That's all Cold War stuff. Disarmament talks with the Soviets were a central feature of American foreign policy from the late 1960s to the late 1980s, a time when a U.S.-Soviet nuclear war would have produced enormous destruction. But the prospect of a U.S.-Russian nuclear war today is pretty much nil. It's worthwhile to continue the Nunn-Lugar program of corralling Russia's loose nukes -- one of the few issues Obama worked on as a senator -- but making disarmament talks with Russia a first priority is a policy out of the distant past.
To be sure, Obama did talk about nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, with talk being the operative word. But he promised to defend against the wayward states with "a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven" -- code words indicating that he shares most Democrats' hostility to missile defense left over from the Cold War era, when they feared it would destabilize the U.S.-Soviet balance of terror. The real need today is a system robust enough to repel and deter the much smaller but much likelier threats from North Korea and Iran.
And what was Obama's major policy announcement before embarking on his trip to Latin America? Lifting restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. In 1961, the year Obama was born, Cuba was a central preoccupation of American foreign policy. Today, Cuba (population 11 million) is not a major problem. Meanwhile, the Obama administration violates the NAFTA treaty by banning trucks from Mexico (population 109 million), refuses to ratify the free trade agreement with Colombia (population 44 million) and, despite our need for alternative fuels, makes no move to rescind the 54 cent tariff on sugar ethanol from Brazil (population 191 million).
Obama campaigned as the candidate of hope and change. But on pressing matters, he has, responsibly, not produced as much change as many of his supporters expected. And in setting priorities, he seems to be heading back to the distant past, to the disarmament debates of the 1970s and 1980s, to the frenzy over Cuba in 1961-62. Is that the change we need?