More Mr. Nice Guy

John R. Bolton |  Weekly Standard

In his lengthy State of the Union address, President Obama was brief on national security issues, which he squeezed in toward the end. International terrorism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even America’s relief efforts in Haiti all flashed past in bullet-point mentions. On Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama emphasized neither victory nor determination, but merely the early withdrawal of U.S. forces from both. His once vaunted Middle East peace process didn’t make the cut.

Nonetheless, during this windshield tour of the world, the president found time to opine more explicitly than ever before that reducing America’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems will temper the global threat of proliferation. Obama boasted that “the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades” and that he is trying to secure “all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.”

Then came Obama’s critical linkage: “These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Obama described the increasing “isolation” of both North Korea and Iran, the two most conspicuous–but far from the only–nuclear proliferators. He also mentioned the increased sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its second nuclear test in 2009 and the “growing consequences” he says Iran will face because of his policies.

In fact, reducing our nuclear arsenal will not somehow persuade Iran and North Korea to alter their behavior or encourage others to apply more pressure on them to do so. Obama’s remarks reflect a complete misreading of strategic realities.

We have no need for further arms control treaties with Russia, especially ones that reduce our nuclear and delivery capabilities to Moscow’s economically forced low levels. We have international obligations, moreover, that Russia does not, requiring our nuclear umbrella to afford protection to friends and allies worldwide. Obama’s policy artificially inflates Russian influence and, depending on the final agreement, will likely reduce our nuclear and strategic delivery capabilities dangerously and unnecessarily. (Securing “loose” nuclear materials internationally has long been a bipartisan goal, properly so. Obama said nothing new on that score.) Meanwhile, Obama is considering treaty restrictions on our missile defense capabilities more damaging than his own previous unilateral reductions.

What warrants close attention is the jarring naïveté of arguing that reducing our capabilities will inhibit nuclear proliferators. That would certainly surprise Tehran and Pyongyang. Obama’s insistence that the evil-doers are “violating international agreements” is also startling, as if this were of equal importance with the proliferation itself.

The premise underlying these assertions may well be found in Obama’s smug earlier comment that we should “put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough.  .  .  .  Let’s leave behind the fear and division.” By reducing to the level of wayward boys the debates over whether his policies are making us more or less secure, Obama reveals a deep disdain for the decades of strategic thinking that kept America safe during the Cold War and afterwards. Even more pertinent, Obama’s indifference and scorn for real threats are chilling auguries of what the next three years may hold.

Obama has now explicitly rejected the idea that U.S. weakness is provocative, arguing instead that weakness will convince Tehran and Pyongyang to do the opposite of what they have been resolutely doing for decades–vigorously pursuing their nuclear and missile programs. Obama’s first year amply demonstrates that his approach will do nothing even to retard, let alone stop, Iran and North Korea.

Neither Bush nor Obama administration efforts toward international sanctions have had any measurable impact. The first Security Council sanctions on North Korea after its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests in 2006 did not stop Pyongyang from conducting further missile launches and a second nuclear detonation in 2009. Nor have the measures imposed after that second test, about which Obama boasted, impaired the North’s nuclear program or even brought Pyongyang back to the risible Six-Party Talks. Three sets of Security Council restrictions against Iran have only glancingly affected Tehran’s nuclear program, and the Obama administration’s threats of “crippling sanctions” have disappeared along with last year’s series of “deadlines” that Iran purportedly faced. In response, Tehran’s authoritarianism and belligerence have only increased.

With his counter proliferation strategies, such as they were, in disarray, Obama now pins his hopes on moral suasion, which has never influenced Iran, North Korea, or any other determined proliferator. Perhaps it would have been better had the president’s speech not mentioned national security at all.


Obama’s Next Three Years

John R. Bolton |  Commentary

Where is Barack Obama’s foreign policy headed? In answering, one must accept a measure of humility. Predicting American policy makes more fools than sages. That goes double for foreign policy, as analysts must anticipate not only the actions of the United States but of foreign provocateurs as well.

In the case of Barack Obama, there is an additional caveat: the high-profile concerns that have monopolized his efforts abroad are seen by the president himself as little more than Bush-era loose ends, not the defining transactions of his own foreign policy. All new presidents encounter irritating constraints on their aspirations, but Obama is more irritated than most at having to endure any sense of continuity with his predecessor. His criticism of Bush continues unabated even as he fares no better in the same stubborn terrain.

Obama is not looking to build his foreign-policy legacy on top of disputes that predate his arrival. He is working to move past these, toward the day when he can implement his own foreign policy and national-security agendas. Accordingly, the best way to predict Obama’s foreign policy in the next three years lies not in examining how he deals with the accumulated baggage of Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East peace, and the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. Important as those are, they constitute what Obama has had to confront. We should ask instead what he will attempt to establish once he has become less encumbered by the inherited issues. Here, the record shows three critical characteristics.

First, Obama has no particular interest in foreign and national-security policy. That is not what he has spent his professional and political career, such as it is, doing, and it is not where his passions lie. There can be no question that the challenges of remaking America’s health-care, financial, and energy-production systems claim the bulk of Obama’s attention.

Second, Obama does not see the rest of the world as dangerous or threatening to America. He has made it clear by his actions as president that he does not want to engage in a “global war against terrorism.” The rising power of other nations, creeds, and ideologies, however unsavory, pose no grievous challenge to which the United States must rise. We are not at a Dean Acheson–style, post–World War II “present at the creation” moment. Therefore, Obama reasons, why behave in reactive, outmoded ways when there are many more interesting and pressing domestic projects to nurture?

Obama’s America need only be restrained, patient, and deferential. Take, for example, Obama’s November 2009 trip to China, during which the media highlighted how unyielding Beijing was, thus confirming their “rising China/declining America” conventional wisdom. In fact, it was more Obama’s submissiveness and less China’s assertiveness that made the difference on issue after issue: trade policy and Chinese currency manipulation; Taiwan; Beijing’s unwillingness to limit growth for the sake of global-warming theory; and Iranian and North Korean nuclear-weapons programs. Obama repeatedly came away empty-handed, even on blatantly cosmetic aspects of the visit: where he would speak, to whom, and how it would be broadcast.

Third, Obama’s vision is embedded in a carapace of naive internationalism, a very comfortable fit when national security is neither that interesting nor that important. Obama is the first president since December 7, 1941, to espouse a determinedly unassertive global role for the United States, one ironically verging on an essentially neo-isolationist view of America. Obama’s December 1 announcement of troop increases in Afghanistan is not to the contrary, since he proclaimed the beginning of withdrawal in virtually the same breath. Afghanistan, like Iraq, is the very paradigm of legacy issues Obama does not want to confront. Failures such as his Middle East peace process and dealing with Iran and North Korea have simply led to resignation and inattention.

