Just when I think the WSJ op-ed page couldn’t get any crazier, Bret Stephens writes another column. A few days after Eli Lake reported that Obama and Netanyahu had confirmed tacit U.S. support for Israel’s nuclear arsenal, reinforcing a policy that has been in place for forty years, Stephens conjures up a vision of the future a few months from now in which the Security Council demands Israeli nuclear disarmament and, even more incredibly, the United States acquiesces in this demand. At some point in the future, the other members of the Security Council might support such a resolution, but Washington would never abstain. There is not the slightest chance of this happening. Obviously Stephens’ vision of the future is silly, but that doesn’t automatically make it trivial. It matters because there is a sizeable part of the public willing to believe such claims, and it is part of the ongoing campaign to make Obama appear as someone who sells out U.S. allies.
The administration has made itself more vulnerable to this sort of attack by repeatedly emphasizing an interest in global nuclear disarmament, when the reality is that demands for nonproliferation and disarmament will never apply to U.S. allies in any meaningful way. On the proliferation front, India has already received the exemptions it desired on processing and enrichment in connection with the U.S.-India nuclear deal. Israel has evidently received assurances that all of this talk of a world without nuclear weapons is no cause for them to worry about the status of their arsenal. This is primarily a political problem, because the administration has given the impression that nonproliferation and disarmament are top priorities and Obama has expressed this in universal terms, which his otherwise hapless critics can use to distort how he wants to handle allied nuclear arsenals.
On the whole, Obama’s hawkish enemies ought to be satisfied with the President on matters of policy. Their party political need seems to keep outweighing this consideration, so they are forced to invent policies Obama does not support and will not pursue. Hence the plainly ludicrous claim that Obama will one day make Israel give up its nukes. It’s similar to how GOP unsuccessfully tried to campaign against Obama last year: he was portrayed as the foreign policy naif, the new McGovern, the Pentagon budget-slasher, etc. , but he was none of these things (or no more so than his opponent). It’s as if these hawks remain trapped in the late 1970s, and what is more they remain convinced that the public has not changed in any meaningful way since then. Right on cue, you have Elliott Abrams invoking “Scoop” Jackson and his staffers as the model for the anti-Obama resistance. Republican hawks write and act as if the New Democrats had never existed, and they seem to think that no one will notice that conventional Democratic foreign policy thinking is far closer to “Scoop” Jackson than it is to McGovern.
I suppose there is some method to all of this. Just as every “emergency” security measure eventually becomes a permanent, non-negotiable minimum of government power, and just as every new program becomes “vital” and its repeal quickly becomes unthinkable and politically toxic, the logic of aggressive foreign policy means that there must be ever-increasing projections of power. Merely maintaining the status quo and perpetuating virtually every policy overseas are no longer considered enough, and will be portrayed as “retreat” and “surrender.”
If U.S. hegemony is not advancing, hawks seem worried that the unnecessary and dangerous nature of all this power projection will become clear. This is why there has to be a constant buzz of alarm and fearmongering about “emerging” threats that are not really serious threats. The public has to be kept in a state of some anxiety and agitation about the rest of the world, which they would otherwise not think about very much, or else they might begin to resent the waste of resources and needless trouble that hegemony entails.