Hobson's choices

Posted: Jan 03, 2005 12:00 AM
A few weeks ago, two Republican Congressmen ? Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin ? were widely denounced for defying the will of the majority. These respected legislators, who chair respectively the House Armed Services and Judiciary Committees, had the temerity to insist that several recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that had been adopted by the full House of Representatives be included in the final version of controversial ?intelligence reform? legislation. The Washington elite insisted it would be a test of President Bush?s manhood to overcome, or simply override, Messrs. Hunter and Sensenbrenner?s concerns.

How peculiar, then, that a single Republican Congressman ? Rep. David Hobson of Ohio, the chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee ? has gotten no comparable notoriety for a far more consequential act of obstructionism this Fall. All by himself, Mr. Hobson managed to scuttle three critical aspects of the Bush plan to preserve the Nation?s nuclear deterrent. In so doing, he defied not only the will of the majority of the House but the Senate as well, as expressed in a number of hotly contested votes.

In fact, far from being denounced for singlehandedly blocking the centerpieces of President Bush?s Nuclear Program Review (NPR) in the course of behind-the-scenes action on the 2004 Omnibus Appropriations Act, Congressman Hobson has been praised to the heavens by arms control activists and like-minded politicians and journalists.

For example, the Washington Post reported: ?Rep. Ellen Tauscher (Democrat of California), whose attempt to cut the new nuclear weapons program authorization in past years had failed, described what had occurred as a reversal of ?the Bush administration's dangerous disregard for nuclear nonproliferation.??

Where, it must be asked, are the critics who took such exception to individual members of Congress asserting their will over that of the majority? Where is the press pack demanding redress?

Where, not least, is the leadership of Congress, whose commitment to party discipline caused them, in the end, to compel Messrs. Hunter and Sensenbrenner?s acquiescence to legislation understood to be defective? Where, for that matter, is President Bush ? whose appreciation of the need to preserve the credibility, safety and effectiveness of America?s nuclear arsenal surely is no less than his attachment to intelligence reforms of dubious (if any) value?

No one should be under any illusion: Unless corrective action is promptly taken, the combined effect of Mr. Hobson?s choices will be to condemn the United States to a stockpile of terminally obsolescent nuclear forces and unilateral disarmament. Specifically:

O David Hobson has decided to bar U.S. laboratories from even the most preliminary of design work on new nuclear weapons. This precludes, for example, assessing the feasibility of a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a weapon capable of penetrating deeply buried facilities like those used by the North Korean and Iranian regimes to conceal and protect their weapons of mass destruction and command and control facilities. Ditto advanced concepts like those potential adversaries may be developing.

Mr. Hobson, like minorities in the House and Senate and arms control enthusiasts elsewhere, is convinced such work would make it more difficult for us to prevent nuclear proliferation. Never mind that President Bush and congressional majorities have reached an opposite conclusion ? namely, that such weapons may be absolutely necessary to deal with the consequences of proliferation we can?t prevent; David Hobson has chosen otherwise.

O Rep. Hobson has also decided that it will continue to take at least two years to conduct underground nuclear tests if such a step becomes necessary ? as it surely will, given the increasing age and unreliability of weapons designed two or more decades ago. He chose to disregard the conclusion of a blue-ribbon panel of experts chaired by the highly respected Dr. John Foster that it should take no more than three-to-twelve months to establish whether a weapon in the arsenal works properly if there is reason to believe it might not.

It is irresponsible to leave our leaders uncertain about the deterrent capabilities of our strategic forces. It is potentially reckless to afford our enemies a similar uncertainty.

O Finally, David Hobson has refused to allow the Nation to begin the fifteen-year process of building a new facility needed to replace the nuclear ?pits,? or trigger mechanisms, at the heart of those aging weapons. Evidently, Rep. Hobson thinks the United States alone among the nuclear powers should be unable to build such devices.

Since 1992, when the United States adopted a moratorium on underground nuclear testing, the highest levels of government largely stopped giving serious thought to ? let alone acting on ? the steps necessary to maintain an effective nuclear deterrent. In part as a result, North Korea and perhaps Iran ? to say nothing of Russia, China, India and Pakistan ? have more capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons than does the United States.

The Bush 2002 Nuclear Program Review was a notable exception to this dismal record of malign neglect. It proposed a balance of nuclear and conventional strike force modernization (and long-overdue upgrading of the related industrial base), reductions in strategic arms and missile defenses. If implemented, the United States will retain into the future the sort of robust offensive nuclear and defensive capabilities appropriate to our times.

Decisions will shortly be made about who will have the privilege of chairing House committees and subcommittees. Few of these assignments will be more important than that of the chairman of the Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee. The leadership?s choice to enact the President?s program for nuclear deterrence cannot safely be David Hobson.