However, Obama’s is not your grandfather’s isolationism. He focuses not on America’s virtues but on why it is ordinary (thus explaining why, as I have written elsewhere, he is firmly “post-American”). It is America’s ordinariness that should enjoin it from imposing its will upon other nations. Obama is our first sitting president to express this sentiment. In April, he articulated this point with absolute clarity. Asked if he believed in American exceptionalism, the president responded, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” In other words, “No.”

In this vein, the boundless naïveté in the president’s UN speeches abundantly demonstrate  Woodrow Wilson’s patrimony. In September, he said to the UN General Assembly:

It is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009–more than at any point in human history–the interests of nations and peoples are shared. . . . In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group or people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold.

In 1916, Wilson said that “the interests of all nations are also our own,” and later advocated “peace without victory.” He said, “There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace” founded on “the moral force of the public opinion of the world.” If you removed the dates from these two sets of comments, most people would have to guess which was Obama’s and which was Wilson’s.

Through these prisms–Obama’s focus on domestic issues, his belief in the absence of major international threats, and his fascination with multilateralism for its own sake–we can project forward the president’s foreign policy. Conveniently for Obama, pushing his priorities will involve international negotiations where presidential authority is virtually exclusive. That does not mean, of course, that he can determine the final outcome where congressional action such as Senate treaty ratification is required, but Obama and his negotiators will be able to dominate in crafting the agreements themselves. Three policy areas loom large and will allow Obama to showcase, in various combinations, the three core characteristics of his worldview.

The first policy on the table will almost certainly be American arms reduction, achieved through budget decisions and arms-control agreements, both bilateral agreements with Russia and multilateral pacts with other nations. At a time of profligate federal spending, only the Department of Defense’s budget is constrained. With economic stimulus all the rage, Obama has rejected enlarging the standing military; decided against increasing defense procurement to replenish the weapons and other equipment consumed by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and stalled progress on critical high-tech military systems. These expenditures (and others) are central to future power-projection capabilities, and all would result in tangible assets and greater policy options, in contrast with the pathetic “shovel-ready” programs of the actual stimulus. This disparity is not accidental.

Even worse, both Obama’s Prague speech on a nuclear-weapons-free world and the first U.S. Nuclear Posture Review since 2001, heavily determined by the White House, point toward unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United States, whatever the success of international negotiations. The president believes strongly, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, that lowering U.S. nuclear capabilities toward zero will induce would-be proliferators around the world–Iran and North Korea take note–to give up their own nuclear-weapons programs. This is what Obama means by “strengthening” the regime established by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and what Gordon Brown has already proposed in giving up one of Great Britain’s four nuclear-missile submarines.

On several occasions in 2009, Obama and Russian President Medvedev announced agreements on future dramatic cuts in both nations’ nuclear arsenals and strategic delivery systems. Obama has already unilaterally reduced U.S. efforts in the missile-defense field, and there is every prospect of returning to some version of an antiballistic missile treaty. The Russians, of course, are delighted to agree to these reductions. For even if the international price of oil were again to rise dramatically, Russia would remain incapable of sustaining its nuclear forces anywhere near U.S. levels. “Mutual and balanced” reductions thus commit Russia merely to their most optimistic projections of their own capabilities and serve essentially to restrain the United States. In fact, “equal” levels severely and disproportionately disadvantage the United States because of our obligations to provide nuclear umbrellas for NATO, Japan, and others. Russia has no comparable need.

Multilaterally, Obama has been even more activist, enshrining his objectives in Security Council Resolution 1887 (indeed, even chairing the council session that adopted it) and convening a global summit on “nuclear security” in 2010. Obama has promised U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (which was actually defeated by majority vote in the Senate in 1999). He has pledged to renew negotiations for a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty as well as a treaty for the prevention of an arms race in space. He favors creating and strengthening so-called nuclear-free zones around the world and has urged all states not already party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to join as non-nuclear-weapons states, meaning that Israel, Pakistan, and India would have to give up their nuclear weapons (which won’t happen in any of their cases). Finally, Secretary of State Clinton promised active U.S. involvement in drafting an Arms Trade Treaty for conventional weapons, which is a thinly disguised route to achieve domestic gun-control objectives long blocked in the normal legislative process.

All these objectives will meet fierce domestic opposition in the Senate and elsewhere. But make no mistake; Obama knows where he wants to go and is working hard to get there.

Obama’s second leading policy concern is international agreement on global warming. This is not the place to re-debate global warming, but the climate-change True Believers clearly see little appeal in anything less than statist, command-and-control direction of global behavior. Obama’s efforts will draw the U.S. more fully into this fold.

Political reality may have doomed the possibility of a full-up treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2009, but that setback has not dimmed Obama’s multilateral enthusiasm. Environmentalists have focused blame for the absence of a legally binding treaty on the United States, as Congress is unable to enact cap-and-trade in Obamamania’s first year. In response, Obama will likely move more aggressively in multilateral negotiations to create a successor to Kyoto despite congressional inaction. In so doing, he will be following a now familiar strategy for American leftists, which is to internationalize problems on which they cannot make progress domestically. They have attempted in recent decades, with varying degrees of success, to do so on a host of issues: gun control, the death penalty, abortion, and the “rights of the child” among them.

The strategy is to reach agreement with like-minded leaders of other countries, whose governments are likely to be far to the Left of America’s political center of gravity. Then, treaty or other international agreement in hand, activists return to the Senate to announce that the rest of the world is determined to do “X” and that America cannot allow itself to be “isolated” along with Somalia, Burma, China, or other assorted holdouts. Thus, on global warming, Obama will likely focus on international approaches to reach his goals, perhaps using executive agreements rather than treaties to bypass the Senate and domestic political roadblocks. Similarly, he will increase efforts to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, which global-warming activists are touting as a backdoor to increasing environmental regulation.

Third–both enabling and following from the first two foreign-policy imperatives–“global governance” and “international law” will become growth industries under Obama. To the UN Security Council, Obama said, “The world must stand together. And we must demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced.” This dovetails nicely with the sentiments of the incoming president of the European Union, former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, who made clear in his November 19 acceptance speech that “2009 is also the first year of global governance with the establishment of the G-20 in the middle of the financial crisis. The climate conference in Copenhagen is another step toward the global management of our planet.” As our post-American President Obama well knows, the European Union is a continuing font of ideas on global governance, always eager to share its own form of bureaucratic control and accompanying “democratic deficit” worldwide. Now the new European president has a rapt pupil in the Oval Office and acolytes scattered throughout Washington’s foreign-policy establishment.

