Sarah Palin has clearly gotten under President Obama's skin with her sharp critique of his wooly-headed pursuit of U.S. denuclearization. In response, Mr. Obama felt compelled to note that he wasn't acting on his own. He told ABC News last week, "If the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are comfortable with it, I'm probably going to take my advice from them and not from Sarah Palin."
Now, based on the acquiescence of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and JCS Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen with respect to the President's other radical assault on the U.S. military - namely, his determination to repeal the law barring avowed homosexuals from serving in the armed forces, one would have reason to doubt the ability, or at least the willingness, of these two men to give the Commander-in-Chief "advice" he did not want to receive.
In fact, it appears to have taken the policy-equivalent of sustained waterboarding to bring the Pentagon leadership around to support much of Mr. Obama's anti-nuclear agenda. The New York Times reported that it required 150 interagency meetings, including 30 by the National Security Council, to produce the new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and START follow-on treaty. Give the guys on the E-Ring credit for holding out as long as they did. But in the end, the Defense Department was reduced to agreeing to the following extraordinary decisions:
* The United States will not design, produce or test any new nuclear weapons. This condemns the nation to relying for the indefinite future (Mr. Obama says for more than his lifetime, and he's a fairly young man) on an arsenal comprised of bombs and warheads that are, on average, already some 30 years old. There is no getting around it: They are obsolescing, increasingly unsupportable and, in any event, primarily designed to destroy super-hardened Soviet silos, not to perform the deterrent missions of today.
* The United States will not test any of its old weapons, either - even when changes to their components have to be made to try to maintain their viability. These are among the most complex pieces of equipment every manufactured. In the absence of realistic underground nuclear testing, it is a leap of faith to believe that new components and materials can be introduced to replace old ones (including, in some cases, vacuum tubes!) without affecting the weapon's performance and perhaps its safety.
* That safety, and indeed, the reliability and credibility of the nuclear deterrent will, accordingly, rely ever more critically on a dwindling number of highly skilled scientists, engineers and technicians in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. It is unlikely they will be terribly motivated - or be, at least over time, the best and the brightest the country has to offer. After all, pursuant to the NPR, the government will not only be hamstringing their work (see the above), but is determined to "devalue" the role of such weapons.
Still, for the foregoing reasons, it is misleading - and potentially dangerously so - when Secretary of Defense Gates declares, as he did Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press": "The Nuclear Posture Review sets forth a process by which we will be able to modernize our nuclear stockpile to make it more reliable, safer, more secure and effective." Ditto when Adm. Mullen promises, as he did last week: "We must hold ourselves accountable to unimpeachably high standards of nuclear training, leadership and management. And we must recruit and then retain the scientific expertise to advance our technological edge in nuclear weaponry. I'm encouraged to see these requirements so prominently addressed in the Nuclear Posture Review...."
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs did provide one bit of advice at the end of his remarks on the Nuclear Posture Review - advice that the Disarmer-in-Chief would have been well advised to heed, but didn't: "Without such improvements, an aging nuclear force supported by a neglected infrastructure only invites enemy misbehavior and miscalculation."