President Obama & Team Score Big on Nuclear Deal-Making

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I had a good exchange with MSNBC Countdown‘s Keith Olbermann tonight on Barack Obama’s substantial achievement in a combined set of nuclear initiatives — including a revised Nuclear Posture Review parts of which were released today, the signining a new START Treaty with Russia, a nuclear materials lockdown summit next week — all leading to a major Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in May.
This is ‘Legacy Stuff’ for the Obama team. I’m very impressed with the deftness of the details of the Nuclear Posture Review.
I have been frustrated by the Obama team’s lack of progress, until now, to achieve the global objectives it has defined for itself.
This is a big win — and something that can lead to momentum and other strategic accomplishments.
More tomorrow.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

27 comments on “President Obama & Team Score Big on Nuclear Deal-Making

  1. erichwwk says:

    “eroding U.S. power” ???
    I hope you mean by its disregard of national law, and by actually INCREASING the role of nuclear weapons, especially as a tool against Iran.
    TO claim that somehow the U.S. has reduced its Nuclear Weapons response options in terms of “hard power” is ill informed.
    see eg
    http://thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/nuclear-weapons-the-modernization-myth
    or click on my name for Union of Concerned scientists view, which is similar to that of the Federation of American Scientists. It is essentially a Pentagon driven PR effort to justify a tremendous INCREASE in nuclear weapons manufacturing capability, for which the current euphemism is “modernization”, although some still use “Lifetime extension” or “stockpile safety and security”.
    Like WMD to justify occupying Iraq for oil, what seems important is word selection that the American public will “buy”.

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  2. kotzabasis says:

    “Restore key international protocols that eroded under GWBush.” (Clemons)
    Clemons is a ‘paper recycler

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  3. erichwwk says:

    For a view how conventional wisdom is supported these days through “independent individuals” try Nathan Hodge’s “Coalition of the Shilling”:
    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20100329/hodge/print
    An excerpt:
    How exactly did Flournoy and Campbell conjure up a think tank out of thin air? In addition to support from foundations like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Ploughshares Foundation [sic — Ploughshares Fund], CNAS
    [Center for a New American Security] received heavy backing from the military industry. Its list of donors includes major weapons manufacturers like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and BAE Systems. It also receives contributions from private security firms like Aegis Defence Services, as well as from KBR, the logistics support contractor notorious for overbilling the Pentagon for its services in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it generates income from research contracts with the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, as do others like the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
    Thus we get reinforcement of the Pentagon view that the Nuclear Posture Review is a “big deal”, and little support of the view that it is merely a concession to the hawks to continue funding the U.S. weapons laboratories (both to keep the culture of “weapons as deterrent alive and to actually fund NEW weapons) through clever verbal parsing.

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  4. DonS says:

    “I think American nukes saved millions of lives by preventing WWIII. Certainly, without the American nuclear shield, Stalin would have conquered Western Europe as he did Eastern Europe; and millions more would have died.” (Nadine)
    Stalin died 1953; nukes first deployed in Europe 1954. You are just making shit up. More lies and BS.
    You warmongers haven’t done much for world piece, and nuclear proliferation is the worst example, except for the fear and MI complex industry it proliferated. See sweetness argument on MADD; mutual suicide; always held true. True today for Iran as well despite warmongers newly minted fears that somehow ‘Muslims’ are so different that nuclear holocaust is in their DNA (as if they had the capability). Seems like four hijacked jets did more than enough damage.
    A lot more likely are rogue nukes in hands of non state actors; blackmailing. By all means, update the arsenal, never reduce the overkill factor. That’s a really bright notion for economic malaise, and really does a whole lot to deter non state actors. Brilliant.

