Under the new policy, the administration will foreswear the use of the deadly weapons against nonnuclear countries, officials said, in contrast to previous administrations, which indicated they might use nuclear arms against nonnuclear states in retaliation for a biological or chemical attack.
For decades, and especially after the US destroyed its chemical and biological weapons stores in the early 1970s, our policy has been simple: A nuke bomb is a chemical bomb is a biological bomb. We did not discern between WMDs — and we would retaliate with our own WMDs if struck by enemy WMDs.
And since we had no chemical or biological weapons, that meant one thing: We’re coming after you with nukes. Result? No weapon of mass destruction has ever been used against the United States. Pretty cool, that.
We went even further than that to keep the peace, believe it or not. During the Cold War, the Soviets loudly proclaimed they would never be the first to use nuclear weapons. (Although their defense posture, weapons procurement, and doctrine all showed that proclamation to be disingenuous at best.) Moscow then dared us to make the same commitment. And we stayed silent instead.
Result? The Soviets tread more gently than they otherwise might have. Because one treads lightly in a minefield — especially a nuclear one. Never define exactly what enemy action would make you push the button, and you keep the strategic initiative. Important, that.
Well, yesterday Obama — facing no pressure or need to change anything at all — quite recklessly turned over the strategic initiative (operational, too, for that matter) to the other guys.
Little countries can now act, with chemical or biological agents, sure in the knowledge that however we respond, we will respond with less. The other guy now gets to determine how much punishment he is willing to take. Before yesterday, we determined how much punishment we were willing to dish out (plenty).
President Johnson (and to a lesser extent, Nixon) made the same mistake in dealing with North Vietnam. “Escalation,” tit-for-tat, let Hanoi dictate the pace of the war, while simultaneously learning how to deal with, and obviate, our military might. Result: We lost the initiative and eventually the war. Sucky, that.
As of today, the little guys just got a bit bigger. They can hit us with the worst they’ve got, safe in the knowledge that the full weight of our might will never come down on them. (Note: This is not to advocate the use of nuclear weapons. But by publicly keeping our options open, the odds of us ever having to use those terrible things is reduced.)
The little guys, feeling a bit bigger, might feel big enough to push us around. And if they push hard enough, we might just find ourselves in a situation where nukes become the only answer, no matter what nice words might be contained in the President’s new Nuclear Posture Review.
About the best thing that can be said about the new NPR is this: Some in the Administration (the President himself?) wanted to make it even stupider, by forswearing first use unilaterally. But WaPo reported that the Pentagon and the State Department both worried (and rightly so) that such a move would “unnerve” our allies — allies President Obama has already made a habit of ignoring, snubbing or insulting.
And don’t think the little guys haven’t noticed — as the Iranian leadership continues to ignore, snub and insult Obama.
But, hey, Obama feels it’s his duty to “help the little guy.” What a shame some of those little guys sit in very nice offices in Pyongyang, Tehran, and Damascus. And in Beijing and Moscow, too.
The world hasn’t suddenly become a much more dangerous place — only marginally so. But the question is: Why? What pressure, foreign or domestic, did we face to make us change decades of smart defense policy? Answer: None. Stupid, that.
If you didn’t already question Obama’s judgement, now would be a good time to start.
UPDATE: Just a little something I just now noticed. The headline writers at the Washington Post call the new, emasculated NPR, a “middle course.” Well, I guess somewhere between “smart, proven policy” and “gosh, where did all those exploding enemy WMDs suddenly come from?” is indeed the middle.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Doug Mataconis agrees, and has a linktastic roundup of blogger reaction.
ONE MORE: Maybe Jen was too generous with “incomprehensible.” Roger L. Simon goes for “deranged,” instead.