In many respects, the renunciation of “torture” in interrogating captured terrorists, the commitment to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and the criminal trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other defendants in U.S. courts are about making sure that “international law is not an empty promise.” These steps are, perilously, also decisions about retreating from a war paradigm to a law-enforcement paradigm in dealing with terrorism. But it was not coincidental that Obama’s first applause line in the General Assembly came when he referred to renouncing “torture” and shutting down Gitmo.

There is much more global governance in the works. The Obama administration sought and won re-election to the new UN Human Rights Council, a body that the Bush administration voted against creating in 2006 and that it subsequently refused to join. The new council has proved itself just as antithetical to American interests as was its predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission, but mentioning yet another reversal of Bush policy won Obama a further round of applause in the General Assembly.

There will undoubtedly be more such applause to come. Secretary Clinton has committed to ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Whatever the pros and cons of these agreements, the larger question is how much “law” the Obama administration is prepared to make outside the ever growing U.S. Code we already possess. To Obama’s internationalist sensibility, the offense, of course, is that laws “made in the U.S.A.” by freely elected representatives of our own citizenry are too “exceptional” and too “parochial” to hold weight in this interconnected world. Mere “municipal” laws, as international-law scholars refer to them, don’t pass John Kerry’s “global test” of legitimacy for American foreign policy. President Obama clearly wants to fix that problem.

Secretary Clinton opined, in Nairobi last summer, that it was “a great regret but it is a fact we are not yet a signatory” to the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court. So it was no surprise when the State Department confirmed on November 16 that the United States will now participate as an observer in meetings of the court’s members. Observer status is manifestly a step toward the administration’s ill-disguised ultimate objective of re-signing the Rome Statute, ratifying it, and becoming a full member of the court. Obviously, all these and other steps have implications not only for the United States but also for close allies like Israel, which were protected by earlier U.S. opposition.

Barack Obama’s blueprint for the United States spells trouble for American autonomy, self-governance, and defense, all key elements of national sovereignty. His undisguised indifference to repeated diminutions of that sovereignty is entirely consistent with the views of his European admirers, who, at their level, would like to see their nation-states dissolve into the European Union. In the end, however, the United States is exceptional and will not melt into any larger or global union; it will simply become less able to protect itself and its constitutional decision-making system. That is clearly where our first post-American president’s policies will take us.

Dick Cheney: Conservative of the Year

John R. Bolton |  Human Events

In Washingtonian “inside the Beltway” terms, the most amazing aspect of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s new clout is that he is achieving it the old-fashioned way: talking about public policy. He is not running for President or any other office. He has not formed a PAC or a D.C. lobbying firm. He is not dishing on former colleagues, not spreading gossip, not settling scores. He is, instead, writing a memoir about his extensive career in public service, and giving occasional speeches and interviews, mostly on national and homeland security policy, long his central focus.

How is it, therefore, that someone who has no political ambitions can cause so much angst at the White House and in the mainstream news media? The irrefutable answer is that what Cheney is saying, primarily on foreign policy, defense and anti-terrorism, makes sense to more and more American citizens growing increasingly worried by the Obama Administration’s insouciance when U.S. national interests are threatened, both at home and abroad. Since the only real, long-term way to deal with persuasive positions on substantive policy matters is to refute them with sounder policy arguments, it is not hard to understand why the Obama White House is near panic. Where are they going to go to find a better policy inside his administration?

The most visible evidence that White House handlers worry about Cheney’s scoring too many unanswered points came in May, in connection with a speech he was scheduled to give at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Cheney has had a long association with AEI, going back to the end of the Ford Administration. Later, after leaving the Defense Department in 1993 following Bush 41’s loss to Bill Clinton, Cheney sojourned briefly at AEI, as is customary in the Washington think-tank world where many federal officials decompress and reflect on their governmental experiences before returning to business or other pursuits. Cheney later joined AEI’s Board of Trustees, “stepping down” in 2001 as Vice Chairman, as AEI likes to put it, in order to become Vice President.

So, a major Cheney speech at AEI shortly after leaving the vice presidency was neither surprising nor aimed at the new Oval Office occupant. What was surprising, unprecedented and even unpresidential, however, was the Obama Administration’s reaction. Instead of leaving it to allies in Congress, Cabinet officers, or the media to debate the former Vice President, the White House scheduled a speech by the President himself on precisely the same topic. Even more amazingly, they scheduled it on exactly the same day as Cheney’s AEI speech, May 21, two hours before Cheney was scheduled to start his remarks. Political commentators searched their memories and clippings files, but no one could come up with another example of a President’s so directly taking on even a former President, let alone a former Vice President.

So nervous were Obama’s stage managers that they did not realize until too late that they had made a serious mistake by having Obama go first, thus allowing the amused Cheney and his waiting audience at AEI to watch Obama’s speech and then directly critique his arguments as soon as Obama had finished. Tellingly, Cheney didn’t have to alter the text he had already prepared, because he had already correctly anticipated and written out refutations of all of Obama’s central arguments. The White House politicos had tried to set a trap, but had succeeded only in trapping their own President.

Combined in this one historic speech are the key themes that Cheney has sounded since leaving the Vice Presidency: the critical need to understand that we are in a long, continuing war against international terrorism, the importance of sustaining and enhancing our defenses and capabilities against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the risks we face in letting our guard down.

In particular, Cheney gave a vigorous defense of “enhanced-interrogation techniques,” the detention facility for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, and the national security benefits the United States obtained through its vigorous program of intelligence gathering. He criticized the Obama Administration’s decision to release previously classified memoranda and reports about our interrogation techniques, stressing the benefits thereby gained by al Qaeda and other terrorists, and then challenged the administration directly: Why not release the full texts of these records, including specifically the information that our interrogation techniques had elicited from the captured terrorists? Let the American people weigh the value of this evidence against the techniques themselves, and let history judge. Needless to say, the Obama White House has done nothing, thus underlining the fundamentally political nature of the original Obama decision to release only the parts of the documents they felt benefited his partisan view.