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  5. nadine says:

    Wigwag, Ahmedinejad’s reaction wasn’t bored. It was gleeful and insulting. The rest of the world sees it for what it is, an unforced error, a display of unbelievable naivite.
    Even worse than his change in nuclear posture was Obama’s decision to stop all development and upgrades on nuclear weapons. Well, that will really take them off the table as they get so old we’re not sure they will work anymore. Bet the Chinese and Russians are happy to hear that. They aren’t stopping their own development, you can count on that.
    Far from subscribing to DonS’ Chomskyite version of history, I think American nukes saved millions of lives by preventing WWIII. Certainly, without the American nuclear shield, Stalin would have conquered Western Europe as he did Eastern Europe; and millions more would have died.

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  6. Dan Kervick says:

    Personally, the oppressive sense of unavoidable nuclear doom was a defining characteristic of the mental landscape of my youth. My guess is that it was a big deal for Obama as well. But most people, especially younger people, don’t feel these days like they are living their lives under the heavy shadow of nuclear annihilation. If Obama really wants to get people interested in that cause, he is going to have to try a lot harder. On the other hand, maybe he is content to allow the issue to have a lower profile, and aim his actions at the relatively small group of non-proliferation experts and activists.
    I can’t help but remember Obama’s absurdly inappropriate and bungled Nobel Prize acceptance speech. The Nobel Committee cited nuclear non-proliferation as the key consideration in awarding the prize, and handed Obama a highly sought global stage upon which he could mount his non-proliferation rallying call to the world. He could have inspired a new generation of young people to adopt to a cause that apparently means a lot to him personally, and would be well worth their dedicated and idealistic efforts.
    Instead he decided to use the speech to lecture the world on why the United States needs to use force, and to win points with domestic right wing critics.

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  7. WigWag says:

    Well the verdict appears to be in; the reaction to the new nuclear posture review is precisely the same as the reaction to the arms reduction deal that Obama and Medvedev plan to sign this week in the Czech Republic. What’s the public’s reaction?
    One big yawn.
    Our fearless leader, Steve Clemons, calls this “legacy stuff.” I’m inclined to agree with Steve; when it comes to the Obama Presidency, this inconsequential accomplishment is about as good as its likely to get for Obama. If he leaves any legacy at all, it won

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  8. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “And don’t bother me with this he hates America, she hates America bullshit”
    Oh, you want her to ad lib?
    Be prepared, when she ad libs, she does stuff like justifying IDF troops gangbanging a fourteen year old because it was “consensual”.
    She really exposes herself when she ad libs. It ain’t pretty. But then again, neither is her script.

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  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “If your enemy has a knife, and he knows you have a gun, he’s not likely to start anything. If you tell him you won’t use your gun, is he more or less likely to start something”
    Gads, is there no end to this ignorant wretch’s bullshit?
    Me, I’m not going to a gun fight with a knife. I’m gonna get me a gun, bigger than my enemy’s gun, THEN I’m going to the fight.
    If there is any danger of nuclear proliferation in the ME, and there is, it is BECAUSE OF ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR ARSENAL. Iran’s leaders would be failing in their responsibility to protect their citizens if they were not seeking a nuclear deterrent. Particularly considering there are more and more sick Israeli radicals publically declaring that nuking Iran is a viable option.

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  10. DonS says:

    “The whole point is, we don’t want to reassure our enemies about how nice and reasonable and restrained and slow to take offense we are. It’s better to stay a little more unpredictable” (Nadine)
    The fact is that the war mongering of the US has been responsible for more deaths world wide since WWII than any other nation, genocides excluded. Reasonable and restrained we have not been. Get a fucking clue. And don’t bother me with this he hates America, she hates America bullshit.

