“No administration in America’s history would, I think, ever have considered such a step that we just found out President Obama is supporting today,” Palin said.
Across the globe in Prague, Obama was asked by ABC News to respond to the criticism.
“I really have no response,” the president said. “Because last I checked, Sarah Palin’s not much of an expert on nuclear issues.” [emphasis added]
Leaving aside for the moment the fact that the President was replying to Sarah Palin who, as the President is correct to note, is no particular authority on questions of nuclear proliferation, I have a couple of responses to this.
1) As others have pointed out, Obama, by responding at all, has pretty much ceded this news cycle to Palin and ensured that that her face and her words will be all over the news;
2) He did this in a way that made him sound smug and condescending. While he is certainly correct that Palin is no expert, it’s kind of silly for him to act as if he himself is some sort of authority on the issue. Basically he is implicitly arguing that anyone who has a difference of opinion with him on this issue is not credible unless they are in possession of supposed “expert” credentials, a category which he somehow believes includes himself.
While it can credibly be argued that he probably has certain insights on our country’s security disposition that Palin does not have access to, the treaty, as far as I understand it, is a largely symbolic reduction of nuclear arms stockpiles — both the US and Russia remain in possession of enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over. He’s also promised not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries. Neither of these things require any sort of “expert” knowledge to understand or have an opinion on.
In any case, unnecessary pugnacity and arrogance aside (though these are swiftly becoming hallmarks of his Administration’s public relations, at least when critics are involved), by responding in the way he did, Obama also opened himself to the exact sort of criticism he’s leveling at Palin, who
shot back Friday during a speech to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans with a reference to Obama’s early career choice. Mocking the president, she dismissed “all the vast nuclear experience that he acquired as a community organizer.” [emphasis added]
Well, she’s kind of got him there, unless one wants to try out the argument that simply by dint of being President, he has special knowledge of “nuclear issues” (broadly speaking and not including classified information like the specific disposition of American nuclear forces, which this treaty does not seem to deal with anyways). If that’s the case, it’s kind of hard to square that argument with what seem to be the President’s own ideas about nuclear proliferation;
3) That is to say, Obama’s arrogance on this issue is made all the more ridiculous in light of his own previous statements. To put it bluntly, they betray a staggering amount of naivety and a nearly complete lack of understanding about what he calls “nuclear issues.” To wit:
Just hours after North Korea launched a long-range rocket, President Barack Obama called for “a world without nuclear weapons” and said the United States has a “moral responsibility ” to lead the way, as the only nation ever to use them.
Obama proposed doing so by reducing America’s arsenal, if not altogether eliminating it; hosting a summit on nuclear security; seeking ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and pursuing a new agreement aimed at stopping the production of fissile materials.
Also, he proposes gathering up all vulnerable nuclear material – or “loose nukes” – within four years. [emphasis added]
I can think of few serious commentators who still cling to the childish and unrealistic idea that the “nuclear genie,” as it were, can be put back into the bottle. Nuclear weapons can’t be un-invented. Even if the United States and every other country on earth were to completely destroy their entire nuclear arsenals — even if every nuclear weapon on the planet were destroyed — all it would take is one country — or even one lone scientist like the notorious A.Q. Khan — to decide to use existing plans to build a warhead and the whole experiment is ruined.
Obama also seems painfully unaware that, for all their destructive potential, nuclear weapons have also played a very powerful peacekeeping role. It seems unlikely (to me at least) that the Cold War would have remained “cold” had not the threat of nuclear obliteration obviated the possibility of a large-scale conventional war between the United States and the USSR in Central Europe and East Asia.
Moreover, he seems to think that he can “gather up” “all vulnerable nuclear material” within four years? We’re approaching halfway through year number two. Maybe he’ll get started soon.
All joking aside, the President’s high rhetoric about a “world without nuclear weapons” sounds like the words of an unsophisticated and naive child. That means he really shouldn’t be lecturing anyone about “not being much of an expert on nuclear issues.”
Sarah Palin might not be the most credible voice in the world when it comes to “nuclear issues,” but President Obama has implied that her opinions — and by extension the opinions of anyone else who doesn’t meet his standards of “expertise” — are beneath him. That’s unfortunate, given that she is far from the only person who has criticized him on this. Rather than offering a coherent and informed rebuttal — drawing, perhaps, on some of that “insider knowledge” he has access to — Obama has essentially resorted to defending himself by saying “You’re stupid. Shut up.”
The President fancies himself something of an orator and a diplomat. Alas, sometimes the best communicators know when to keep their mouths shut. By jumping into this particular fray and trying to position himself as an expert, however, he’s only managed to make a buffoon of himself.