So befuddled were the administration and its media surrogates by Cheney’s AEI speech and his subsequent comments that they have insinuated darkly that Cheney actually does have a nefarious hidden motive. He is, they say, trying to defend his record and that of the Bush Administration, an obvious conflict of interest, they claim! Most people have scratched their heads at this criticism, which is what passes for devastating analysis by the media, because it is entirely natural for a senior public official to explain and defend his policies once he leaves office. In fact, it is critical that men and women who have served in high positions, as Cheney has, to do just that, to give our citizens a better understanding of what actually goes on in high-level decision making. With senior officials constrained by the limits of what they can say publicly while still serving in the government, the public often receives only a very limited understanding of what an administration’s actual thinking is on key policy decisions. To have a former Vice President willing to go on the record once he leaves office is a huge service to us and our nation, helping to illuminate and explain key factors affecting our national security.

Perhaps most galling to Democrats is how closely Joe Biden’s role as Vice President has tracked that of Cheney’s, which these same Democrats criticized so vociferously while Cheney was in office. The main difference, of course, is that Cheney is much quieter than Biden, which objective observers have to score as a plus for Cheney.

Desperate to distinguish themselves from Cheney, Biden’s media flacks say that he and his staff have worked well with Obama’s White House staff, in contrast to the rancor and in-fighting of the Bush-Cheney years. This effort to re-write history, however, simply will not fly. Especially on national-security policy, the Bush and Cheney staffs worked well and closely together. If, at the end of eight years, the staff relationships were not as close as at the beginning, that was hardly Cheney’s fault. Having worked as a White House summer intern for Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1972, I can recount from personal experience what it’s like when the President’s people are at knife’s-edge with the Veep’s. That’s not what it was like in the Bush years, certainly not in the first term. Bush’s second term was different for many reasons, marked notably in foreign affairs by the overwhelming predominance of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But even then, Cheney’s relations with the NSC staff remained close, in large part because Rice’s successor as National Security Adviser, Steve Hadley, had worked for Cheney at the Pentagon during the Bush 41 Administration.

Perhaps most importantly of all, Cheney knows that the personal attacks on him, as offensive as they are, in reality constitute stark evidence that Obama and his supporters are simply unable to match him in the substantive policy debate. An old lawyers’ cliché says: “If the law is against you, pound on the facts; if the facts are against you, pound on the law; if the law and the facts are against you, pound on the table.” Obama and his supporters are doing the political equivalent of continuous table-pounding, because that’s basically all they have to offer. Cheney’s unwillingness to be deterred by the media assaults on his character, his judgment and his performance in office are therefore his most impressive force multiplier with the general public. Outside-the-Beltway Americans see him for exactly what he is: a very experienced, very dedicated patriot, giving his fellow citizens his best analysis on how to keep them and their country safe.

Cheney’s quiet, inner-directed motivation is simply impervious to the attacks orchestrated against him by the Chicago machine-style politicians at the White House, a fact also plainly visible to his fellow citizens. And it is yet another important reason to have confidence that Cheney’s solid policy analysis will yet prevail in the national political arena. Of course he is the conservative of the year!

Obama’s Af-Pak Imperative

John R. Bolton |  New York Daily News

Last Friday, General Stanley McChrystal, U.S. ground commander in Afghanistan, briefed NATO defense ministers on his proposed strategy, apparently successfully. “I have noted broad support from all ministers of this overall counterinsurgency approach,” NATO Secretary General Rasmussen said afterwards.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration continues its internal, but extraordinarily public, Afghan strategy debate. While NATO ministers were endorsing McChrystal, Vice President Biden, who opposes his recommendations, took on his predecessor, Dick Cheney. Risking his own oblivion even before his term ends, Biden responded to Cheney’s criticism of the President’s indecisiveness by asking “Who cares?”

In fact, the U.S. direction in Afghanistan is likely to be Obama’s most important national security decision to date. By precipitating the current debate, and through his ongoing display of discomfort with a strategy he personally announced in March, the President has gravely impaired the confidence of many allies and Americans in his overall capacity to make hard national security choices. Either his initial Afghanistan decisions were poorly thought out, or today’s irresolution over his hand-picked commander’s operational proposals signals indecisiveness and a propensity for second-guessing. Neither explanation is presidential.

Beyond this evidence of Administration disorder and weakness, however, the United States and its NATO partners must agree on our fundamental strategic objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is what Obama should have done before his March announcement, and must in any event get right now. White House efforts to blame corruption in Afghanistan’s August 20 presidential elections for rethinking its entire policy are inadequate. The Administration should have understood Afghanistan better, and factored the risk of corruption into its original decision, or should have done more to head it off. Apparently it did neither.

America’s real objectives have not changed in the last six months. After 9/11, our principal strategic objective in Afghanistan was overthrowing the repressive Taliban regime, and denying Taliban and al Qaeda a safe haven from which to plot and execute terrorist attacks around the world. That objective was critical in 2001, and it remains critical today. It cannot be achieved by remote control warfare, but only through the systematic destruction of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders and fighters, and often literally in hand-to-hand combat.

But today the West has another critical strategic objective: preventing the government of Pakistan from destabilizing to the point where Taliban or other religious fanatics gain control over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The danger in Pakistan grew after the overthrow of the Afghan Taliban partly because they and al Qaeda found refuge inside Pakistan, and from which they now threaten both countries. President Bush did not appreciate soon enough or respond effectively to the compound nature of the “AfPak” problem, and, his Administration’s decision to push Pakistani President Musharraf from office was clearly a mistake and a contributing factor to Pakistani instability. Nonetheless, it is critical now to concentrate on the even higher nuclear stakes involved in not losing Pakistan to NATO’s enemies.

In a curious analytical confluence, some proponents of NATO troop increases, most notably McChrystal, and opponents such as Senator Kerry have argued that extensive Afghan “nation building” is required to ensure Taliban and al Qaeda are eliminate as threats there. Kerry supposedly wants political stability before committing more troops, whereas McChrystal argues for nation building to solidify military gains.

Both sides miss the point, though McChrystal’s military reasoning does correctly conclude we need more forces. Unfortunately, his socio-economic theorizing risks the kind of failure that underlies Kerry’s argument, thus laying the predicate for future U.S. withdrawal whether Taliban is defeated or not.

Afghan legitimacy, stability and well-being do not affect the basic interests for which we are fighting. Our national security interest in destroying Taliban and al Qaeda exists whether Afghans are doing well or poorly economically or whether Afghan elections become more corrupt or less corrupt. These characteristics relate to military activity, but are neither prerequisites for troop increases nor the inevitable outcome of successful military operations. “Nation building” deserves our endorsement but cannot be the measure of our success, since it rests fundamentally with Afghans, not Americans. We are not in Afghanistan to spruce up its quality of life, but to protect America. Otherwise, we have no point being there.

