April 7, 2009


Yes, We Can . . . Disarm?: Obama's Quixotic Rallying Cry for the World (Anne Applebaum, April 7, 2009, Washington Post)

[S]omeone has to say it: Although some things went well on this trip, some things went badly. The centerpiece of the visit, Obama's keynote foreign policy speech in Prague -- leaked in advance, billed as a major statement -- was, to put it bluntly, peculiar. He used it to call for "a world without nuclear weapons" and a new series of arms control negotiations with Russia. This was not wrong, necessarily, and not evil. But it was strange.

Clearly, the "no nukes" policy is one close to the president's heart. The Prague speech even carried echoes of that most famous of all Obama speeches, the one he made after losing the New Hampshire primary. "There are those who hear talk of a world without nuclear weapons and doubt whether it is worth setting a goal that seems impossible," he told his Czech audience. (Recall: "We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics.") "When nations and peoples allow themselves to be defined by their differences, the gulf between them widens," he continued. ("We are not as divided as our politics suggests.") He didn't say "Yes, we can" at the end, but he did say "human destiny will be what we make of it" -- which amounts to the same thing.

The rhetoric was Obama's -- and so was the idea. Look at his record: One of the few foreign policy initiatives to which Obama stuck his name during his brief Senate term was an increase in funding for nuclear nonproliferation. One of the few trips Obama managed as a senator was a nuclear inspection tour of Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

Which is all very nice -- but as the central plank in an American president's foreign policy, a call for universal nuclear disarmament seems rather beside the point. Apparently, Obama's intention is to lead by example: If the United States cuts its own nuclear arsenal and bans testing, then, allegedly, others will follow.

Yet there is no evidence that U.S. nuclear arms reductions have ever inspired others to do the same. All of the world's more recent nuclear powers -- Israel, India, Pakistan -- acquired their weapons well after such talks began, more than 40 years ago.

...one of the key's to understanding Ronald Reagan is to recognize that he too was obsessed with ending the threat of nuclear weapons. But the key to understanding him as a leader is that he never acted unilaterally to weaken America, only to threaten a recalcitrant Moscow. He was willing to take steps--disarmament and sharing Star Wars-- that were mutually beneficial, but negotiation was always on America's terms.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at April 7, 2009 7:31 AM
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