Friday, October 2, 2009

The US's continued double-standard on nuclear proliferation

The NYT reports on the welcome development that Iran is trying to cool tensions over its nuclear program.  (And for more on this - and how Obama has put to shame 8 lost years of Bush-Cheney-Rice diplomacy - or almost absence thereof - on this issue, see Juan Cole today.)  But even as Mr. Obama continues to demand action from them, he has quietly acquiesced in one of the more absurd ruses of recent decades - namely, that the US will continue officially to recognize the non-existence of Israel's nuclear deterrent.  As noted by one expert (Avner Cohen, author of "Israel and the Bomb" and the leading authority outside the Israeli government on the history of Israel's nuclear program):
the accord amounts to "the United States passively accepting Israel's nuclear weapons status as long as Israel does not unveil publicly its capability or test a weapon."
The Washington Times goes on to note:

The secret understanding could undermine the Obama administration's goal of a world without nuclear weapons. In particular, it could impinge on U.S. efforts to bring into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, two agreements that U.S. administrations have argued should apply to Israel in the past. They would ban nuclear tests and the production of material for weapons.

A Senate staffer familiar with the May reaffirmation, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said, "What this means is that the president gave commitments that politically he had no choice but to give regarding Israel's nuclear program. However, it calls into question virtually every part of the president's nonproliferation agenda.The president gave Israel an NPT treaty get out of jail free card."

This has to change, and I'm hoping that Obama - especially if he's able to win a second term, which will give him lots of time to lay the groundwork - will change his tack on this issue and demand that Israel (1) quit the charade and go public, (2) sign on to the NPT, and (3) pledge to dismantle its nuke arsenal.

On the Afghanistan front meanwhile, the tide may be turning against a major "Surge" of US forces there, especially among Obama's civilian advisers -  chief among them, Joe Biden, who (as one report noted) is old enough (like many of us) to have a visceral sense of what Vietnam was, and what it did to this country, and is wise enough to see so many of the same red flags that marked the path to disaster there.  (Actually, they're impossible to miss, even if McCain and McChrystal seem to feel otherwise.)  And, bless his heart, it's good to see that uber-conservative Pat Buchanan is weighing in against an Afghan surge as well.

But another new front for US action may be emerging . . . in Pakistan - specifically, in the Baluchistan region, where lies the city of Quetta - where resides (according to US intel) the core of the Afghan Taliban leadership (Mullah Omar included).  The US wants the Pakistani military to go after them, and would love to send in drones to take out these guys.  As of now the Pakistani military chief, Gen. Kiyani, is saying no to that.  And don't forget - Pakistan has always been one of the biggest backers of the Afghan Taliban. 

Finally, Iraq's elections approach in January, and PM al-Maliki is burnishing his new image as an anti-sectarian, pro-nationalist leader, even as he builds a sizable military force answerable directly to him, with a police force that continues to resort to torture routinely.  On the other hand, Iraqis in general want stability and order more than anything else, and Maliki seems to convincing many of them that he's the man to do that.  (Just like another leader in Iraq's recent history used to do that.)  Saddam, though, had no love for the Shii, or for Shii Iran next door.  Maliki's long-time political base, of course, has been the Shii religious party, al-Dawa, and he has been relying upon Iran's support, and helping Iran further its interests in Iraq, from the get-go.  How well he can meld that with his newfound nationalism (which is meant to appeal to Sunni Arabs as well) remains to be seen, especially as anti-Shii (and anti-Kurd) tensions are being ratcheted up in Iraq's north.

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