Friday 15 Oct 2021 | 14:10 | SYDNEY
Friday 15 Oct 2021 | 14:10 | SYDNEY

Obama blessed by his enemies


Sam Roggeveen


22 September 2009 15:34

US Defense Secretary Gates has an op-ed in the NY Times explaining in the plainest possible terms why Obama decided to scrap the Bush-era European missile shield in favour of ship-based missile defences. There has been acres of commentary about the diplomatic and strategic subtext to this decision, but precious little attention on the text: the US is replacing an expensive system that will not work with a cheaper one that does. It's as simple and unimpeachable as that.

That the decision has nonetheless caused such apoplexy on the US right shows Obama is blessed with foolish political opponents, and that's one of three important domestic factors Obama has in his favour in promoting the ambitious nuclear agenda Rory described yesterday. Here are all three:

  1. The global financial crisis: the US spends more than $50 billion a year on nuclear weapons, so cuts to what is still a huge arsenal will present a relatively painless way to save resources.
  2. Nuclear abolition is respectable in Washington. Abolition is not just tents and camp stoves on Greenham Common anymore; the 'inside the beltway' debate has shifted since Kissinger, Scowcroft, Schultz and Nunn wrote their two famous op-eds. The last committed abolitionist in the White House, Ronald Reagan, had Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger sniping at him from the op-ed pages about the disastrous concessions Reagan was making to Gorbachev. Now the dean of the US foreign policy establishment is on board with Obama's agenda.
  3. The Republicans: there are respectable arguments for exercising caution about nuclear reductions, but the missile defence debate is only the most recent demonstration that the US conservative movement is in no fit state to make them. Which Republican leader is going to mount the sensible, pragmatic case against deep US nuclear cuts? John McCain would be the obvious candidate, but he's with Obama too.