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  11. nadine says:

    Maw, several points:
    First, re “rational” vs “irrational” decision-making by Iran: you are over-simplifying the point I was making. It’s not a binary function: either they are rational, or they are total lunatics who act irrespective of circumstances.
    There are many voices in Iran, some more rational than others, and we can hope the more rational ones win out but we can’t assume it. That was my point, that people were unwarrantedly assuming that Iran was a rational actor regardless of the rhetoric.
    Second, as I said several times, everybody who comes out of that regime says that Ahmedinejad is a believing Twelver; that the messianic rhetoric is not just for public consumption. That doesn’t mean he will just fire off nukes willy nilly once he gets them; but it might very well affect his decision-making and his readiness to take big risks for Allah. We don’t want to give him any freebies that will induce him to take even bigger risks; but Obama just did exactly with his unforced error of changing US nuclear policy in return for nothing.
    “Indeed, if your enemy has a knife but is standing next to your friend, then your use of a gun will be severely limited. If we have 10, 20, 100 nukes aimed at Iran, I hardly think that they would be any less likely to threaten Israel.”
    If our response to Iran’s open hostility, defiance and insults (Ahmedinejad called Obama an amateur without experience today. He never said that to Bush) is to take some of our OWN options off the table, which is what Obama just did, that’s hardly going to scare Iran more, now is it?
    The whole point is, we don’t want to reassure our enemies about how nice and reasonable and restrained and slow to take offense we are. It’s better to stay a little more unpredictable. It might make somebody think twice before pulling the trigger. To quote Tom Barnett’s “gut reaction” yesterday: “This is strategically stupid with a capital DUH!”

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  12. DonS says:

    Nadine: ‘If your enemy has a knife, and he knows you have a gun, he’s not likely to start anything. If you tell him you won’t use your gun, is he more or less likely to start something?
    Maw: “Yet, my recollection is of your numerous posts about the insanity/irrationality/etc. of Ahmadinejad, so Obama’s position on the use nukes is irrelevant to a madman. Indeed, if your enemy has a knife but is standing next to your friend, then your use of a gun will be severely limited. If we have 10, 20, 100 nukes aimed at Iran, I hardly think that they would be any less likely to threaten Israel.
    Maw is absolutely correct.
    Further, since when has a 1/3 reduction in overall US nuke strength (stockpiled) lessened the MADD calculus to anything but a suicide pact? Further, to the insane comparison, Iran has NO nukes, may have one or two with no delivery systems threatening the us IN 5-10 YEARS OR MORE. Can’t really threaten the US AT ALL.
    Further, Iran, nukes, et al, is all about Israel, not the US. Israel, with whom we have NO FORMAL DEFENSE TREATIES, except for the groveling pronouncements of all the leading politicos that we are joined at the navel with Israel which, wink, wink, these same cowards seem to equate with something stronger than a Senate approved treaty. Ah, forget that. The Senate would be the first to endorse nuking anyone who sneezes at Israel.

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  13. Jerry says:

    Given his starting point after the preceding eight years, did it really take that long?
    Steve, I’m inclined to think that he achieved the imossible in that it only took fourteen months.
    Certainly, his speech in Berlin as a candidate, set the stage for actions to come as a president.

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  14. erichwwk says:

    Footnotes to the above gw4are in the original press release here:
    http://www.lasg.org/press/2010/press_release_7Apr2010.html
    entitled:
    “No significant change seen in Obama nuclear posture”
    We view the NPR document (as have been other NNSA “studies”) as primarily a sales document to appease the nuclear hawks and support the financing of NEW nuclear weapons infrastructure at Los Alamos, Kansas City, and Oak Ridge. The other is to promote “nuclear weapons stability” as cover for the US killing machine involving conventional weapons.
    THAT is the major accomplishment and purpose of the review, NOT disarmament.

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  15. erichwwk says:

    Sorry for the long post. But given Steve’s assertion that the NPR is “a big win”, “Legacy stuff”, an independent assessment might be useful.
    Here is Greg Mello’s press release:
    The Obama Nuclear Posture Review is largely an extension of prior policies and an explanation of evolving realities on the ground, some of which the Administration largely controls and some of which it largely does not. There is very little altogether new in it, though there are changes in emphasis. Above all, there are new explanations. What have changed are largely the understandings offered about nuclear deployments. The NPR repackages existing policies much more than it changes them. It hardly changes them at all, in fact.
    Far from being any kind of change, what is noteworthy in this document is the absence of any change vector at all. Its emphasis, explicitly and implicitly, is on nuclear stability. That nuclear stability is needed as a backdrop for the continued and planned deployment and use of U.S. conventional forces worldwide.
    What we see in this NPR is a weak executive, largely surrendering to external forces it is not attempting to resist

