I read with great interest the roiling debate over remarks Sarah Palin made last week on Sean Hannity’s program concerning President Obama’s remarkable view of the world as reflected in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (a posture best described as “a bow from the waist while grabbing one’s ankles,” but I digress).
The particular point of reference that Hannity paraphrased can be found on page 14 of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review document.
To that end, the United States is now prepared to strengthen its long-standing “negative security assurance” by declaring that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.
President Obama quickly dismissed Palin noting that she, after all, is not an expert in these matters — a sentiment echoed by some in the the comments section of Nancy Morgan’s recent article Obama Ridicules Palin’s Nuclear Expertise.
Apart from his demonstrated ability to pronounce “nuclear” properly it is unclear what expertise Obama himself brings to the table but, in fairness, he is surrounded by nuclear policy experts (including perhaps Valerie Jarrett, the Prince Metternich of our time) every bit as good as his financial people, so I think we can give that point to him.
Further evidence of this expertise was on full view at the recent nuclear summit, where 49 world leaders gathered to agree that nuclear terrorism was a very bad thing indeed, that nuclear materials need to be secured, and this should happen within the next four years … using the honor system.
Conceding that there won’t be an international body to enforce countries’ commitments to securing nuclear material, Obama said the leaders at the summit “take their commitments very seriously.” Relying on “good will,” [Obama] said, is the “nature of international relations.”
Not to worry though. In case the idea of an amorphous plan predicated on the good will of nations – many of whom wouldn’t pee on the United States if it was on fire – makes people a little jumpy, Obama has a trump card. He’ll bring in the UN!
It became clear in our discussions that we do not need lots of new institutions and layers of bureaucracy. We need to strengthen the institutions and partnerships that we already have — and make them even more effective. This includes the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the multilateral partnership that strengthens nuclear security, prevent nuclear trafficking and assist nations in building their capacity to secure their nuclear materials.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s one thing for these kleptocrats to line their own pockets with programs like Oil-for-Food and Afghanistan reconstruction and quite another to apply the same nuanced morality to controlling substances that can vaporize New York. Some might also object to the United States ceding its authority to a body that demonstrably couldn’t organize a frat-party in a brewery, but again, we’re missing the long view. President Obama, through the same sheer weight of personality that brought China fully on board in this Iran business, will convince the UN satraps to forswear their previously wicked and incompetent ways, and do the right thing … using the honor system.
As Seth Leibsohn aptly concluded the noteworthy results of the nuclear summit were few:
We had a summit that accomplished nothing except a) angering the American and international press corps, b) closing down Washington for two days, and c) misleading everyone for 24 hours that China and others were on board with something to help stop Iran when that just wasn’t true.
To the non-experts in the crowd it would seem better for the President to worry a little less about what Canada does with its uranium and a little more about who Iran plans to do with its – but once more it’s altogether likely we are missing the subtleties of the situation.
We come full circle to poor, uninformed Sarah Palin. In determining the extent of her inexpert folly it’s probably be helpful to make some distinctions between “simple” and “simple-minded.”
A simple statement sacrifices some detail for the purposes of clarity and emphasis, on the understanding that the general point is congruent with the more detailed account.
In this case (with a nod to some of our readers’ comments) it is true that the details of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review contain some “we reserve the right” type boilerplate that appears to give the US an out. (Thankfully there is no accompanying warning about the danger of placing hot liquids between your legs.)
Given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of bio-technology development, the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat.
This is, however, nothing more than an undertaking to review the posture in the future, which will happen in any event. Other than that, given the fact that the non-use of nuclear weapons in this scenario is not only made explicit but reinforced in the summary (page 15), the likelihood of snap reversal in the field seems remote, to put it charitably.
Accordingly, Palin’s simple “punch in the face” analogy seems to hold up. Go figure.
Now a simplistic argument typically ignores details in pursuit of a foregone conclusion. An example off the top of my head is ignoring complex geopolitical reality in making unilateral concessions to nations whose world-view — especially as it pertains to the proper role of war and/or terrorism as a means of advancing interests — may not align with our own. One marker of such thinking is any policy that relies on the honor system.
But then again I’m no expert.