- By Peter Feaver
A friend of mine likes to observe that in the area of national security, politicians have a real difficulty in distinguishing between "what’s new, and what’s new to you." President Obama’s nuclear security summit seems to be a textbook example of this.
The administration has patted itself on the back for identifying nuclear terrorism as a major threat and Obama went so far as to claim that the risk of a nuclear terror attack "has gone up." As a straining-to-be sympathetic reporter put it: "Coming from Dick Cheney, words like that had a way of sounding like a scare tactic. Coming from Obama, they are genuinely scary." What the reporter didn’t say, is that for nearly eight years critics have complained that the Bush-Cheney administration took the threat of nuclear terrorism too seriously (see the One Percent Doctrine). There is even a cottage industry devoted to pooh-poohing (see here and here) the entire matter as hype. Perhaps that industry will now direct its fire at Obama or perhaps it will find itself suddenly able to split the hair between a "scare tactic" and "genuinely scary."
The administration has also described its initiatives as the first serious effort to get U.S. nuclear policy out of a Cold War mentality on the U.S.-Soviet/Russia nuclear balance and on to the more-pressing concerns of nuclear proliferation and "loose nukes." As my former colleague Will Tobey shows, this is not quite fair to the last three administrations, all three of which deserve credit for taking serious and consequential steps to confront the "loose nukes" problem. Indeed, if anything, it is the administration’s own U.S.-Russian nuclear arms treaty "New START" that has the feel of an 80’s Hot Tub Time Machine, not the combined records of Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43.
The inability to distinguish between what’s new and what’s new to you is revealing but, in the final analysis, we should not let it completely detract from the overall effect of the summit which, I believe, is basically a positive one for the United States and for the Obama administration. The United States got renewed attention on a security priority that has been a central pillar of U.S. grand strategy for two decades now. If the promises made and aspirations expressed at the summit result in tangible action, this will be all to the good.
The Obama administration, for its part, gets credit for pulling off a very complex staff operation — from a national security staff point of view, this summit has to be the most ambitious venture the administration has attempted — and for show-casing the president in a very favorable setting.
There may have been only marginal progress on the most urgent and important nuclear security issue — dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions — but there was progress overall. That is something that folks in the bleachers can cheer.
Obama to outline big nuke cuts today; DOD civilian owes $500k – to DOD; Petraeus to Team Rubicon; Hastings, dead; Say goodbye, Rambo; Tara Sonenshine on “bottom line diplomacy;” and a bit more.Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Situation Report |
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |