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Paul Greenberg / April 15, 2009

Words, Words, Words …

Nuclear nonproliferation is as ungainly a term as the network of treaties that was supposed to assure it, but no longer does. For one rogue regime after another is about to acquire its own nuclear arsenal – complete with the missiles to deliver it: North Korea, Iran … and soon enough there will be others.

If this new president of the United States is looking for a nuclear nonproliferation policy that works, he will have to look somewhere other than the feckless United Nations or the just as useless European Community. He might start by asking: Where have rogue nations’ nuclear ambitions actually been thwarted?

Syria, for example. Few dare say it – it would be politically incorrect – but Syria’s nuclear plant is no more thanks to an admirably swift Israeli raid carried out with little ado not long ago.

A couple of decades ago, the Israelis also eliminated Saddam Hussein’s nuclear threat at Osirak, earning a pro forma condemnation (and a wink) from the Reagan administration – along with many years free of nuclear intimidation.

Saddam Hussein had a nuclear program on the drawing board even though it turned out to be less advanced than was thought. But he’s no longer even a potential threat, thanks to the armed forces of the United States and our allies. Or as Barack Obama admitted during his whirlwind visit with American troops in Baghdad:

“From getting rid of Saddam to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections, you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement.”

There was no need for the president to mention that all this was achieved with precious little help – indeed, the active hindrance – of a couple of United States senators named Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who are now, respectively, president and secretary of state of the United States.

Mrs. Clinton even derided Gen. David Petraeus’s winning change of strategy in Iraq as requiring a “willing suspension of disbelief” – words that should be put beside her name in every context it appears till she has the simple decency to apologize for them.

Here’s another example of real nuclear nonproliferation: Libya. Its dictator, Moammar Gaddafi, used to be the world’s crazy aunt in the attic before North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il inherited the title. Col. Gaddhafi was shocked into reason by the success of American arms in Iraq, and the consequent fate of his fellow tyrant Saddam Hussein. Whereupon he swiftly abandoned his nuclear weapons program and became something of a model world citizen.

Actions do deter; words are much less effective. Regimes like those in North Korea and Iran are not likely to be deterred from becoming nuclear powers – aggressive nuclear powers – by just words, however smooth this president’s.

John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations and current prophet without honor in his own country, noted that President Obama had said North Korea’s firing its (misguided) missile would be a “provocative” act. Yet when it did, that regime suffered no repercussions except more empty words of censure.

Just a few days before the missile launch, this country’s special envoy for North Korea, one Stephen Bosworth, announced that he was ready to reward Pyongyang with a visit – and resumption of six-power talks once the “dust from the missile settles.” To quote a stunned John Bolton, “It is no wonder the North Koreans fired away.”

Iran’s mullahs doubtless were watching the American cave-in carefully, and drawing the correct conclusions: With this president in the White House, they face no serious obstacle to the development of their own nuclear-tipped missiles, at least not from this country.

The Israelis, as always, may be another matter. If and when they do act, what then? The world may find that it has drifted into catastrophe. And once again it will have been demonstrated that not taking action has consequences, too.


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