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  • Nuclear Weapons, Israel, and the Obama Administration

    Posted by David Foster on May 8th, 2009 (All posts by )

    The Obama administration is looking at pressuring Israel to change the status quo regarding that country’s nuclear arsenal.

    Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, speaking Tuesday at a U.N. meeting on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), said Israel should join the treaty, which would require Israel to declare and relinquish its nuclear arsenal.

    “Universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea, … remains a fundamental objective of the United States,” Ms. Gottemoeller told the meeting.

    Obama’s political career has of course been closely associated with the “progressive” movement in the United States. And many self-defined “progressives” have tended to see nuclear weapons as such an evil in themselves that it scarcely matters who owns and controls them–thus, an American nuclear weapon was morally equivalent to a Soviet nuclear weapon, and an Israeli weapon is equal to one in the possession of Iran or North Korea.

    We’ve heard this kind of thinking in earlier historical eras. At the time of the German incursion into the Rhineland (1936), a British newspaper editorial downplayed the event, saying:

    There is no more reason why German territory should be demilitarized than French, Belgian, or British.

    Has Obama really gone that far down the path of moral equivalency? Is he really no more disturbed by the prospect of Iranian nuclear weapons than by Israeli ones? And does he really believe that Israel would agree to relinquish its nuclear weapons?

    I certainly hope he has not bought into the full, extreme “progressive” worldview on this issue. Perhaps his thinking is that by the act of applying pressure to Israel, the U.S. is more likely to be viewed by Iran, North Korea, etc, as an “honest broker,” and they are more likely to cooperate in weapons limitation.

    Although not as bad as a full moral equivalency between Israeli and Iranian nuclear weapons, such a view would be extremely unwise. It ignores the fact that there are certain people in the world–the leaders of Iran and North Korea among them–who will view concessions to American adversaries, and pressure against America allies, as nothing more than a sign of American weakness.

    I must once again quote the words of Ralph Peters:

    One of the most consistently disheartening experiences an adult can have today is to listen to the endless attempts by our intellectuals and intelligence professionals to explain religious terrorism in clinical terms, assigning rational motives to men who have moved irrevocably beyond reason. We suffer under layers of intellectual asymmetries that hinder us from an intuitive recognition of our enemies.

    …and also the words of Paul Reynaud, who became Prime Minister of France just two months before the German invasion of 1940:

    People think Hitler is like Kaiser Wilhelm. The old gentleman only wanted to take Alsace-Lorraine from us. But Hitler is Genghis Khan.

    Obama and his acolytes seem to think that in the leaders of Iran and North Korea, we are dealing at worst with Kaiser-Wilhelm-like figures. It is a shallow and dangerously naive way of looking at the world.

    About a week ago, Bookworm put up a post titled Predators and Prey. After watchin a TV show about Yellowstone, she wrote about several survival strategies which can be followed by animals in nature, including:

    Have incredibly attuned senses

    or

    Be big, and mean, travel in groups, and be willing to defend yourselves

    or

    Be really cute. This one isn’t from the show. As I was watching the footage on the wolves, I kept glancing down at my incredibly submissive little dog, curled up in my arms, snoring gently. She’d die in a minute out of the home. Her survival technique is to be cute and loving, and to glom onto humans who see her, not as snack food, but as portable love that should be maintained. Maintenance, of course, comes in the form of providing food, drink, shelter and protection to an animal that otherwise has no defenses.

    and

    The worst defense is the cute defense my dog uses, because it’s the only defense that depends, not just on the prey’s skills, but on the predator’s conscience. The only reason this defense works between my dog and me is because I have a conscience and I’m extremely amenable to cute. However, it’s an utter failure if (i) you’re incapable of being cute and (ii) your predator couldn’t care less about cuteness. Indeed, for a true predator, the “cuter” you are, the more of a meal you present. Good food, with the virtue of easy hunting.

    Unfortunately, President Obama is trying to position us as the cute nation. He’s convinced, as are his liberal acolytes, that if he just goes around the world being cute and submissive, other nations will just want to hold the United States in their collective arms, and feed us and cuddle us. The problem with this notion, of course, is that nations (except for maybe Lichtenstein) are not cute and, even if they were, our enemies are not amenable to cute. Just as a wolf, faced with my darling little dog, would eat her in a single bite, so too will the hostile nations of the world, most of whom function either as perfect predators or smart ones (the Norks, Venezuela, Russia, Iran, etc.), view Obama’s supine, submissive, cute, cute, cute America as the perfect easy target.

    In 2004, I wrote a post titled Dancing for the Boa Constrictor. In it, I related a story which was told by Antoine de Saint-Exupery in Wind, Sand, and Stars. While traveling in Spain during that country’s Civil War, St-Ex met a man who lived in great fear that his fellow villagers would shoot him because of political differences. This fear was driving him to be extremely and obviously friendly–“How can you shoot a man who plays billiards?” And St-Ex was reminded of the legendary monkey who danced for the boa constrictor, in hopes that the snake would be so enchanted that it would refrain from eating him.