This the hard truth: neither nation building nor military action guarantees forever against Taliban’s return; there is only continuing struggle, which at the moment America and NATO are not winning in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. We need urgently to grind Taliban and al Qaeda between two military millstones: NATO in Afghanistan and stepped-up Pakistani military operations on their side of the border. That requires substantial U.S. (and European) troop increases, and soon. If Afghanistan thereby “nation builds” into a more pleasant country, so much the better, but Afghan wholesomeness is irrelevant to the strategic judgment President Obama is long overdue in making.

Israel, the U.S. and the Goldstone Report

John R. Bolton |  Wall Street Journal

The U.N.’s Human Rights Council (HRC) voted overwhelmingly on Friday to endorse the recommendations of the lopsidedly anti-Israel Goldstone Report. The report, named for former South African judge Richard Goldstone, who chaired the underlying investigation, concluded that Israel’s 2008-2009 military campaign against the terrorist group Hamas was actually aimed against Gaza’s residents as a whole. Thus it was an illegitimate exercise of “collective punishment,” an extraordinarily amorphous legal concept.

The report alleges numerous specific human rights violations by both Israel and Hamas. But by attempting to criminalize Israel’s strategy of crippling Hamas, the report in effect declared the entire antiterrorism campaign to be a war crime. Mr. Goldstone recommended that Israel and the Palestinians should each conduct their own investigations, failing which the Security Council should refer the entire matter to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution.

In the month since the report’s release, it has roiled the Middle East peace process. An Israeli spokesman said “it will make it impossible for us to take any risks for the sake of peace,” perhaps foreshadowing Israeli withdrawal from negotiations while the report remains under active U.N. consideration.

The HRC resolution endorsing the report’s recommendations repeatedly lacerated Israel, leading Mr. Goldstone himself to cringe, saying he was “saddened” the resolution contained “not a single phrase condemning Hamas as we have done in the report.” A U.S. State Department spokesman conceded that the adopted text “went beyond even the scope of the Goldstone Report itself.”

The U.N. General Assembly created the HRC on March 15, 2006, to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission, which had spent much of its final years concentrating on Israel and the U.S. rather than the world’s real human rights violators. The Bush administration voted against establishing this body and declined to join it, believing, correctly, that it would not be an improvement over its predecessor. President Barack Obama changed course, and the U.S. won election to the HRC in May. Mr. Obama argued that engagement would be more effective than shunning the HRC and attempting to delegitimize it.

The Goldstone Report thus provides a stark test of Mr. Obama’s analysis. Predictably, the administration blamed the report’s underlying mandate and its stridently anti-Israel tilt on America’s earlier absence from the HRC when the investigation was authorized and launched. Yet the new administration’s diplomacy had no discernible impact on the HRC’s disgraceful resolution.

Twenty-five of the HRC’s 47 members voted for the resolution (including Russia and China), six voted against (Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia, Ukraine and the U.S.), and 11 abstained (Japan, South Korea and several European governments among them).

Five didn’t vote at all, including Great Britain and France. Press reports indicated that London saw its inaction as a “favor” to Israel, a position simultaneously inexplicable and gutless. It is hard to know just how much real politicking the Obama administration did before this vote, but the loss of key allies is telling.

The Goldstone Report has important implications for America. In the U.N., Israel frequently serves as a surrogate target in lieu of the U.S., particularly concerning the use of military force pre-emptively or in self-defense. Accordingly, U.N. decisions on ostensibly Israel-specific issues can lay a predicate for subsequent action against, or efforts to constrain, the U.S. Mr. Goldstone’s recommendation to convoke the International Criminal Court is like putting a loaded pistol to Israel’s head–or, in the future, to America’s.

Mr. Obama has now met the new HRC, same as the old HRC, thus producing a “teachable moment,” a phrase he often uses. Quasi-religious faith in “engagement” and the U.N. has run into empirical reality. When the administration picks itself up off the ground, it should become more cognizant of that organization’s moral and political limitations.

Although it will be hard for Mr. Obama to swallow, the logical response to Friday’s debacle is to withdraw from and defund the HRC. Otherwise the Goldstone Report will merely be the beginning, next time perhaps with Washington as its unmistakable target.

The Danger of Obama’s Dithering

John R. Bolton |  Los Angeles Times

Weakness in American foreign policy in one region often invites challenges elsewhere, because our adversaries carefully follow diminished American resolve. Similarly, presidential indecisiveness, whether because of uncertainty or internal political struggles, signals that the United States may not respond to international challenges in clear and coherent ways.

Taken together, weakness and indecisiveness have proved historically to be a toxic combination for America’s global interests. That is exactly the combination we now see under President Obama. If anything, his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize only underlines the problem. All of Obama’s campaign and inaugural talk about “extending an open hand” and “engagement,” especially the multilateral variety, isn’t exactly unfolding according to plan. Entirely predictably, we see more clearly every day that diplomacy is not a policy but only a technique. Absent presidential leadership, which at a minimum means clear policy direction and persistence in the face of criticism and adversity, engagement simply embodies weakness and indecision.

Obama is no Harry Truman. At best, he is reprising Jimmy Carter. At worst, the real precedent may be Ethelred the Unready, the turn-of the-first-millennium Anglo-Saxon king whose reputation for indecisiveness and his unsuccessful paying of Danegeld–literally, “Danish tax”–to buy off Viking raiders made him history’s paradigmatic weak leader.

Beyond the disquiet (or outrage for some) prompted by the president’s propensity to apologize for his country’s pre-Obama history, Americans increasingly sense that his administration is drifting from one foreign policy mistake to another. Worse, the current is growing swifter, and the threats more pronounced, even as the administration tries to turn its face away from the world and toward its domestic priorities. Foreign observers, friend and foe alike, sense the same aimlessness and drift. French President Nicolas Sarkozy had to remind Obama at a Sept. 24 U.N. Security Council meeting that “we live in the real world, not a virtual one.”

Examples of weakness abound, and the consequences are readily foreseeable.

Canceling the Polish and Czech missile defense bases is understood in Moscow and Eastern European capitals as backing down in the face of Russian bluster and belligerence. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened the day after our 2008 election to deploy missiles targeting these assets unless they were canceled, a threat duly noted by the Russian media when Obama canceled the sites. Given candidate Obama’s reaction to the 2008 Russia-Georgia war–calling on both sides to exercise restraint–there is little doubt that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s project to re-extend Russian hegemony over as much of the former Soviet Union as he can will continue apace. Why should he worry about Washington?

Obama’s Middle East peace process has stalled, most recently because he set a target for an end to Israeli settlement expansion, couldn’t meet it and then proceeded as though he hadn’t meant what he said originally. By insisting that Israel freeze settlements as a precondition to renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Obama drew a clear line. But when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withstood Obama’s pressure, Obama caved, hosting a photo-op with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that strengthened Netanyahu and weakened Abbas just when Obama wanted to achieve exactly the opposite. However one views the substantive outcome of this vignette, Obama himself looked the weakest of all. It could well be years before his Middle East policy gets back up off the ground.

On nuclear nonproliferation, North Korea responded to the “open hand” of engagement by testing its second nuclear device, continuing an aggressive ballistic missile testing program, cooperating with other rogue states and kidnapping and holding hostage two American reporters. Obama’s reaction is to press for more negotiations, which simply encourages Pyongyang to up the ante.

Iran is revealed to have been long constructing an undeclared, uninspected nuclear facility that makes a mockery of almost seven years of European Union negotiation efforts. Forced to deal publicly with this deeply worrying threat, Obama proposes the equivalent of money-laundering for nuclear threats: Iranian uranium enriched in open, unambiguous defiance of four Security Council resolutions will be enriched to higher levels in Russia, and then returned to be burned in a Tehran reactor–ostensibly for peaceful purposes. Sarkozy again captured the growing international incredulity in his noteworthy Security Council speech: “I support America’s ‘extended hand.’ But what have these proposals for dialogue produced for the international community? Nothing but more enriched uranium and more centrifuges.”

Finally, Obama’s agonizing, very public reappraisal of his own 7-month-old Afghanistan policy epitomizes indecisiveness. While there is no virtue in sustaining policy merely for continuity’s sake, neither is credit due for too-quickly adopting policies without appreciating the risks entailed and then fleeing precipitously when the risks become manifest. The administration’s stated reason for its policy re-evaluation was widespread fraud in Afghanistan’s Aug. 20 presidential election. But this explanation is simply not credible. Did not the administration’s generals and diplomats on the ground, not to mention United Nations observers, see the election mess coming? Was the Hamid Karzai administration’s cupidity and corruption overlooked or ignored during Obama’s original review and revision of his predecessor’s policy?

The unmistakable inference is that Obama did not carefully think through his March Afghan policy, or did not have full confidence then or now in Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal or Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, or that it is now politically inconvenient among increasingly antiwar Democrats to follow through on that policy.

None of these explanations reflect credit on the president. He is dithering. Whatever decision Obama reaches on Afghanistan, his credibility and leadership have been badly wounded by his continuing public display of indecisiveness.

Our international adversaries undoubtedly welcome all of these “resets” in U.S. foreign policy, but Americans should be appalled at how much of our posture in the world has already been given away. If Obama’s first nine months indicate the direction of the next 39, we still have a long way to fall.


Obama Continues Bush’s 2nd Term–Badly

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

Conservative foreign and national-security policies do not need remaking, rebranding or remessaging. They need not be escorted by prefixes or adjectives, nor do they need “moderating.”

Conservative foreign policy is unabashedly pro-American, unashamed of American exceptionalism, unwilling to bend its knee to international organizations, and unapologetic about the need for the fullest range of dominant military capabilities. Its diplomacy is neither unilateralist nor multilateralist, but chooses its strategies, tactics, means and methods based on a hard-headed assessment of U.S. national interests, not on theologies about process. Most especially, conservatives understand that allies are different from adversaries, and that each should be treated accordingly.

These sentiments bear repeating because the fundamental principles underlying conservative foreign and national-security policy have never been stronger, and the consequences of deviating from them have rarely been so clear. The Obama administration’s first few months already provide compelling evidence of the enormous costs of embracing the alternative worldview of the European and American left. Of course, that was equally true when the Bush administration all-too-frequently deviated from conservative precepts, especially in its failure-ridden second-term. In many ways, unfortunately, the Obama administration is a continuation of the second Bush term, only worse.

Former President George W. Bush’s mistakes resulted from sleep-walking away from conservative values, whereas President Obama openly repudiates them, both believing in and fully understanding what he is doing. Accordingly, conservatives need engage in no “agonizing reappraisals” of their fundamental views. They need to adjust to being in opposition, but that is the purest kind of opportunity, not a burden. Mr. Obama’s wearying and unpresidential refrain of blaming his predecessor is implicitly a trap, an effort to entice us to reflexively defend the Bush administration. Instead, we should forthrightly explain where Mr. Bush went wrong, when he did, repudiating his errors as cheerily as Mr. Obama does, and then, agreeably to conservative principles, just as cheerily critiquing Mr. Obama’s even more egregious mistakes.

Defending U.S. interests is neither arrogant nor disrespectful of others, but is instead the basic task of our presidents. Despite the 2008 election, neither the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, nor international terrorism, nor the challenges of geostrategic adversaries have in any way diminished.

Overseas “apology tours,” public displays of empathy and inviting the likes of Iran to Fourth of July receptions at our embassies will not alter these underlying realities. Nor will reducing national-security budgets on such key items as missile defense and advanced weapons systems (while dramatically increasing unnecessary and inevitably inflationary domestic spending) make our adversaries more amenable to sweet reason. Sadly, such gratuitous indications of self-doubt and weakness only encourage the very adversaries whose favor we are currying.

The Obama administration finds itself surprised almost daily by, among other things:

  • The recalcitrant and unyielding regime in North Korea, testing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
  • Iran’s persistence in pursuing precisely the same weapons programs, as well as continuing its activities as the world’s central banker for terrorism.
  • Hamas’ continued refusal to renounce terrorism, acknowledge the state of Israel’s existence and abide by prior Middle East agreements (which is hardly surprising, given that doing so would require Hamas to repudiate the fundamental principles on which it was founded).
  • Russia’s continued belligerent attitude toward former territories of the Soviet Union and Moscow’s generally unhelpful attitude in dealing with North Korea, Iran, the Middle East and countless other problems.

Conservatives understand that these and numerous other threats are not anomalies in an otherwise peaceful and friendly world, but manifestations of the inevitable international clash of interests and philosophies. Conflict with our interest and values is not some unfortunate exception to normality, it is normality. While harmony is desirable, it is far from inevitable, and the causes of disharmony are just as natural and human as their opposites.

Understanding the Hobbesian nature of international relations fundamentally grounds conservative foreign policy in reality. In particular, conservatives reject the idea that America’s actions are the foundation for most international discord, and that it is our deviation from international “norms” that must be “corrected” for the natural state of harmony to return.

To the contrary, in the last century, America has repeatedly sought to solve problems others have created, but which risk our own security. Left to ourselves, we would have been more than happy for the others to solve their own problems. That option, however, has not been open to us for quite some time, nor will it return in the foreseeable future, if ever.

The future of conservative national-security policy thus looks very much like its past, and, as in the past, will include considerable healthy debate among conservatives over concrete application of their principles. This is as it should be, both as sound philosophy and also because it makes for good domestic politics. The American people actually expect to be defended against international threats and adversaries, and they will undoubtedly punish any American president who does not understand and implement their strong and entirely justifiable views. That is why we may well see the future of conservative foreign policy bloom as early as 2012.


Obama’s Foreign Policy Setbacks

John R. Bolton |  San Diego Union-Tribune

The Republican Party’s latest Internet video shows then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008 saying, “Guantanamo, that’s easy. Close down Guantanamo … ” This video is becoming an instant classic, as recent events in Washington demonstrated with sudden clarity.

Mainstream American opinion asserted itself, disproving conclusively the idea that the 2008 U.S. election constituted a dramatic shift leftward. To the contrary, the president’s efforts to appease the Democratic Party’s left wing on issues like detaining terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and “enhanced interrogation techniques” have backfired badly. For the first time since his Jan. 20 inauguration, President Obama is on the defensive politically. Washington’s “conventional wisdom” is now that, contrary to the campaign theme of “change,” President Obama has largely retained the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation policy. Since it is still early in the Obama presidency, comparisons with its predecessor are not surprising. But the real issue is whether the president is losing so much political capital and credibility on national security that he cannot repair the damage. Consider the full measure of his political disarray:

First, by an overwhelming 90-6 vote, the Senate eliminated from the president’s budget all funds to close Guantanamo. As Daniel Inouye, the Democratic chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, said, the president lacked “a coherent plan” for dealing with the detainees, a far cry from the “easy” decision to shutter “Gitmo.” Initially, therefore, Democrats sought to retain the funding by requiring the president to submit such a plan, but even that compromise was too hard. Democrats had to agree to eliminate the funding entirely to protect themselves politically.

Second, less noticed but perhaps more important, the Senate then voted 92-3 to require a classified threat assessment for every Guantanamo detainee before he is transported elsewhere. This has to be a frightening prospect for the administration. With the news media dutifully reporting the threat assessments (which will surely be leaked) before any arrive in America, this will become a story that never dies, to the president’s continuing political detriment.

Third, President Obama deliberately scheduled a speech defending his position immediately before a previously-scheduled speech by former Vice President Dick Cheney. The competing arguments were broadcast back-to-back by the major cable news networks, and received wide media coverage. But rather than calming the political environment, the contrast only made the issue more prominent, not least because of the unprecedented debate between a president and a former vice president. That is a new definition of a president on the defensive.

Finally, the substance of President Obama’s remarks showed how far he had shifted from the “easy” campaign days. He proposed to hold terrorist suspects indefinitely without trial, thus reaffirming one of the Bush administration’s core tactics. Civil liberties advocates reacted with horror; one of them said “if [the detainees] cannot be convicted, then you release them. That’s what it means to have a justice system.” This comment underlines the fundamental gap in perception between the Democratic Party’s left wing, and the Bush and Obama administrations (and the overwhelming majority of the American citizenry) on the other–namely, that the issue of terrorism is not about law enforcement, but about war. Before long, the debate moved to whether terrorists from Gitmo could be held in maximum-security U.S. prisons, another debate President Obama should not want. Federal courts could decide that the detainees’ legal status changes when they arrive on American soil, thus bringing many of them closer to release from prison. Holding them with other prisoners, rather than isolating them at Guantanamo, facilitates resuming contact with fellow terrorists and recruiting new adherents in the prisons. These dilemmas underscore that Guantanamo’s inmates are not common criminals, but a special threat that requires special treatment.

The war paradigm, based on state-versus-state conflict, is not entirely perfect for dealing with terrorism, but it is far superior to the law-enforcement paradigm. That is why enhanced interrogation techniques and detention facilities like Gitmo are required, at least until a new paradigm to deal with terrorists emerges, although none is in sight.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s recent confusion and embarrassment over the extent of her knowledge of “enhanced interrogation techniques” is yet another facet of her party’s dilemma. If these techniques are so obviously abhorrent, why did not Pelosi and others object to them at the time they were briefed? That is why she has so conveniently “forgotten” about the briefings.

Her troubles, however, and Obama’s, are far from over. Terrorists are not simply bank robbers or petty vandals, but enemies of Western civilization. They are the barbarians of our time, and the law-enforcement approach appropriate within constitutional democracies simply does not apply to their belligerent and uncivilized war of terror against us. To conclude otherwise would be to ignore the recent lesson in reality. Whether President Obama learned that lesson remains to be seen.

A “World Turned Upside Down”?

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

The Spanish Inquisition’s reawakening and the unchecked rise of piracy off Somalia may not, at first glance, seem to have much in common. In fact, however, these phenomena represent an inversion of historic Western priorities and a decline in our collective resolve and instinct for self-defense.

Sunday’s daring rescue of U.S. freighter Capt. Richard Phillips notwithstanding, the West’s evident confusion is causing enormously dangerous consequences.

The shared element between excessive Spanish moralism, the contemporary version, and pirates with impunity is the concept of “universal jurisdiction” and how that concept has been recently transmogrified.

From ancient times, it was legitimate to use military force against hostes humani generis, “the enemies of mankind.” Now, the high-minded not only reject that perspective, but perceive the real “common enemies” to be on our side of the barricades.

The Romans understood well that pirates operated beyond any legal order and that due process for pirates consisted in destroying them. Well into the 19th century, when the “common enemies” concept expanded to cover slave traders, law on the high seas came largely in the form of the British Royal Navy, and later our own. This naval jurisdiction derived from their global reach and their willingness to do civilization’s hard work.

Today, however, under the rubric of “universal jurisdiction,” the Grand Inquisitor, present throughout Europe but especially active in Spain, now targets those he considers far more dangerous than pirates. Hijackers? Suicide bombers? Nuclear proliferators? No, Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzon is stalking men in dark, pinstriped suits: six American lawyers, former Bush administration officials, who opined on the proper treatment of captured terrorists. Their crime is disagreeing with Judge Garzon’s interpretation of international law, which is now apparently an indictable offense in Spain.

Judge Garzon seeks to criminalize opinions, not actions, opinions expressed inside our government, which has a democratic, constitutional heritage far older than Spain’s.

