The U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki cost an estimated 105,000 lives immediately and many thousands more later while nevertheless saving millions who would have died defending and invading the Japanese islands. Many believe it justified given the circumstances, and the existence of nuclear weapons may also have prevented a third world war.
But, for 70 years, Hiroshima has also been a reminder of a means by which the world as we know it could be wiped out, and President Barack Obama recently went there to tell us how to avoid that possibility.
We’ve all got to get lots more moral, even to the extent of getting rid of war, he said. And yes, maybe someday we will get that moral, at least enough of us to make a difference. But, in the intervening eons, what do we do about the nuclear threat?
What seems obvious is that lofty ideals, as important as they are, are not solid, practical, down-to-earth plans that get followed by concrete actions that produce positive results. If utopian hopes are used as a substitute for shrewd calculation, they can actually increase endangerment, and that sums up much if not all of Obama’s foreign policy.
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From day one of his administration, Obama has rather obviously seen himself as a transformative figure, and nuclear rescue was part of that. Proliferation must come to an end. All the menacing weapons must go.
To that end, he started having summits on the issue and dreamily aimed for a reset with Russia. It mostly went kablooey. Vladimir Putin had his Ukraine ambitions, dodged diplomacy and delighted in Obama responding to snarls with pullbacks of missile defense programs in Europe. We’ve reduced our nuclear heft in hopes of enticement, while Russia has increased its in hopes of bullying.
Naive enthusiasms don’t die easily, and Obama agreed to an Iran deal that would drop sanctions and return billions to this terrorist-sponsoring, Israel-threatening, missile-testing, America-hating country. Inspections of the promised kind would not happen after all, and what did we get back?
Iran said it would not build nuclear weapons for maybe another 10 years. It did ship away some enriched uranium, but that would slow down a bomb project by just a matter of months. In the meantime, Saudi Arabia and other Iran-fearful countries are thinking about building their own nuclear weapons to cope with what might eventuate.
We are hardly safer now than before, and there’s more, such as China feeling bolder, North Korea going crazy and the Islamic State saying thank you for mistaken Obama decisions in Syria and Iraq. What’s stranger than fiction is that this president, awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in anticipation of what he would achieve, will be the only one in U.S. history to have presided over wars for two full terms, as The New York Times recently pointed out.
It’s not as if he has done nothing right, that there are no forces at play beyond his control or that his trip to Hiroshima was a mistake — cementing relations with at least one ally matters. But he has flunked the reality test.
A president who didn’t was Ronald Reagan. He likewise shuddered at nuclear weaponry. Yet, a review reminds us, his answer was to play from strength. He built up the military. He pushed a defensive missile system that the Soviets feared and lacked the funds to match. He assisted freedom forces in countries the Soviets were intimidating. He was tough in negotiations. And he got a treaty in which both countries agreed to destroy a class of nuclear weapons
Many believe the Reagan strategy contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with that collapse came a sigh of relief. It seemed the nuclear threat had ended, but now we know it hasn’t. The Obama administration is at this stage furthering a project to modernize our weapons. There is some realism there, and maybe a future government can build on it in even more constructive ways.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.