    I was inspired to write that post after reading about John Kerry’s desire to eliminate the bunker-buster weapons program and his rationale for this desire:

    In the debate Thursday night, John Kerry attacked President Bush for underwriting research into bunker-busting nuclear weapons. “I’m going to shut that program down,” says Kerry, arguing that we are not “sending the right message to places like North Korea” when we are pursuing such programs. Evidently, Kerry believes that if we provide the proper role model by abandoning such efforts, then North Korea and Iran will be more inclined to abandon their own nuclear programs.

    Which makes about as much sense as arguing, in the late 1930s, that Britain and the U.S. should have provided a better role model for Nazi Germany by abandoning key weapons programs–say, the Spitfire fighter and B-17 bomber. Could any sane person believe that such actions would have led Germany to moderate its behavior? And today, could any informed person not believe that the leaders of Iran and North Korea are cut from cloth very similar to those from which the Nazi leaders were cut?

    There is a strong flavor of dancing for the boa constrictor in the statements of the Obama administration on the Israeli nuclear arsenal, and in many other aspects of this administration’s behavior as well.

    More on this issue from Meryl Yourish.

     

    7 Responses to “Nuclear Weapons, Israel, and the Obama Administration”

    1. Anonymous Says:

      A. The 800-pound gorilla in the room can’t be cute; we need to accept that if some of us take pride in our country’s history and position, others are embarrassed by it. No one, however, can think that a country whose single state’s productivity is compared to other nation’s, whose mastery in terms of conventional warfare is uncontested, who is,in short, all the US is, can be cute. You can say that a big bear of a guy is cute, but that usually means his hair has been shorn by a cute girl or even cuter child – they (the weak) can be cute. But, few of us are sufficiently enamoured of other countries to desire such a hair cut, such a description of our “cuteness.”

      I suspect that Bookworm is well aware of this; a president who has little sense of our history (one in which some of us take pride but which is clearly “exceptional” however much exception you may take to it) may not be.

      B. I have long suspected that various parts of our society think words are more important than actions. Therefore, whether a nation signs the Kyoto Treaty is more important than whether a nation tries to control pollution, whether a nation signs a non-proliferation treaty is more important than whether they stop proliferating. People who believe words stand for something real (whether a building or an idea) and who retain integrity are less willing to sign treaties they don’t intend to keep – or at least don’t intend to keep very seriously. Obama may simply desire Israel to stop building bombs (and therefore is either naive or bloodthirstily ideological about the Middle East) or he may assume Israel will sign a treaty it doesn’t intend to let restrain its actions in any way.

    2. Ginny Says:

      Sorry, that was me above.

    3. Jonathan Says:

      See also Caroline Glick’s latest column.

    4. David Foster Says:

      From the Glick column:

      “As far as (Obama national security advisor) Jones is concerned, Israel should be left out of (discussions among the U.S., the EU, and moderate Arab states) and simply presented with a fait accompli that it will be compelled to accept.”

      As Don Sensing remarked last weekend:

      “This sounds just like the Munich Conference of 1938, where Hitler, Chamberlain and Deladier decided the fate of Czechoslovakia without consulting Czechoslovakia. They just informed Czechoslovakia how things were going to be, leading Churchill to observe, “They had to choose between dishonor and war. They chose dishonor. They will have war.””

    5. Helen Says:

      David,
      The difference is that Israel will fight.

      Ginny,
      A slightly OT but related anecdote. Some years ago I was listening to a debate in the House of Lords where all sorts of people were getting worked up about the situation in Burma. Somebody asked whether all the strictures would apply to China as well. The Minister’s response (from memory) was that the situation was different as Burma had actually had an election but ignored the results. PRC, of course, has never bothered with any real elections. Same notion.

    6. Michael Kennedy Says:

      I assume everyone has read Anthony Cordesman’s analysis of an Israeli-Iran war. If not, it is here.

      The conclusions are dire. 200,000 to 600,000 dead Israelis in 21 days. Twenty million Iranian dead and the end of Iran as an organized society. Plus the end of the Petroleum Age as Middle East oil fields will be unusable for decades.

      They don’t teach this in law school.

    7. Subotai Bahadur Says:

      Perhaps his thinking is that by the act of applying pressure to Israel, the U.S. is more likely to be viewed by Iran, North Korea, etc, as an “honest broker,” and they are more likely to cooperate in weapons limitation.

      With all due respect, we have now had several months of watching The One interact with foreign interests, both state and non-state actors. Fortunately, we have not yet had to encounter a major crisis; but there is an ontological certainty that one is coming, and that the test will be pass-fail.

      In every one of his interactions, either personally or through the State Department; there are two absolute, unbroken threads. If you are an ally or a client state of the United States, you have been disrespected and left in no doubt that you are expendable, if not regarded as already expended. If you are a power that has been or is currently attacking American interests; you have been treated better than US citizens have of late.

      He is not an honest broker. He is an ally. And we will pay the cost.

      Subotai Bahadur