Barack Obama has shown himself willing and able to use all the powers of his office to get what he wants for himself and his supporters. He has exhibited the kind of ruthlessness that is an essential part of the "Chicago Way" and has been loathe to surrender any powers or weapons, inherited from the Bush administration, whose loss might inconvenience him. His behavior is that of a powerful person who knows he has the biggest guns on his side and acts accordingly, brooking very little opposition. He is perhaps more covert in his use of power than previous Presidents, typically hiding it under sunny proclamations of his administration being the most open, most honest, etc, but this is mainly a problem because he has a fawning press which enables his obfuscations. None of that is terribly out of line for Presidents, who always try to put the most rosy spin on their policies while hiding their most amoral machinations; ruthlessness and the ability to use power are part of the character of most Presidents. That is why a recent decision of the President, little commented upon, raises such concerns.
On August 6, 1945, World War II, for all intents and purposes, ended and future Great Power Wars became unthinkable. A MAD balance of terror succeeded, though often just barely, to hold the peace for the next 64 years. The Nuclear Bomb was so devastating, the danger of self-immolation from miscalculation or recklessness so great, that our "largest gun" has been kept holstered ever since. The Obama administration has just made a decision that risks disarming ourselves:
Obama Breaks With Gates, Cancels Nuke Program
Obama's new budget plan includes a little-noted sea change in U.S. nuclear policy, and a step towards his vision of a denuclearized world. It provides no funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, created to design a new generation of long-lasting nuclear weapons that don't need to be tested. (The military is worried that a nuclear test moratorium in effect since 1992 might endanger the reliability of an aging US arsenal.) But this spring Obama issued a bold call for a world free of nuclear weapons, and part of that vision entails leading by example. That means halting programs that expand the American nuclear stockpile. For the past two budget years the Democratic Congress has refused to fund the Bush-era program. But Obama's budget kills the National Nuclear Security Administration program once and for all.
"My colleagues just stared at that line," says Joe Cirincione, a longtime nonproliferation expert and president of the Ploughshares Fund. "They had never seen anything like that." Killing the program, he said, was "the first programmatic impact of the new [zero nukes] policy. People have said they want to see more than words, this is the very first action."
The Obama administration is making grandiose gestures with America’s nuclear deterrent based less on a hardheaded and comprehensive strategic analysis than self-serving political showmanship, tailored to mollify a Left-wing base deeply resentful of the COIN strategy the administration is starting to take in Afghanistan. Nuclear weapons affect the strategic calculus across the entire spectrum of potential decisions, they’re not just shiny, anachronistic, bargaining chips but the overwhelming reason that great power war came to an end in 1945. Period.
Human nature has not made much moral progress since the end of the Third Reich but its very worst instinct for total destruction has, so far, been held at bay by the certainty of self-destruction.
We need someone to remind us again of how to think about the unthinkable.
I have tried not to read into Barack Obama's words, preferring to discuss his actions (which have been alarming enough); by this action, he is taking real risks with the planet based on a ludicrous belief (that does not reach the level of a theory.) Obama's serial apologies to our enemies could have been the result of a calculated strategy that if we changed our tone we could either encourage our enemies to decrease their level of aggression toward us or could finally have them reveal their aggressive nature in an unmistakable manner. This has always been more of a wish than an expectation, but was defensible as a strategy. Weakening our Nuclear deterrent is far more dangerous for two reasons:
1) It suggests that Barack Obama truly believes that America is not only the center of the world but that our enemies cannot be considered to have their own agency. Iran's nuclear ambitions are merely a reaction to American (and Israeli) aggression. If this is true then decreasing the threat form the United States should lead to a commensurate decrease in aggression from our enemies.
2) Aggressors traditionally respond to attempts to "be nice" by becoming more convinced that they are winning. The Iranians, among others, do not see negotiations as win/win but as zero sum; if Obama misunderstands this basic distinction between the West and Honor-Shame societies, he will be consistently outmaneuvered by those who are even more ruthless and amoral than he is.
By weakening our nuclear deterrent, by refusing to modernize our forces, by expressing ideas that are interpreted by our enemies as signs of weakness, and by an apparent unwillingness to use our entire range of resources to respond to enemy actions, we disarm ourselves in the face of those who have much fewer (ie, no) qualms about using every weapon at their disposal to gain what they consider to be their just ends.
May 13, 2009 at 11:31 AM | Permalink