What exactly was Obama trying to do with his restatement of America’s nuclear policy? ABC’s Rick Klein asked for a response on Twitter this morning:
what do you think of Obama’s attempt at middle ground on nukes? genuine? an area where new approach is needed? #TopLine ? of day
Allahpundit offered a good analysis of the actual impact of the new policy, which doesn’t go as far as some might think. It didn’t really change much in pragmatic terms. The US was not going to launch nuclear weapons against countries without a nuclear provocation anyway, not during an Obama presidency at least, and maybe not even with a nuclear provocation. All it did was remove the uncertainty.
However, the uncertainty was a key strategic asset for the US until now, as John Hinderaker points out at Power Line:
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.
John’s post title asks, “Does it matter?” The answer is: probably not, although not just for the reasons John gives in his conclusion. If America gets attacked by a nation using WMD and enough people die from it (hundreds of thousands or more), the pressure to respond with a nuclear attack would be too great to resist, perhaps even for Obama. But that’s not likely to happen, either. Our greatest security threats at the moment don’t come from states but from non-state actors (as Allahpundit pointed out last night, too). No matter what happens, we’re not going to drop nukes on Waziristan to go after al-Qaeda. Not only would it be a less-than-effective method for killing the terrorists, whose location is not firmly known, it would kill tens of thousands of people who are unfortunate enough to live in the same area as a relatively small band of terrorists– and that’s just not who we are as a nation. Thankfully.
The question remains, though, as to what Obama was thinking. The policy can be seen as an attempt to split the middle on nuclear policy, since the Left wanted an outright declaration of no use of nukes at all. However, the rest of the country wasn’t interested in a recalculation of nuclear policy. For one thing, what we have been doing for 60 years has worked pretty well; that ambiguity was enough to keep our enemies guessing. But even more along the same point, no one but the Left thought that this was a big priority for reform. We haven’t lobbed a nuke in anger for 65 years, and we’re nowhere near the kind of nuclear threat that we faced for more than 40 of those years during the Cold War.
Put simply, this is a big non-sequitur, a fixing of what wasn’t broken in the first place, much like the Obama focus on the START treaty over real threats like Iran and North Korea. It’s almost literally a move from left field, playing on the progressive turf in a game that no one else bothered to play. Only a Leftist would do this thinking it was a move to the middle, and it shows just how out of touch this administration is with the mainstream of American thought.