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  16. Maw of America says:

    Nadine – Perhaps my recall is faulty (and I’m sure if it is, you will point it out, or devise some way to change it), but you say:
    “If your enemy has a knife, and he knows you have a gun, he’s not likely to start anything. If you tell him you won’t use your gun, is he more or less likely to start something?”
    Yet, my recollection is of your numerous posts about the insanity/irrationality/etc. of Ahmadinejad, so Obama’s position on the use nukes is irrelevant to a madman. Indeed, if your enemy has a knife but is standing next to your friend, then your use of a gun will be severely limited. If we have 10, 20, 100 nukes aimed at Iran, I hardly think that they would be any less likely to threaten Israel.
    And pacifist President? Puh-leeze… He’s killed more in Pakistan with drones than Bush ever did in his eight years. I only wish we had a true pacifist and got us out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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  17. nadine says:

    frenchconnection, sounds like Obama isn’t improving America’s image in Europe after all. Geeze, here I thought that Europe’s big worry was cowboy America starting WWIII. Given all the noise, who could blame me? Now it turns out that a pacifist American president is not what you wanted after all.
    If you’re really not THAT stupid, I’m relieved to hear it.
    What’s next, the admission that the I/P conflict is not the only problem in the Middle East?

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  18. nadine says:

    unimpressed, it’s not the nuclear weapons, it’s who has his finger on the button.
    If your enemy has a knife, and he knows you have a gun, he’s not likely to start anything. If you tell him you won’t use your gun, is he more or less likely to start something?
    That’s why this announcement was profoundly stupid.

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  19. The Pessimist says:

    Anything and everything the US federal government says and does regarding anything and everything related to the US nuclear industry is predominately for the purpose of advancing US nuclear industry profits and collecting political contributions in return. That is just simply American style capitalism. Federal government officials are nothing more than corporate whores. Fortune 500 CEO’s are nothing more than ghetto pimps with total legal immunity.
    Consider this: What other US industry besides nuclear weapons manufacturing realizes a fully subsidized government exclusive market for a consumable product that is never consumed? The federal government guarantees purchase of multi-billion dollar weapons systems that are stored for decades in taxpayer funded warehouses and military bases around the world with the full knowledge that they will never be consumed.
    These multi-billion dollar weapons systems will be stored indefinitely until either the Pentagon or the Dept. of Energy declares that these weapons are now “obsolete” or “unsafe for storage and transportation” and require that the American taxpayers provide additional funding for their safe disposal and replacement, again to the tune of multi-billions of dollars. It

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  20. unimpressed says:

    What barbarians, in the true sense of the word, would even contemplate using this evil in the modern world? Is not spewing depleted uranium waste all over Iraq not enough to prove the degenerate nature of US culture? This is not a military issue, nor is it a policy issue — it is a core values issue. And no amount of spin or bleating or paranoid posturing will convince me otherwise. Pray tell, what exactly in this so called wording puts Iran and North Korea in the cross-hairs? If anyone is on the hot plate it would be those not signed to the NPT such as India, Pakistan and Israel. The first useful thing Obama could do is ditch the policy of ambiguity in respect to Israel. They either have it or they don’t. If they do then they should be hauled into the kitchen to explain and allow inspections. If they don’t (which is my view) then this should be made clear and satisfy other regional powers of the reduced risk to their own existence. Of course for those who are outside the US cult, these empty words and veiled threats just sound like Iraq revisited. I don’t see Obama walking around in a few years time looking like a Tony Blair ghost with the blood of many hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis (in this case Iranians) on his soul. So stop with the barking — it is just part of the US’s business-as-usual bullying system and a distraction from more serious economic issues. I say prove Iran has nuclear weapons, or plans for them, with facts, or shut the fuck up (taking a leaf from the POA lexicon) and start paying your bills without the magical printing press!

