On freeing A.Q. Khan and channeling our inner Cheney

Reading about the Pakistani government’s decision to free notorious nuclear weapons technology proliferator A.Q. Khan, it was hard not to wonder if we had any enemies in the world more dangerous than some of our “friends.” That Khan’s misdeeds have not yet resulted in the use of a nuclear device by a terrorist group or ...

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US Vice President Dick Cheney attends a Military Appreciation Parade at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, on January 6, 2009. AFP PHOTO/Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Reading about the Pakistani government's decision to free notorious nuclear weapons technology proliferator A.Q. Khan, it was hard not to wonder if we had any enemies in the world more dangerous than some of our "friends." That Khan's misdeeds have not yet resulted in the use of a nuclear device by a terrorist group or a rogue state is fortunate but almost irrelevant in that someday they almost surely will contribute to just such a tragedy. The likes of Khan should not be walking the streets.

Last week, Dick Cheney worried aloud in an interview that the United States would in the not-too-distant future be attacked by terrorists armed with WMDs. He characterized such a threat as "high probability" and said "That's the one that would involve the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, and the one you have to spend a hell of a lot of time guarding against." He went on to say: "Whether or not they can pull it off depends whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States."

Reading about the Pakistani government’s decision to free notorious nuclear weapons technology proliferator A.Q. Khan, it was hard not to wonder if we had any enemies in the world more dangerous than some of our “friends.” That Khan’s misdeeds have not yet resulted in the use of a nuclear device by a terrorist group or a rogue state is fortunate but almost irrelevant in that someday they almost surely will contribute to just such a tragedy. The likes of Khan should not be walking the streets.

Last week, Dick Cheney worried aloud in an interview that the United States would in the not-too-distant future be attacked by terrorists armed with WMDs. He characterized such a threat as “high probability” and said “That’s the one that would involve the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, and the one you have to spend a hell of a lot of time guarding against.” He went on to say: “Whether or not they can pull it off depends whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States.”

While there is certainly a strong element of legacy-defending in such statements and more than a hint of that dark Cheney worldview that fed into so much Bush era malfeasance, to paraphrase my pal Tom Friedman, just because Cheney says it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Sitting opposite a senior national security type who is close to President Obama the other day, I asked what he thought about the comments. His response was fairly dismissive. “Yes, well, it’s a high probability event if you mean sometime in the indefinite future.”

While this was a serious, thoughtful guy, I certainly hope he was not providing a glimpse into the current administration’s worldview. The stakes are too high for complacency on any level including the fact that if the president gets everything else right and this wrong, he will be judged a failure — especially given the warning delivered on September 11, 2001.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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