Although international law acolytes offer many legal-sounding arguments for allowing publicity-hungry Spanish bureaucrats to translate their personal moral superiority into criminal prosecutions, in fact this is nothing but politics.

Merely in practical terms, Judge Garzon’s investigation is bizarre. Spain is far from the purported crime scene (the halls of official Washington); it has no access to key witnesses and documents; and its courts have no more competence to decide international politico-military matters than any other courts–which is to say, not much.

Something more fundamental is at stake, especially in the targeting of U.S. officials, rather than, say, North Korean leaders who have starved their fellow citizens for generations. What is really at risk of prosecution here is American exceptionalism, and everyone knows it, from Judge Garzon himself to the high-minded here and in Europe who long to use international law to constrain U.S. power. In fact, if any American engages in criminal behavior–as decided by our democracy–we are perfectly capable of handling it.

Nonetheless, the United States is doing a pretty good job of constraining itself, unnecessarily, self-destructively and without assistance from helpful Spanish Inquisitors.

Piracy off Africa and elsewhere, such as the Straits of Malacca, has grown recently, and the international response has been wholly inadequate. When the United States raised possible NATO action against the Somali pirates, our allies demurred for fear that military action would bring accusations in European Union judicial bodies that we are committing human rights violations against the pirates and their camp followers.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that, prior to the rescue, we were consulting to see “what further steps the international community believes should be taken.” Of course, the U.N. Security Council has already authorized using force against the pirates in Resolution 1851, not that it was necessary to begin with.

Sunday’s unilateral U.S. military action (and France’s similar assault the day before), should be only first steps. Nonetheless, we still face a world turned upside down when U.S. officials, in a government doing the most globally to combat terrorism and proliferation, are subject to criminal investigations by a treaty ally, while Platonic guardians in European Union institutions protect international pirates.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration seemingly agrees philosophically with this inversion. Far from trying to correct the anomaly, the president’s docility is provocative, both to pirates at sea and pirates dressed as inquisitors.

The United States should be actively explaining to Spain that launching any formal investigation will be considered an unfriendly act, a point all Europeans need to understand. We should tell them unemotionally, but unequivocally, that this has got to stop, and now.

Similarly, the Somali pirates should be told to stop, and now, or face further military action. Dealing with pirates is not a matter of grand juries and subpoenas, for it is not a law enforcement matter. As Justice Felix Frankfurter once wrote, due process is only that process that is due, and the pirates have already had more than enough.

The Dangerous Allure of Arms Control

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

he Ringwraiths of arms control are again with us, returned from well-deserved obscurity, and back in the saddle in Washington. Through public statements and private preparations the Obama administration is signaling clearly that its approach to Russia will center on Cold War-era arms control precepts and objectives.

Although the Washington-Moscow relationship has, at Moscow’s behest, become increasingly contentious and unpleasant, arms control is an odd and backward-looking way to try to improve relations and ameliorate Russia’s objectionable international conduct. A long Cold War history demonstrates that arms control tends to make the relationship even more adversarial than it needs to be, concentrates attention on peripheral issues, and fails to deliver the security that supposedly is its central objective.

The Obama arms control agenda reflects the longstanding, attractive and woefully simplistic notion that ever-lower numbers of Russian and American nuclear weapons will create a more stable strategic relationship, diminishing the threat of nuclear war. Arms controllers, relying on this superficial analysis for decades, argued that reducing weapons levels would not harm U.S. security because nuclear war was so destructive it was simply unthinkable, a concept known as “automatic deterrence.” Later, they adopted a slightly more nuanced position, acknowledging the need for a small nuclear force that could survive a first strike, thus providing a “second strike” capability. These flawed theories are back from the dead.

Accordingly, we now see suggestions for U.S. weapons levels that have more to do with numerology than national security. Moreover, the Obama approach appears to ignore the 2002 Treaty of Moscow, which represented a substantial change in managing strategic relations between America and Russia, a change also reflected in U.S. development of strategic missile defense capabilities. Ironically, the treaty actually reflected the reduced role of nuclear weapons in American strategy and enhanced roles for long-range, precision-guided conventional weapons that the Obama administration now risks reversing by returning to the arms-control approach of the SALT (strategic arms limitations) and START (strategic arms reduction) models.

What should we do instead, and on what should Congress insist before the negotiations proceed beyond the point of no return?

First, we must understand that agreed-upon levels of nuclear weapons address only the most visible areas of military competition, not others that actually may be more important. This has been a central fallacy of arms control since the post-World War I naval arms negotiations, ignoring as it does wide and important variances between the United States and Russia, such as weapons production capabilities, levels of tactical nuclear weapons, intelligence assets, and total national economic strength.

Moreover, U.S. nuclear capabilities provide a deterrence umbrella for its allied countries, whereas Russia plays no such positive role.

Thus, the two countries are simply not “symmetrical,” but treaties with specific warhead limits gave the illusion they are.

Second, the United States should decide what levels of nuclear forces we actually need, and make that our objective, not pursuing an arbitrary number and then trying to find national security justification for it. The latter approach is not only dangerous but opens us to manipulation by our negotiating adversaries, since under this approach one number has no greater intrinsic security value than another. This is especially true when we understand that no current or prior arms control treaty has ever actually required destruction of existing warheads, nor do we have any known verification methodology that could actually demonstrate compliance even if we could reach agreement on warhead destruction as an objective.

Third, how we “count” nuclear capabilities is important. This is not a merely technical issue, but carries profound implications for both our nuclear and conventional capabilities. Under START counting rules, weapons levels were imputed based on the capabilities of delivery systems, rather than actual warhead levels. Thus, for example, each Soviet SS-18, capable of carrying 10 nuclear warheads was imputed to do so no matter how many were actually under the nosecones.

Counting actual numbers is far more accurate. In the Treaty of Moscow, we did so by counting only operationally deployed strategic warheads rather than using imputed levels derived from artificial counting rules. Not only was this more accurate, it freed up large numbers of delivery systems for conventional warheads, making them more useful against the non-nuclear threats we increasingly face.

Abandoning Treaty of Moscow concepts and retreating to the START approach would severely impede U.S. conventional capabilities well into the future without in any way improving the U.S. strategic nuclear posture.

Arms control is one area where there will be substantial “change” between the Bush and Obama administrations, one fraught with considerable risks, especially if future negotiations embrace, as Russia wants, missile defense and space-based capabilities.

The real arms control debate is not between those relaxed about nuclear war and those seeking to avoid it, but between those who approach the problem realistically and empirically, and those who approach it as a matter of dogma. Unfortunately, the Ringwraiths now have the upper hand.