Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Israel's 1981 Osirak attack poor precedent for attacking Iran

Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor is, along with other episodes such as the Six-Day War and Operation Entebbe, is the stuff of Israel’s military legend. Some are citing it as a precedent for attacking Iran’s nuclear-enrichment facilities. As Bennett Ramberg wrote in 2006 for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (behind a pay wall) about the Osirak attack’s applicability to Iran:

A dramatic military action to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation, the June 7, 1981 strike left a legacy that echoes today in the “all options are on the table” drumbeat emanating from Washington and Jerusalem. The seemingly straightforward message to Iran and other would-be proliferators: Abrogate nonproliferation pledges in this post-9/11 era and risk being “Osiraked.” Continue reading

Bin Laden's death, the end of a 21st Century Hitler

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

Osama Bin Laden is dead.

The first news reports gave me an eerie feeling to know he died with a bullet to his head. It seemed more like a hit than a battle at that time. My Christian sensibilities rebelled at the thought of assassination and murder even of such an evil person.  My human sensibilities applauded the death of a man who orchestrated the murders of so many others, a 21st Century Adolph Hitler.

Continue reading

Requiem for a monster

I am not a warlike person. I served in the Peace Corps, not the Marine Corps. I am not violent. I am tough, in a stringy, phlegmatic Scots-Irish sort of way, but I am not vengeful.

I am glad Osama is dead. I am not exuberant as I expected I would be. But I am glad.

Ten years ago on September 11, I was at a company meeting on Long Island. The next day I was supposed to launch a book at the Journal, right across from the World Trade Towers. We watched the second plane hit on the TV in the bar. We tried to be professional and continue our meeting, but one of our team had an apartment within blocks of ground zero, and halfway through our next session she broke down into hysterics and starting shouting about her cat, which was locked in her apartment. We canceled the meeting and walked on the beach quietly for the rest of the day. Continue reading

Forces opposed to dangerous, extravagant nuke project get day in court

If you’re not a regular reader, you may be surprised to learn the federal government seeks to ram through a new nuclear facility that’s intolerable on a number of counts.

1. Its intended purpose is to build plutonium pits — the living, breathing heart of a nuclear weapon, where the chain reaction occurs. In other words, mad science at its most extreme.

2. Its projected cost is greater than all the work done on the Manhattan Project in New Mexico during World War II.

3. The land the building will occupy is seismically, uh, challenged. Continue reading

The Obama-Gates maneuver on military spending

by Gareth Porter

Last week Barack Obama announced that he wants to cut $400 billion in military spending and said he would work with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs on a “fundamental review” of U.S. “military missions, capabilities and our role in a changing world” before making a decision.

Spokesman Geoff Morrell responded by hinting that Gates was displeased with having to cut that much from his spending plan.  Gates “has been clear that further significant defense cuts cannot be accomplished without future cuts in force structure and military capability,” said Morrell, who volunteered that the Secretary not been informed about the Obama decision until the day before.

But it is difficult to believe that open display of tension between Obama and Gates was not scripted. Continue reading

New nuclear project distracts from existing safety (read: seismic) issues

“The vastly ambitious CMRR project has greatly detracted from the attention needed to solve existing nuclear safety problems at LANL,” writes Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) in its latest newsletter. LANL, of course, is the Los Alamos National Laoratory, one of the United States’ two nuclear weapons-design laboratories. The CMRR, about which I’ve often written about in conjunction with LASG’s attempts to retard its progress, is the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility, intended to expand production of plutonium pits (where the chain reaction occurs in a nuclear weapons). Continue reading

Imagine disarmament and nonproliferation talks that reward the state with more nukes

Nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation are based in part on the premise that if the states with the most nuclear weapons dial down their numbers that those with fewer will do the same. Just as important, states without nuclear weapons will no longer be tempted to develop them. Sounds like a simple matter of leadership, right?

But today, not only conservatives, but generic realists, make the case that whether or not the United States makes significant strides toward global zero is of no concern whatsoever to states aching to scratch the nuclear itch. It’s explained as well as anywhere in a 2009 paper for the Hudson Institute by Christopher Ford titled Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation, and the “Credibility Thesis”. Continue reading

Thanks to Fukushima light shed on U.S. nuclear facility located on a volcano

The light shining on the safety of nuclear energy as a result of the Japanese nuclear crisis has been of such powerful wattage that it’s even flushing safety issues with nuclear weapons labs and manufacturing facilities out of hiding. Roger Snodgrass reports for the Santa Fe New Mexican.

