It has become a familiar mantra of the political right in recent months: President Barack Obama is projecting weakness by engaging enemies and estranging allies. Even a bold new START agreement signed with Russia earlier this week which if anything sends a strong message to the rest of the world that the United States is committed to a secure balance of nuclear power, is being lambasted by some conservatives as though it were to leave the country exposed to imminent attack.
Charles Krauthammer for instance, who previously opined that the Obama Administration is furthering America’s decline, complains in The Washington Post that under the president’s new policy, the United States will refrain from retaliating with nuclear weapons against aggressors who attack with biological or chemical agents.
Krauthammer describes the promise as both “morally bizarre” and “strategically loopy” while conveniently neglecting to mention that the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to which he refers, explicitly excludes rogue states as Iran and North Korea from the arrangement.
“The ultimate aim,” according to Krauthammer, “is to get to a blanket doctrine of no first use.” Which is true, though not quite so “deeply worrying” as he might think. If we are to believe Krauthammer, American nuclear weapons represent nothing short of an “existential protection” of NATO allies. “What are they to think?” he wonders.
Had he bothered to read up a bit on recent European press coverage, Krauthammer could have known better than to pretend that NATO finds the nuclear arms reduction treaty particularly worrying. All the more so because the NPR reads that any decision as to the future of the tactical warheads currently on forward deployment in Europe will be made in council with the allies. The United States won’t unilaterally decide to remove these weapons; a move that would, indeed, leave Europe more vulnerable.
Slightly less intellectual criticism of the administration’s nuclear policy came from the direction of former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin who spoke at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference on Thursday. Palin reiterated that the president has been “soft” on dictators and blamed him for barely mustering support for Iranian revolutionaries last year. The “Obama Doctrine,” which she praised in December, suddenly entails “coddling enemies and alienating allies,” apparently.
Now President Obama, with all the vast nuclear experience that he acquired as a community organizer and as a full-time candidate — still no accomplishment to date with North Korea and Iran.
That, of course, is coming from the woman who believes that all people living on the American side of the Bering Sea are by definition Kremlinologists.
It may be tempting to use the news of the START treaty and the latest NPR to blame the administration for having made little progress with regards to Iran and North Korea. But while the two are related, they deserve to be treated separately at the same time. Reducing America’s nuclear stockpile with a third leaves plenty of warheads sitting in silos all across the country to blast both regimes to oblivion many times over. The diplomatic failures of the Obama Administration in Iran and North Korea are worrisome, but to mix them together with nuclear arms reduction and then portray the president as a weakling is unbecoming of intelligent commentators.