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Obama's nuclear posturing, Part 2

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Charles Krauthammer
April 16, 2010
— There was something oddly disproportionate about the just-concluded nuclear summit to which President Obama summoned 46 world leaders, the largest such gathering on American soil since 1945. That meeting was about the founding of the United Nations, which 65 years ago seemed an event of world-historical importance.

But this one? What was this great convocation about? To prevent the spread of nuclear material into the hands of terrorists. A worthy goal, no doubt. Unfortunately, the two greatest such threats were not even on the agenda.


The first is Iran, which is frantically enriching uranium to make a bomb, and which our own State Department identifies as the greatest exporter of terrorism in the world.


Nor on the agenda was Pakistan’s plutonium production, which is adding to the world’s stockpile of fissile material every day.

Pakistan is a relatively friendly power, but it is the most unstable of all the nuclear states. It is fighting a Taliban insurgency and is home to al-Qaida. Suicide bombs go off regularly in its major cities. Moreover, its own secret service, the ISI, is of dubious loyalty, some of its elements being sympathetic to the Taliban and thus, by extension, to al-Qaida.


So what was the major breakthrough announced by Obama at the end of the two-day conference? That Ukraine, Chile, Mexico and Canada will be getting rid of various amounts of enriched uranium.


What a relief. I don’t know about you, but I lie awake nights worrying about Canadian uranium. I know these people. I grew up there. You have no idea what they’re capable of doing. If Sidney Crosby hadn’t scored that goal to win the Olympic gold medal, there’s no telling what might have ensued.


Let us stipulate that sequestering nuclear material is a good thing. But it is a minor thing, particularly when Iran is off the table, and Pakistan is creating new plutonium for every ounce of Canadian uranium shipped to the U.S.


Perhaps calculating that removing relatively small amounts of fissile material from stable friendly countries didn’t quite do the trick, Obama proudly announced that the U.S. and Russia were disposing of 68 tons of plutonium. Unmentioned was the fact that this agreement was reached 10 years ago—and, under the new protocol, doesn’t begin to dispose of the plutonium until 2018. Feeling safer now?


The appropriate venue for such minor loose-nuke agreements is a meeting of experts in Geneva who, after working out the details, get their foreign ministers to sign off. Which made this parade of world leaders in Washington an exercise in misdirection—distracting attention from the looming threat from Iran, regarding which Obama’s 15 months of terminally naive “engagement” has achieved nothing but the loss of 15 months.


Indeed, the Washington summit was part of a larger misdirection play—Obama’s “nuclear spring.” Last week, a START treaty, redolent of precisely the kind of Cold War obsolescence Obama routinely decries. The number of warheads in Russia’s aging and decaying nuclear stockpile is an irrelevancy now that the existential U.S.-Soviet struggle is over. One major achievement of the treaty, from the point of view of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, is that it could freeze deployment of U.S. missile defenses—thus constraining the single greatest anti-nuclear breakthrough of our time.

This followed a softening of the U.S. nuclear deterrent posture (sparing nonproliferation compliant states from U.S. nuclear retaliation if they launch a biochemical attack against us)—a change so bizarre and literally unbelievable that even Hillary Clinton couldn’t get straight what retaliatory threat remains on the table.


All this during a week when top U.S. military officials told Congress that Iran is about a year away from acquiring the fissile material to make a nuclear bomb. Then, only a very few years until weaponization.


At which point the world changes irrevocably: the regional Arab states go nuclear, the Non-Proliferation Treaty dies, the threat of nuclear transfer to terror groups grows astronomically.


A timely reminder: Syria has just been discovered transferring lethal Scud missiles to Hezbollah, the Middle East’s most powerful non-state terrorist force. This is the same Syria that was secretly building a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor until the Israeli air force destroyed the facility three years ago.


But not to worry. Canadian uranium is secured. A nonbinding summit communique has been issued. And a “Work Plan” has been agreed to.


Oh yes. And there will be another summit in two years. The dream lives on.


Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post. His e-mail address is letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

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