On Friday, President Barack Obama asked the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review the safety of American nuclear power plants. . . . At Los Alamos National Laboratory, nuclear safety issues have been complicated with seismic concerns, as geological studies have uncovered an increasingly precarious underground structure. Continue reading

Gaddafi's defector foreign minister Kousa has Michigan ties

by Jane Briggs-Bunting; illustration by Paul Szep

As the ground and air war continues in Libya, I received an email from a former colleague and friend from the Detroit media. He related how he covered a story in the mid-1980s about a Gaddafi’s loyalist. Musa Kousa, who had attended school at Michigan State University studying sociology and following the Spartans’ sports teams. He sent me the link for the mid-1980s story he uploaded to You Tube.

Kousa returned to his homeland and then became the equivalent of the Libyan ambassador to the UK when he headed up the Libyan Mission in London. Back then, he was allegedly in charge of assassinating the exiled political opponents of Colonel Gaddafi. In 1984, during demonstrations in front of the Libyan Embassy in London, the crowd of demonstrators was sprayed with bullets from the embassy. Among those killed was a London police officer, Yvonne Fletcher. At that point, the Brits told Kousa to get out and shut down the embassy.

Continue reading

Libya intervention making a mockery of political correctness

The extent to which Libya has rendered the concept of political correctness irrelevant on not only the left, but the right, is breathtaking. For instance, Juan Cole writes:

I am unabashedly cheering the liberation movement on, and glad that the UNSC-authorized intervention has saved them from being crushed. Continue reading

Hope fades for Libya's rebels, but memories won't

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

The destructive impact of the Japanese quake and tsunami have effectively pushed the struggle in Libya off the front page and news cycle. The lack of action by the U.S. and its NATO allies to help these rebels has spelled the doom of their fight and will teach a lesson to young, idealistic people across the region. The lesson: don’t count on the western democracies for help despite all they spout about freedom and choice.

The people of the Middle East have long memories. This is a young generation that dared to hope and dream. I believe we will pay a high price tag in the decades ahead for our dithering.

Anne Marie Slaughter, a former Obama administration State Department official now at Princeton University, made a cogent argument for a “No Fly Zone” on PBS Newshour earlier this week.

Dirty bombs, despite their name, not sexy enough

You may never heard of a radiological dispersal device (RDD). That’s because it’s more often referred to as a dirty bomb. Come to think of it, many don’t even know it by that name, however provocative. (Think of it recited by the English woman in the Orbit gum commercial: Duh-ty Bomb.)

A dirty bomb, though, bears no resemblance whatsoever to a sex bomb. “Dirty” means it’s contaminated with radiation. Which is why you may not be familiar with it. Because it’s not a true nuclear weapon, the RDD is not accorded the level of attention it deserves as a threat comparable to terrorists detonating a nuclear bombs in a U.S. city. But, as long as it’s obscured by the threat of a nuclear explosion, its construction and transport, already much less challenging than with a nuclear weapon, can be expedited. Continue reading

What would end-timers do without the threat of nuclear annihilation?

On January 26, influential country musician Charlie Louvin died at age 83. He and his brother Ira performed and recorded as the Louvin Brothers, until they split up in the early sixties, when Charlie began a solo career. Perhaps because of the spare instrumentation of Charlie’s guitar and Ira’s mandolin, as well as their heart-felt harmonies, they influenced the Everly Brothers, the Byrds, and country rock legend Gram Parsons.

Another fan, Emmylou Harris, was quoted by the New York Times: “. . . there was something scary and washed in the blood about the sound of the Louvin Brothers.” In fact, simply “washed in blood” might better characterize one of their songs. Continue reading

Does the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons only increase their allure?

It’s only natural that highly charged words find themselves coupled with the word “nuclear.” It’s almost as if they’re attracted by a magnetic force. Three examples spring to mind.

Holocaust: Most frequently, of course, it’s used in reference to the slaughter of Jews in World War II. When appended to “nuclear,” it describes an earth ravaged to within an inch of its life by nuclear war.

