One hardly knows where to begin when it comes to President Obama’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate, but I will start with an overarching point. There is no reason — with Iran edging closer to nuclear weapons capability; jihadism on the march in the Middle East; China engaging in cyberterrorism; and Bashar al-Assad continuing his mass murder with Iran’s and Russia’s assistance — for the president to be talking about nuclear arms reduction. This is the triumph of ego and cluelessness over common sense. His speech has nothing to do with the multiple threats and challenges we face. It seems he has nothing useful to offer on our real problems so he’ll go back to an oldie-but-really-bad-idea from his college days — a nuclear freeze. (This is what comes from the White House running national security policy rather than anyone with a modicum of appreciation for the world as it is.)
That said, I’ll be more specific about the speech’s faults. There are more, but I will focus on 10 of them:
1. “Today, 60 years after they rose up against oppression, we remember the East German heroes of June 17th. When the wall finally came down, it was their dreams that were fulfilled. Their strength and their passion, their enduring example remind us that for all the power of militaries, for all the authority of governments, it is citizens who choose whether to be defined by a wall, or whether to tear it down.“ The president frequently leaves out what brought down that wall — the West’s determination over decades not to relent against the Soviets. I know it’s incompatible with his agenda, but to leave the Soviets, the Americans and the Cold War out of the equation is absurd.
2. “Today, people often come together in places like this to remember history — not to make it. After all, we face no concrete walls, no barbed wire. There are no tanks poised across a border. There are no visits to fallout shelters. And so sometimes there can be a sense that the great challenges have somehow passed. And that brings with it a temptation to turn inward — to think of our own pursuits, and not the sweep of history; to believe that we’ve settled history’s accounts, that we can simply enjoy the fruits won by our forebears.” Isn’t that precisely the course the president has championed? Retreat, retrenchment, unilateral reduction in our forces and willful blindness to threats have characterized his foreign policy for five years.
3. “Today’s threats are not as stark as they were half a century ago, but the struggle for freedom and security and human dignity — that struggle goes on.” I think we’ve got some pretty stark threats (a nuclear-armed Iran, 100,000 dead in Syria, North Korea), but he isn’t talking about them. The president seems unimpressed with the challenges that face us now so he chooses to leap into the realm of fantasy — a nuke-free world.
4. “Peace with justice means extending a hand to those who reach for freedom, wherever they live. Different peoples and cultures will follow their own path, but we must reject the lie that those who live in distant places don’t yearn for freedom and self-determination just like we do; that they don’t somehow yearn for dignity and rule of law just like we do.“ This is perhaps his most galling passage. Did he lend a hand to the Green Revolution? What was he doing when 100,000 Syrians died? Has he taken Vladimir Putin to task for throwing out NGOs and suppressing dissent?
5. “Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons — no matter how distant that dream may be.“ It’s remarkable that with North Korea and Iran emerging as new threats in their own right and opening up the potential for nuclear proliferation on a massive scale, he points dreamily to some distant horizon where our disarmament encourages our adversaries to do the same.
6. “So today, I’m announcing additional steps forward. After a comprehensive review, I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third. And I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.“ This is the clincher — he will reduce our arsenal, but merely seek that Russia do the same. This is by definition unilateral disarmament. That offer is being made to the very same power that snubbed him this week in dealing with Assad.
After the speech, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told me, “The president still has no idea of nuclear strategy in a multipolar world, or what role America’s nuclear capabilities play in preserving global peace and security. His proposals are ideologically driven, founded on the mistaken and dangerous belief that U.S. nuclear weapons increase the danger of international conflict.” (Indeed the college kid who wrote about the nuclear freeze seems caught in a time warp and oblivious to the world around him.) As Bolton noted, “Our nuclear umbrella does precisely the opposite [reduces the danger of international conflict].”
7. “For over a decade, America has been at war. Yet much has now changed over the five years since I last spoke here in Berlin. The Iraq war is now over. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Osama bin Laden is no more. Our efforts against al Qaeda are evolving.“ There he goes again. He assumes that because we exit, war ends. Iraq is now again rife with sectarian violence, and Afghanistan teeters on the brink as the Taliban stand ready to reap their rewards from the battlefield. He suggests that no matter what the provocations (Iran, Syria, etc.) war is behind us. No wonder our adversaries are running wild.
8. The president seems to think he can strike a handshake deal on his own with Russia. Russia is already in violation of numerous arms control commitments, so this strikes us as a particularly inept approach. Moreover, the Senate Republican Policy Committee reminds us in a memo that “this path is at odds with past Administration representations on the matter. Secretary of Defense Panetta assured Congress that arms reductions would take place in the Obama Administration only as a result of an arms control treaty process. Ignoring the treaty process is also at odds with the vast body of past practice on arms control matters.”
In a letter co-signed by two dozen of his colleagues, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) writes:
It is our view that any further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal should only be conducted through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. This view is consistent with past practice and has broad bipartisan support, as you know from your service in the Senate. Indeed, then-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and then-Ranking Member Jesse Helms, in a March 2002 to letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that “With the exception of the SALT I agreement, every significant arms control agreement during the past three decades has been transmitted pursuant to the Treaty Clause of the Constitution…we see no reason whatsoever to alter this practice.”
9. He falsely suggests that Russia is the only power that matters. Not only does this confer a status that is entirely unwarranted and misguided (why boost Putin’s ego now of all times?), but it also ignores China, Pakistan, North Korea, etc. (He mentions other nations in passing and none by name.)
10. “Our current programs are bound by the rule of law, and they’re focused on threats to our security — not the communications of ordinary persons. They help confront real dangers, and they keep people safe here in the United States and here in Europe.” This is the part of the speech that Obama should have given to our nation, from the Oval Office, in defense of his programs. That he would make his case to Germans shows how much more he cares about European opinion than American. Is he afraid they’ll take away his Nobel Prize?