April 7, 2010
Victor Davis Hanson: A Noble, Bad Idea- President Obama’s new nuclear policy is ill-timed and ill-conceived
April 7, 2010
President Obama has announced a new American policy concerning the use of nuclear weapons (the “Nuclear Posture Review”). According to the New York Times, “For the first time, the United States is explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.”
Given our inability to stop Iranian nuclear proliferation, the president apparently wants to assure countries seeking nukes that there is no advantage in gaining a nuclear deterrent, since we would not use such weapons against them if they remained in line with nonproliferation statutes. We had previously asked the Iranians to desist by several deadlines—by the UN meeting in New York, the G-20 summit, face-to-face negotiations, and the first of the year. All were ignored.
So Obama’s fallback position has come down to something like this: “Why get a nuke, when we won’t use one against you—no matter what you do to us? But get a nuke—and all bets are off.” He apparently views such reasoning as superior to the existing presumption that could be condensed as: “Don’t dare get a nuclear weapon, much less consider using one, since the consequences for you will be too terrible to contemplate.”
In some sense, Obama’s announcement is also the logical dénouement to a number of lofty campaign promises in which he pledged to cut back on what he called “unproven missile defense systems,” not to “weaponize space” or “develop nuclear weapons,” to “set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons,” to “seek a global ban on the production of fissile material,” and to “achieve deep cuts in our nuclear arsenals.” So the Nuclear Posture Review is part of this larger utopian vision whose enactment in part we have already seen in the recent nuclear agreements with Russia and the pullback of missile defense from the Czech Republic and Poland. Again, all of it is nobly intended, and in its particulars not so different from some of the objectives set out long ago by the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II administrations. But three grave concerns nevertheless arise.
First, the president putting forth this comprehensive agenda is not an old hawk like Reagan or the Bushes, but rather one who has apologized, bowed, and backpedaled abroad in courting enemies like Syria and Iran while snubbing old friends such as Britain and Israel. Context matters. Fairly or not, the world will see these latest pronouncements as more in line with the abstract idealism of a Nobel Peace Prize laureate than with the leader of the world’s sole superpower, on whom billions in the real world rely to keep the peace through deterrence.
Further, Obama is currently engaged in an ongoing war against radical Islam, whose adherents seek to gain weapons of mass destruction. He operates in a landscape in which nuclear proliferation is on the rise from Iran to North Korea, and when a host of other anti-American autocracies such as Syria and Venezuela either boast about their desire to obtain nuclear weapons or have already stealthily built reactors. The timing, in other words, could not be worse. Appearances also matter.
April 7, 2010
AFTER four gruelling years under siege, the Gazans—and the Islamist movement, Hamas, that governs them—are still managing against the odds to survive. Some even prosper. The tunnels that snake under Gaza’s border with Egypt have multiplied so fast that supply sometimes exceeds demand. So stiff is commercial competition that tunnel-diggers complain that their work is no longer profitable. As a British parliamentary report recently noted, Israel officially allows Gaza to import only 73 of more than 4,000 items that are available in the strip. The rest is home-made—or acquired illicitly. For instance, cement, which cost 300 Israeli shekels ($80) a sack two years ago, has dropped almost tenfold in price, precipitating a spate of building for the first time since Israel’s attack a year ago reduced 4,000 houses to ruins. And eyewitnesses say that flashy 4×4 vehicles can actually drive through tunnels built from shipping containers.
Israel’s siege still causes misery. Yet some economists say the strip is growing faster than the West Bank run by Hamas’s rival Palestinian Authority (PA), albeit from a far lower base. The petrol pumped into Gaza by underground pipes and hoses from Egypt costs a third of what it does in Ramallah, the Palestinians’ West Bank capital, where Israel supplies it. Free health care is more widely available in Gaza. Imports travel faster through the tunnels than via Israel’s thickets of bureaucracy. The web of Israeli checkpoints that still impedes Palestinian movements and commerce on the West Bank is absent in Gaza.
As well as lower prices, Gazans benefit from civil-service payrolls. Several outfits pump cash into the strip’s economy: the local Hamas government; the UN, which employs 10,000 Gazans; and Salam Fayyad’s West Bank government, which is the largest employer of all. Payments to Hamas and its connected tunnel-operators boost the economy too. A car-dealer bringing in a new Hyundai saloon through the tunnels stands to make a profit of $13,000…
All the same, Hamas’s political isolation hurts. Egypt is frustrated by Hamas’s refusal to let Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and his Fatah party resume control over Gaza. Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, fears that the Islamist influence of Hamas may seep over the border into his own country. So he has severed ties with Hamas, barred its senior officials from travelling in or out of the territory, and hampers foreign aid from Iran and other sympathisers. The Egyptian government has also ordered an underground barrier to be built along the border with Gaza, to block the tunnels. Mr Mubarak ignores Hamas’s protests that it has no interest in weakening Egypt’s national security and that it has avoided getting tied up with Egypt’s Islamist opposition, principally the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas was originally a branch.