Apartheid: Originally, as we all know, it was the word for segregation in South Africa from 1948 to 1993. When preceded by “nuclear,” it describes the perception of some states without nuclear weapons that those in possession of same are keeping them (as well as nuclear energy) for themselves. And yes, it is singularly sleazy, to link the word “apartheid” with nuclear weapons. Continue reading

Why Washington clings to a failed Middle East strategy

by Gareth Porter

The death throes of the Mubarak regime in Egypt signal a new level of crisis for a U.S. Middle East strategy that has shown itself over and over again in recent years to be based on nothing more than the illusion of power. The incipient loss of the U.S. client regime in Egypt is an obvious moment for a fundamental adjustment in that strategy.

But those moments have been coming with increasing regularity in recent years, and the U.S. national security bureaucracy has shown itself to be remarkably resistant to giving it up. The troubled history of that strategy suggests that it is an expression of some powerful political forces at work in this society, as former NSC official Gary Sick hinted in a commentary on the crisis. Continue reading

Is "It's not fair" a childish response to being denied nuclear weapons?

As recently as last month, the term “nuclear apartheid,” in all its unsavoriness, reared its ugly head again. Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency denounced the IAEA’s approval of a plan for a nuclear fuel bank as “nuclear apartheid” (because of the implied infringement on a state’s own nuclear fuel production). For his part, back in 2005 President Ahmadinejad said of nuclear technology, “We’re against ‘nuclear apartheid,’ which means some have the right to possess it, use the fuel, and then sell it to another country for 10 times its value.”

When applied to nuclear weapons, the phrase may have been first used by Jaswant Singh, an adviser on defense and foreign affairs to former Prime Minister Vajpayee. In a 1998 Foreign Affairs article titled Against Nuclear Apartheid, he spoke out against nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) enforcement of a regime that, in effect, permits United Nations Security Council states to reserve nuclear weapons for themselves. Continue reading

From military-industrial complex to permanent war state

by Gareth Porter

Fifty years after Dwight D. Eisenhower’s January 17, 1961 speech on the “military-industrial complex”, that threat has morphed into a far more powerful and sinister force than Eisenhower could have imagined. It has become a “Permanent War State,” with the power to keep the United States at war continuously for the indefinite future.

But despite their seeming invulnerability, the vested interests behind U.S. militarism have been seriously shaken twice in the past four decades by some combination of public revulsion against a major war, opposition to high military spending, serious concern about the budget deficit and a change in perception of the external threat. Today, the Permanent War State faces the first three of those dangers to its power simultaneously — and in a larger context of the worst economic crisis since the great depression. Continue reading

Thanks to New START, you too can "ride out" a nuclear attack

When you think of a nuclear treaty such as New START, a decrease in the number of nuclear weapons naturally comes to mind. While that’s been true in the past, New START leaves the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia more or less intact. In March 2010 Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists explained at it Strategic Security Blog that:

. . . the treaty does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead and actually permits the United States and Russia to deploy almost the same number of strategic warheads that were permitted by the 2002 Moscow Treaty [thanks to, in part, a] new counting rule that attributes one weapon to each bomber rather than the actual number of weapons assigned to them. [In fact, this] “fake” counting rule frees up a large pool of warhead spaces under the treaty limit that enable each country to deploy many more warheads than would otherwise be the case. . . . Indeed, the New START Treaty is not so much a nuclear reductions treaty as it is a verification and confidence building treaty.

(As well as — anyone familiar with my writing knows — a mechanism by which Republicans squeezed an $85 billion commitment from the Obama administration to shore up the nuclear-industrial complex over the next decade.) Continue reading

Food prices, Tunisia and what’s next

Just last week we were reading various reports about sharply rising food prices and demonstrations that were turning into riots in a number of countries. And then we had a revolution in Tunisia, toppling a dictator (western supported, of course) who had been in power for decades. And now we’re reading about concerns about a domino effect of the potential collapse of a variety of mideast dictatorships or kingdoms. And, true to form, we’re already seeing some governments furiously lowering food prices in an attempt to forestall more rioting—in fact, Algeria has already done so.

Let’s be clear about this—this should not have come as a surprise. What is surprising, perhaps, is that the demonstrations and rioting in Tunisia were actually successful in driving out a hated government—although what will replace it remains a bit unclear. Continue reading