Thursday, January 15, 2009

Joe Cirincione on “False Claims of Bush's Success on WMD”

Joe Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, and Alexandra Bell, Research Associate at Ploughshares, put out a great piece on HuffPo on Tuesday that reviews and debunks many of the somewhat outrageous claims made by the Bush administration about its legacy, including many nuclear weapons issues. The full piece is available here, although I’m also including the full text of it below as well.

The victors write history. Few would ascribe that right to the outgoing Bush Administration. The "Highlights of Accomplishments and Results of the Administration of George W. Bush" is fifty pages of glossy photos and false claims of the last eight years, complete with "Did You Know" sections usually seen in 8th grade textbooks.

Some of the claims have already been rebutted on Huffington Post.

Here, we just want to set the record straight on the 10 big wins claimed on nuclear weapons. Rather than making us safer, President Bush leaves office with nearly every proliferation problem more dangerous than when he entered. Here are the claims and the facts.

"1-Prevented our Enemies from Threatening America and our Allies with
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)"

True, that there were no attacks in the seven years following 9/11, but there were also none in the seven years previous. Globally, threats have grown. Every member of the "axis of evil" is more dangerous to America today than in 2001. Iraq is in turmoil; Iran and North Korea advanced their nuclear programs more in the past five years than in the previous ten. The Taliban and Al Qaeda have regrouped in unstable and nuclear-armed Pakistan. Nuclear sites around the world remain at risk while funding for securing and eliminating nuclear threats stagnates. Net risk has increased.

"2-Secured a commitment from North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program."

True, but only after the neoconservative fantasy of overthrowing the Pyongyang regime thwarted negotiations for five years. Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Undersecretary of State John Bolton championed policies that let North Korea go from having enough fissile material for 2 weapons in 2001 to enough for 12 by 2006. It restarted its plutonium processing, withdrew from the NPT, tested new missiles and detonated a nuclear bomb. It also may have traded nuclear secrets with Syria, Pakistan and Iran. At the end of 2006, the Bush Administration finally began negotiations in earnest and got the tenuous agreement that stands today. It is a deal we could have secured eight years ago.

"3- Persuaded Libya to disclose and dismantle all aspects of its WMD and
advanced missile programs and renounce terrorism."

This is the most notable success of the Bush years, but made possible only by breaking with the neocon strategy. Instead of trying to change the Libyan regime, we changed the regime's behavior. US military strength played a role, but so did strong alliances, negotiations, sanctions, security assurances and persuasion over four administrations. Diplomacy delivered the victory, not force. Libya has now dismantled its nuclear, chemical and long-range missile programs. It provided the model for stopping the North Korean programs and could be applied to Iran.

"4- Withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and operationalized missile defense."

We did withdraw from the treaty, but all we have to show for it is a scarecrow of a weapons system. Over the past 8 years, the U.S. has spent almost $70 billion on anti-missile systems with no real increase in capability. The Bush-created Missile Defense Agency Pentagon faked tests, misled Congress and adopted a bizarre "spiral development" process in which interceptors and radars are deployed before they are fully tested, fail, are fixed, fail again, are fixed again, etc. This $9 billion dollar-a-year booster club should be disbanded; the weapons devolved back to the management and budgets of the military services from whence they came.

"5- Dismantled the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network."

Partially true. The A.Q. Khan smuggling network was finally disrupted in 2004, only after sensitive technology was transferred to Iran, Libya, North Korea and possibly other states. Pakistan's lack of cooperation, including its refusal to allow Khan to be questioned, has thwarted attempts of the U.S. and its allies to determine if the network persists. European intelligence reports note that nuclear black market sales continue in the region.

"6- Established the Proliferation Security Initiative and multilateral coalitions to stop WMD proliferation and strengthen our ability to locate and secure nuclear and radiological materials around the world."

The Proliferation Security Initiative is a good idea of marginal benefit. It is good at detecting and stopping illicit shipments of large items, like missiles and centrifuges, but cannot stop a suitcase full of plutonium or key nuclear components shipped through legitimate channels. This program was a major talking point of the administration, but did little to stop the nuclear program in Iran, for example. The legacy booklet points out that Bush programs have removed enough material from insecure sites for 30 nuclear bombs. That's good, but there is enough material in the world for 200,000, says Harvard's Matt Bunn. This boast is like bragging about throwing a bucket of water on a burning building.

"7- Halved the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile five years ahead of schedule."

This has been positive. We have moved ahead of schedule to cut weapons down to the numbers negotiated with Russia in the 2002 Moscow Treaty. The problem is that the treaty has no verification provisions, no dismantlement requirement and expires the day it comes into force. After this treaty the Bush Administration ended arms negotiations with Russia, leaving the increasingly authoritarian state with over ten thousands thermonuclear bombs and a deteriorating command and control system.

This is dangerous even during good times; today, U.S.-Russian relations are at their worst point since before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Administration plans to expand NATO and deploy anti-missile bases on Russia's borders inflamed Russian concerns over U.S. intentions.
There remains no coherent plan for addressing the danger from the almost 1,300 Russian nuclear warheads poised for attack within 15 minutes and thousands more in insecure storage. Former Senator Sam Nunn warns, "It's insane for us, 16 years after the Cold War, to think of the Russian president having four or five minutes to make a decision about whether what may be a false warning requires a response before he loses his retaliatory force."

The War to Nowhere

Finally, the greatest sin in the Bush Legacy Book is one of omission. Nowhere does the history note that senior officials led by President Bush and Vice-President Cheney intentionally misled the American people on the threat from chemical, biological and nuclear weapons from Iraq. Not one claim was true. At the time of the invasion Iraq did not have any significant quantities of these weapons or weapons components, did not have any programs for making these weapons, did not have any plans to restart programs to make these weapons and did not have any operational ties to Al Qaeda or involvement in the attacks of September 11.

President Bush called the failure to find any weapons in Iraq "a disappointment." It is much more. President Bush committed the greatest mistake any president can: he lead the nation into an unnecessary war. That is a legacy we will never forget.

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