Which one is it?
I’m afraid I’m intruding on Daniel Larison’s beat here, but the latest from National Review really highlights the disconnect between two competing critiques of Obama’s foreign policy. First, here’s Rudy Giuliani’s unhinged take on Obama’s approach to non-proliferation:
President Obama’s revamping of American nuclear policy is the mark of an “inept” leader intent on living a “left-wing dream,” says Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, in an interview with National Review Online. “A nuclear-free world has been a 60-year dream of the Left, just like socialized health-care. This new policy, like Obama’s government-run health program, is a big step in that direction.”
“President Obama thinks we can all hold hands, sing songs, and have peace symbols,” Giuliani says. “North Korea and Iran are not singing along with the president. Knowing that, it just doesn’t make sense why we would reduce our nuclear arms when we face these threats.”
A few posts later, National Review published this assessment of the Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review from Henry Sokolski, an actual proliferation expert (emphasis mine):
Today’s headlines are screaming that the president has decided that the U.S. will no longer threaten to use nuclear weapons against Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) states that are compliant with their NPT obligations and that themselves lack nuclear weapons. This sounds dramatic but essentially means we would not consider threatening to use nuclear weapons against states we never had any intention of ever targeting, such as Brazil. On the other hand, we still could use them against Iran, North Korea, China, or Russia. And there is an additional hedge, as the New York Times reports:
“White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.”
Bottom line: This new, “dramatic” nuclear-policy change hardly changes anything.
Anyone who witnessed his ill-fated primary campaign knows that Giuliani, despite being completely uninformed on foreign policy, has managed to parlay his mayoral tenure on 9/11 into some sort of weird national security street cred in Republican circles. And so he’s given to attacking Obama’s rhetoric on nuclear proliferation – “North Korea and Iran are not singing along with the president” – without actually considering the substance of the Administration’s policies. As Sokolski notes, the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review does very little to change the United States’ approach to proliferation. Aside from a few rhetorical gestures at a nuclear-free world, Obama has not, as Giuliani suggests, removed our foreign policy leverage with respect to Iran or North Korea or Russia. Indeed, someone interested in preserving the status quo might welcome a few cosmetic changes as a way to make the United States appear more accommodating without actually granting any substantive concessions to regional competitors. But Giuliani is so focused on a few ultimately meaningless rhetorical flourishes that the merits of the Nuclear Posture Review or the Administration’s tactical approach aren’t even discussed.