Will Obama show more backbone on disarmament than health care?

deproliferatorTHE DEPROLIFERATOR — First, let’s tie up some loose nuclear ends with. . . Nukes in the News.

• Remember the 2007 NIE (National Intelligence Report) which declared that Iran had abandoned any development of nuclear weapons in 2007? Well, at Inter Press Service, investigative reporter and historian Gareth Porter writes:

Western officials leaked stories. . . last week aimed at pressuring the outgoing chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, to include a summary of intelligence alleging that Iran has been actively pursuing work on nuclear weapons in the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] report due out this week. [More when that appears — RW.] … the stories suggested that ElBaradei has been guilty of a cover-up in refusing to publish information he has had since last September alleging that Iran has continued to pursue research on developing nuclear weapons. [Why? The usual charge: to] “undermine the U.S. sanctions drive.”

And you thought those kinds of hijinks went out with the Bush administration. The NIE aside, ElBaradei has long been skeptical of documents downloaded from the notorious Laptop of Mass Destruction (also by Gareth Porter) purloined from Iran because they seemed to be tampered with.

In effect though, Iran came to its own rescue last week when, as Asia Times Online’s Kaveh Afrasiabi reports:

In a clear sign of new flexibility on the nuclear issue, Iran has agreed to allow the IAEA to inspect the heavy water reactor under construction in Arak, south of Tehran, as well as to upgrade the IAEA’s ability to monitor the nuclear facility in Natanz, central Iran. [But] Obama’s intelligence chiefs continue to offer nuances [nuances can be bad, too — RW] on Iran’s nuclear program, saying that Iran “may” possess a bomb by 2013 “if” it decides to divert its uranium-enrichment program to weapons-grade enrichment. The wheels of Washington policymaking are slowly but surely turning in the direction of confrontation with Iran.

• On a more optimistic note, file the following under the category of Most Important Treaties You Never Heard of. The IAEA reports that the Treaty of Pelindaba entered into force after 13 years of gestation when the 53rd and last African state, Burundi, signed it. Thus does all of Africa become “a zone free of nuclear weapons [and] in turn expand[s] the nuclear-weapon free territories to cover the entire Southern hemisphere.” [Emphasis added.]

Freedom from fear that the likes of the Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir would develop or acquire nuclear weapons is no small thing — a plus for global security. This decade anyway.

• The CTC Sentinel, a publication of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, is probably the pre-eminent journal devoted exclusively to world terrorism. And Shaun Gregory, director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at the University of Bradford in the UK, is perhaps the West’s foremost expert on just how secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are or aren’t. In the front page article of the July issue, he reports on something that seems to have slipped under the radar of many.

Concern that the Taliban or al-Qaeda might gain control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons isn’t taken seriously in many quarters because of the undeniable might of Pakistan’s military. But, Gregory reports that militants have already mounted attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities:

These have included an attack on the nuclear missile storage facility at Sargodha on November 1, 2007, an attack on Pakistan’s nuclear airbase at Kamra by a suicide bomber on December 10, 2007, and perhaps most significantly the August 20, 2008 attack when Pakistani Taliban suicide bombers blew up several entry points to one of the armament complexes at the Wah cantonment, considered one of Pakistan’s main nuclear weapons assembly sites.

• As mentioned in a previous post, Daniel Ellsberg’s new book, American Doomsday Machine, will soon appear free on his Website. If this excerpt, Hiroshima Day: America Has Been Asleep at the Wheel for 64 Years, is any indication, it recalls James Carroll’s House of War (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). Both books narrate the history of the Cold War — by default a history of nuclear weapons — from the point of view of the son of a defense insider.

Here’s the reaction of the 14-year-old Ellsberg to bombing Hiroshima:

I remember that I was uneasy. . . about the tone in President Harry Truman’s voice on the radio as he exulted over our success. … I generally admired Truman [but] I was put off by the lack of concern in his voice, the absence of a sense of tragedy. … It seemed to me that this was a decision best made in anguish; and both Truman’s manner and the tone of the official communiqués made unmistakably clear that this hadn’t been the case.

Which meant for me that our leaders didn’t. . . grasp the. . . sinister implications. … I believed that something ominous had happened.

Out of the mouths of babes. If Ellsberg’s book is half the book that Carroll’s is it will still be one of the most important books of the Cold War.

• Now for our main feature. . . Writing for Slate, veteran journalist Ron Rosenbaum asks Will the Pentagon Thwart Obama’s Dream of Zero?

Obama put Zero on the map at the very beginning of his presidency. … But there have been recent indications of “pushback” against Obama by generals in the nuclear chain of command, not so much on reducing the numbers of missiles but on their alert status and on the flawed “command and control” system that makes us vulnerable to accidental nuclear war. …

. . . I am concerned that. …. Obama’s Zero will sink into a bureaucratic swamp of inertia. . . and passive-aggressive neglect from long-entrenched interests.

What’s does Rosenbaum think is the answer?

Obama has a car czar; he needs a Zero czar if he’s serious. [Also where] are the interagency working groups? [Nor has he yet mobilized] the Defense and State department bureaucracies by, for instance, issuing a presidential policy directive on the national security strategy of the United States. …

Most troubling is Obama’s failure to take up this challenge from his top generals: He’s sending a message that he’s not serious on the issue, that he can be rolled. [Who? Obama? — RW] … he should call [the generals] into the White House and make sure they are on the same page when it comes to . . . our launch status. … Obama needs to. … kick some bureaucratic butt in the Pentagon.

In the spirit of master framers George Lakoff and personal favorite Drew Westen, here’s a suggestion on how the president — were he so inclined (there’s the rub) — might frame disarmament for hawks. . .

It wasn’t until after Ronald Reagan became president that his distaste for nuclear weapons came to the fore. Indeed, his belief in missile defense (known, until recently, as “Star Wars” — what, did George Lucas sue?) seemed driven by a sincere desire to protect the nation from a nuclear holocaust.

Then, at the Reykjavik Summit in 1986, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev proposed, without much ado, the total abolition of nuclear weapons. When Reagan enthusiastically agreed, he shocked the U.S. defense establishment.

But his insistence on clinging to missile defense like a teddy bear brought Gorbachev’s larger-than-life gesture crashing to earth. Still, the summit laid the groundwork for an important treaty, the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty).

Which brings us to our recommendation. . . Reagan subsequently became a latter-day saint to conservatives. Bearing that in mind, President Obama should frame the road to zero as the realization of Reagan’s dream of a nuclear-weapons free world.

Hawks will reflexively respond that, to the contrary, Reagan’s national security legacy was Star Wars. But if, as Dr. Westen counsels, Obama’s administration tells a story, in this case of Gorbachev and Reagan’s joint “epiphany,” it might strike a chord within the American public loud enough to drown out conservative resistance.

The irony of Ronald Reagan is that conservatives think his legacy was defeating communism and igniting an economic boom with his deregulatory policies. In reality, communism imploded, as did, thanks to his administration’s initiatives, our economy. Reagan’s real legacy was setting an example for future presidents with his willingness to dream big about the abolition of nuclear weapons. Are you listening, President Obama?

First posted at the Faster Times.

1 reply »

  1. If Ellsberg’s book is half the book that Carroll’s is it will still be one of the most important books of the Cold War.

    Indeed, House of War is one of the best books that i’ve ever read. How he makes that tome move like a novel is as amazing as the information and perspective. I look forward to reading Ellsberg’s, and thanks for the heads up.

    That’s the political strategy i want to see. Imagine the Republicans having to disavow Reagan or the glowing memorials of his epiphany written by Democratic pundits. And maybe, maybe it just might work.