed even to acknowledge in their “security” summit is the reality of the post–Big Five nuclear age: We’re on the brink of a world in which the wealthiest nations from Canada to Norway to Japan can barely project meaningful force to their own borders while the nickel-’n’-dime basket cases go nuclear.
How long do you think that arrangement will last? Iran has already offered to share its nuclear technology with Sudan. Sudan? Ring a vague bell? Remember that “Save Darfur” interpretative-dance fundraiser you went to where someone read out a press release from George Clooney and you all had a simply marvelous time? Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed — with machetes. That’s pretty labor-intensive. In the Congo, five and a half million have been slaughtered — and again in impressively primitive ways.
But a nuclear Sudan would be a model of self-restraint?
By the way, that’s another example of the self-indulgent irrelevance of Obama. The mound of corpses being piled up around the world today is not from high-tech nuclear states but from low-tech psycho states. It’s not that Britain has nukes and poor old Sudan has to make do with machetes. It’s that the machete crowd is willing to kill on an industrial scale and the high-tech guys can’t figure out a way to stop them. Perhaps for his next pointless yakfest the president might consider a machete nonproliferation initiative.
Nuclear technology cannot be un-invented. All you can do, as President Reagan understood when few others did, is invent something that will render it, if not yet obsolete, at least less lethal. Until that moment, what makes the difference is not the technology but the regime. The Obama Happy Fairyland Security Summit was posited on the principle that there’s no difference between a Swiss nuke and a Syrian nuke. If you believe that, you’ll be thrilled by the big breakthrough agreement of the summit: Canada, Chile, Mexico, and Ukraine have agreed to reduce their stocks of enriched uranium. Peace in our time! I have here a piece of paper from the prime minister of Canada!
This is the nuclear version of Janet Incompetano’s initial reaction to the Pantybomber — when she banned passengers from having paperback books on their laps for the last 45 minutes of the flight. In an age of freelance nukes, we shouldn’t be banning items but profiling threats. For 30 years, Iran has acted with extraterritorial impunity and without even the minimal courtesies of international relations — seizing embassies, taking out mob contracts on British novelists, seeding terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, blowing up community centers in Latin America . . . Washington’s pathetic fallback of “containment” is intended to prevent Tehran using a nuke in the Middle East, Europe, or anywhere else within range. There is no strategy for “containing” Iran’s leverage of its nuclear status to advance its interests more discreetly, and no strategy for “containing” the mullahs’ generosity to states and groups more inclined to use the technology.
In a characteristic display of his now famous modesty, President Obama reacted to the hostility of the Tax Day tea parties by saying, “You would think they should be saying ‘thank you’” — for all he’s done for them. Right now, the fellows saying “thank you” are the mullahs, the Politburo, Tsar Putin, and others hostile to U.S. interests who’ve figured out they now have the run of the planet.
As for Obama’s pledge to set a good example by reducing America’s nuclear arsenal, there’s no correlation between peace and the number of weapons — except insofar as states with only a few nukes are more likely to use them than states with gazillions: If you’ve only got a dozen, you’re under more pressure to let ’em fly before they’re taken out by incoming. So the principle underpinning Obama’s Seventies-retro nuke summit — that the size of a civilized state’s stockpile adds to the global threat — is not just false but dangerously delusional. Likewise, the urge to forswear nuclear innovation. It would be greatly to the advantage of civilization if responsible powers were to develop new forms of limited, highly targeted, bunker-busting nukes. As is well understood by our enemies, the modern West has no stomach for large-scale casualties: On the morning of September 11th, for example, Mullah Omar had no fear that Washington would nuke even remote and lightly inhabited parts of the Hindu Kush. As we learned the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan, stupid, ill-trained illiterates with primitive explosives who don’t care who they kill can inflict quite a lot of damage on the technologically advanced, highly trained warriors of civilized states. That’s the “asymmetric warfare” that matters. So virtuously proclaiming oneself opposed to nuclear modernization ensures a planet divided into civilized states with unusable weapons and barbarous regimes happy to kill with whatever’s to hand.
So another grand week’s work for a president pressing full steam ahead into the post-American global order. The good news is that at least you don’t have to worry about a nuclear blitzkrieg from Winnipeg. Sleep easy.
This meeting goes with our explicit statement that we would not strike with nuclear weapons after a biological or chemical attack provided one signed the NPT. In other words we have made it clear that Iran is on the list of those against whom we might use nukes.
All of these things are more part of showing a good example. How do we encourage anyone else to do anything if we ourselves are not willing to do it.
As an aside, anti-ballistic missile tech does not work. Looks great on paper, but is largely ineffectual.
Russian and Ukranian nuclear material is a serious concern because it could be smuggled out. Why should we not do what we can when we can?
By leading by example we have a greater chance of gaining support for substantive moves against Iran. Something that Bush & Co. could not get by being loud and belligerent. Frankly the Iraq invasion told everyone in the world: if you don't want the US to invade, get nukes, otherwise you are a target.
Before anyone mentions attacking Iran, that would be magnificently foolish. It would start a massive regional war that we can not win even with troops on both sides. Iran is huge and in the Iran/Iraq war they showed a proclivity to take dreadful casualties to inflict harm on the enemy.
Diplomacy and soft-er power is our only real option. As far as I can see, we sent W off to play cowboy and the adults are now in charge.
Take care Gil.
"Frankly the Iraq invasion told everyone in the world: if you don't want the US to invade, get nukes, otherwise you are a target."
Since the public warrant for invading Iraq was their ongoing attempt to gather WMD's, including nukes, your logic escapes me. Perhaps you meant to say that the lesson was to acquire nukes secretly or during an administration indifferent to the threat, since once acquired they are impossible to remove without catastrophic consequence.
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