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  21. PissedOffAmerican says:

    I listened to Obama’s public statement on this “new policy”. His continued subservience to the “don’t ask don’t tell” Israeli nuclear narrative, while LYING about what is actually KNOWN about Iran’s program, makes this “new policy” a fuckin’ joke. What else is a lie? What are we supposed to believe or disbelieve?
    Have our Bush era development programs developing tactical battlefield nukes been shelved? Highly doubtful.
    And meanwhile this arrogant little murderous state of Israel hums along with a nuclear arsenal with nary a mention from this posturing fake Obama? In case no one noticed, the real fanatics and wackjobs over there are actually threatening to use nuclear weapons as a first strike weapon, and it is the heroes of these wackjobs that are actually in power, and gaining in popularity. It is ISRAEL that threatens its neighbors with its doomsday weapons. It is ISRAEL that routinely threatens to use WMDS. It is Israel that has shown that mass casualties of non-combatants is an acceptable bi-product of their ever ongoing quest for more land and power. So, while we supposedly “disarm” and take nuclear retaliation off the table this racist little agressive country holds a nuclear hammer over the middle east with nary a grunt of derision from Obama.
    I really am beginning to wonder about Steve’s glowing endorsements of obvious governmental bullshit.

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  22. frenchconnection says:

    should be “even if you do”
    sorry for the typo but the “City on the Hill/Manifest Destiny” condescending mantra from people that cannot even correctly define the word “socialist” annoys me a tad…

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  23. frenchconnection says:

    Nadine
    Obama’s “Euro friends” are not happy at all about that (and there have been previous signals before this was officialized). We are not THAT stupid.
    So your cheap shot (probably founded in your exceptionalistic – Israel-loving – we know best – all others are sissies la-la land) shows how DEEPLY IGNORANT you are of reality in general and of European reality in particular. And we have independent 1000 megatonnes that can reach any point on the globe within 15 minutes to prove it.
    And we won’t hesitate to use them, even if you don’t.
    keep gloating

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  24. nadine says:

    Tom Barnett is not happy at all and is still trying to make out what Obama thinks he’s doing. He notices that Obama is freely giving away choice on the part of the US and expanding choice on the part of our enemies, in return for nothing whatsoever:
    “And now I’m back to feeling like Obama’s being too cute by half: we’re saying to the world that nuclear retaliation is something we reserve the right to use on states that reach for nukes (the special exceptions of NorKo and Iran)? But if you don’t reach for them, you can pretty much do anything short of that and feel safe?
    Now I do feel like I get it to the point where both the NYT and Bruce Blair are correct: this is a radically inane change.
    And here’s where it gets truly odd, in my mind:
    Mr. Obama, asked on Monday whether that episode harmed American credibility, said, “I don’t think countries around the world are interested in testing our credibility when it comes to these issues.
    “The message we’re sending here,” he said, was that countries that “actively pursue a proliferation agenda” would not be immune from any form of American retaliation, including nuclear.
    The reality is more complex. If a backpack nuclear bomb went off in Times Square or on the Mall in Washington, the Pentagon and the Department of Energy would race to find the nuclear DNA of the weapon — so that the country that was the source of the material could be punished. But the science of “nuclear attribution” is still sketchy. And without certain attribution, it is hard to seriously threaten retaliation.
    Again, I don’t see how this logic is an improvement: we’re now willing to say–for all practical purposes–that nuclear attribution is sketchy, but we want to be crystal clear on what it takes to earn a U.S. retaliatory strike, declaring that cyber and biological and chemical attacks on the U.S. would elicit only a “devastating” conventional response?
    Doesn’t that sound like we transferring the decision-making freedom to others while narrowing our own choices?
    So how does that exactly empower us while disempowering our enemies?
    My sense for now: this too-clever bit comes under intense criticism and the counter-equivocating from the administration basically negates the original goal behind the so-called sharp departure.
    But I’m still wracking my brain trying to figure out what audience is supposed to be satisfied or deeply moved by this change? I can’t see how NorKo or Iran are impressed, nor China. Maybe the Europeans–in a completely useless achievement, but that’s about it.
    Somebody please enlighten me on the hidden brilliance here, because the more analysis I read, the more I find to dislike.”
    http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/
    I agree with Tom Barnett but don’t need to be as circumscribed in my language. Obama is tossing away pieces of our national security for no reason but his desire of collecting admiration from his Euro friends. This makes nobody safer; it only enhances our chances of getting attacked with chemical or biological weapons. Watching Obama make national security decisions is like watching a toddler toss balls off the deck – he does it just for fun. He hasn’t thought through the consequences; but then, he’s just a toddler. What’s Obama’s excuse?

