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Obama’s Expertise Shines in Nuclear Summit

Posted on April 15 2010 11:48 am
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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) who are every bit as good as his financial people, so I think we can all breathe a little easier.

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.”

–          Full Article Here

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.

–          Full Article Here

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.

Which brings us back to poor, uninformed Sarah Palin. In determining the extent of her inexpert folly it’s probably 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 invalidate some part of Hannity’s assertions and Palin’s response.

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.

On one level this is nothing more than an undertaking to review the posture in the future, which will happen in any event. On any other level, it strains credulity. The intention not to use nuclear weapons in this scenario is emphatically stated twice in this document (pp 14-15). The likelihood of the US freelancing an “adjustment” in the chaotic aftermath of a devastating attack is remote, to put it charitably. To world leaders who thrive in environments where judging strength is the difference between the presidential palace and the plastic shredder this is just another sign of confusion and weakness on our part.

Accordingly, Palin’s simple “punch in the face” analogy seems to hold up. Go figure.

By contrast, a simple-minded argument typically ignores details in pursuit of a foregone conclusion. One example, off the top of my head, would be ignoring the complex cultural and political realities of nations other than our own, whose ideas about war and/or terrorism may not align with ours — and assuming benevolence simply because we wish it so. Not to put too fine a point on it, but anyone who truly believes that “relying on good will is the nature of international relations” would be wise to soft-peddle any smirking allusions to someone else’s naivete.

But then again I’m no expert.

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