What’s the point?

Today, President Obama releases a new policy governing the of nuclear weapons.  He breaks with over 60 years of American foreign policy and promises not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that are in compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty even should they attack the United States with biological, chemical, or other weapons of mass destruction.

This is the second time Obama has demonstrated his hallmark foreign policy dictum: unilateral preemptive concession. But unlike some others, I’m not as amazingly incensed by this latest absurdity.

Sure, it’s bad negotiating; you don’t announce in advance what you’re willing and not willing to do.  You leave those options available and you remove them from the table in return for concessions. (Hillary Clinton made exactly this point during the campaign, in response to candidate Obama’s howler about taking the use of nuclear force off the table.)

And sure, it certainly seems to privilege the health of foreign states over the security of the American people, which is rhetorically troubling and makes me wonder where what Obama’s priorities actually are.

But really, it’s just silly.  Strategic and tactical decisions will still be made in response to actual developments.  The decision about whether or not to deploy nuclear weapons–in any case that even remotely argues for their use–will not be decided by a statement sheet issued on a slow-news Tuesday. These kind of policy statements do not bind the current administration, much less future ones. This is the foreign policy equivalent of a campaign promise.

“I will not use nuclear weapons–even in self defense–to protect the American people from countries that have signed this treaty.”

is as meaningful as,

I can make a firm pledge, under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”

But, you know, he did get a Nobel Peace Prize for nuclear nonproliferation.  Maybe this is his effort to earn it.

With a meaningless, pointless, empty promise.


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