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  25. frenchconnection says:

    agrees with wigwag for once
    the current Obama posturing on nukes is at best meaningless and at worse counterproductive (inciting “rogue” non-nuclear states to become ones).
    But there are even more annoying aspects due to the general clausus not to use first-strike nukes against “non-nuclear, compliant countries” which what I know of are 189. Because this would mean that a conventional attack could only be the response against bio/chem/cyber attacks against the US either in form of a direct attack, asymmetric attack (terrorism) or a combination of both. I have also to point out that such attacks (even cyber) if conducted in a certain way by specialists could lead to an amount of casualties far exceeding the ones of 9/11.
    The “new rules” if strictly applied lead to the following questions :
    – what if a non-nuclear, compliant state performing such an attack (for example bio/chemical) is invaded conventionally by the US in retaliation (against attacks even if not perpetrated on US soil) ? Why should such a state not use for example the same chem weapons against US/Allied troops, if those haven’t been taken out ? Kind of an Iraq scenario with a Saddam with (existing) non-nuclear WMDs and ready to use them ?
    – what if the rogue “conventional” state uses conventional weapons (like missiles for example loades with conventional explosives) but in such a way that the impact on nuclear plants or chemical facilities becomes in itself a radiological/chemical attack ?
    – what if the rogue “conventional” state uses proxies to mount such attacks (terrorist groups or smaller “innocent” states), well knowing that even if suspicions can point them out, the likelihood that 5if teh US sticks to its principles) that the risk of a nuclear retaliation against it or the proxies is practically zero ?
    – what if the rogue “conventional” state attacks a US “vital” ally like some oil-producing countries in the ME with named non-nuclear WMDs or attacks in the same way a US friend with very little means of defense (Chavez seizes Costa-Rica, with aims on Panama) ?
    Obama has formally surrendered the right to substrike in such scenarios (I’m not talking about the nuclear preemptive strike, in case X leaders have non-implemented plans, but just in case

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  26. Steven Clemons says:

    Thanks for the links to my friends and colleagues WigWag. I
    disagree with them and think that they underestimate the need to
    restore key international protocols that eroded under the GW Bush
    administration. I don’t believe that this spate of dealmaking
    undermines the possibility of progress with Iran. In any case, more
    soon — all best, steve

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  27. WigWag says:

    Steve’s realist colleagues disagree with him that this is a big win for Obama.
    Steve Walt thinks it’s all for show and likely to have minimal impact. On balance, Walt thinks it does more harm than good.
    Here’s the link,
    http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/
    The New America Foundation’s crack cocaine realists, aka Flynt and Hillary, also disagree with the proprietor of this blog. They think that Obama’s decision on the nuclear posture review is intended to do little more than place Iran in the cross-hairs for a potential American nuclear attack. They believe that the new policy will inspire Iran to be even more assertive in the pursuit of nuclear weapons; they are probably right.
    Here is what they have to say,
    http://www.raceforiran.com/

    Reply

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