Jackie Cabasso

After agreeing to comment on the State of the Union Address for the Institute for Public Accuracy (as one of many commentators), I forced myself to watch the Commander in Chief make his annual grand performance, fortified by a martini and surrounded by close friends. Afterwards, I went home and struggled to find words that would convey my outrage, while also attempting to offer some cogent information and analysis. I was nearly overwhelmed, because the speech was long, there was so much provocative rhetoric to react to, it was so Orwellian, and I was on a tight deadline. There was also so much missing, like — in a speech rife with glowing references to growing international “democracy,” “political freedom,” and “peaceful change” — no reference was made to the recent elections in Latin America. On the domestic front, though the Pres declared “… our greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but by who we are and how we treat one another,” he didn’t even mention Hurricane Katrina. And the speech raised some questions for me, which there was no time to look into. Why were Zimbabwe and Burma added to the “hit list,” along with Syria, North Korea and Iran?

The Institute for Public Accuracy quoted from some of my musings, along with a number of esteemed colleagues, in their February 1 news release, Responses to State of the Union Address, and a related critique for public distribution, A Critical Look: The State of the Union 2006, here’s the rest. I want to stress that these comments by no means represent a comprehensive analysis of the speech — just a few uneven thoughts triggered by specific references in the speech.

Though this year’s State of the Union Address was no where near as over-the-top as last year’s 2005 version of “Manifest Destiny,” two words continue to characterize the Bush Administration’s approach to the world: “arrogance” and “hypocrisy.” Bush began his speech by acknowledging the loss of Coretta Scott King. But, Mrs. King early on recognized the insidious link between U.S. militarism and civil rights, taking a stand against the Vietnam War even before her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, came out against the war. Surely she would not want to be remembered in association the Bush Administration’s “long war” of empire or its unchecked domestic surveillance activities.

Later, Bush declared: “In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders. If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores.” Here, President Bush seems to have mistaken a mirror for a window. A stated long-term goal of the U.S. military is to “enable an affordable capability to swiftly and effectively deliver highly effective weapons against targets at any required global location” in order to “affordably destroy or neutralize any target on earth…” (Air Force Science and Technology Plan for 2000, p. 22) Considered in this context, it becomes easier to understand that many so-called “defenses” are not really to defend the United States from a surprise attack. Along with “national” missile defense systems in the form of ground-based interceptors, initially in Alaska and California, “theater” missile defenses based on ships at sea are being deployed. Research and development is also underway on laser missile defense systems, to be deployed, eventually, on airplanes and space-based vehicles. These theater missile defenses are intended to work with U.S. offensive weapons systems, like swords and shields, to protect U.S. troops and bases and other U.S. “strategic assets” around the world. An illustrative version of this concept is a U.S. naval program called “Sea Shield,” which is described as “extend[ing] homeland security to the fullest extent with forward deployed forces”. that “will allow sea based missiles to engage enemy air targets far over the horizon, before they can threaten joint and coalition forces operating ashore”. in order to “provide the foundation of battlefield dominance.” (This program is discussed in a broader context in Western States Legal Foundation’s Fall 2002 Information Bulletin, The Military Space Plane, Conventional ICBMs, and the Common Aero Vehicle: Overlooked Threats of Weapons Delivered Through of From Space, p. 14, endnote 62.

I was struck by the tragic irony, when during his speech, Bush introduced the family of Marine Staff Sergeant Dan Clay, who was killed in Fallujah last month, and quoted from his last letter: “Never falter Don’t hesitate to honor and support those of us who have the honor of protecting that which is worth protecting.” It’s a sad commentary on the state of our vaunted democracy, that Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was also a U.S. military casualty in Iraq, was arrested and removed from the House gallery for wearing a T-shirt with an anti-war message. Cindy Sheehan had been invited to the State of the Union address by Congresswoman Lynne Woolsey. (Fortunately, the Capitol Police have dropped the charges against Ms. Sheehan and apologized for their inappropriate action.)

As expected, Bush went on to accuse the Iranian government of “defying the world with its nuclear ambitions.” Echoing familiar arguments he had used to justify the illegal, immoral, and catastrophic U.S. war on Iraq, he declared: “the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats.” By addressing some of his remarks to the Iranian people, he hinted strongly of U.S. interest in “regime change” in their country.

While the United States accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons and President Bush declares that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose “a grave threat to the security of the world,” (the same language he used prior to attacking Iraq), the U.S. is retooling its own nuclear weapons research, design, and production infrastructure to maintain thousands of nuclear weapons for many decades to come, while enabling the production of new nuclear weapons for “post-Cold War” missions envisioned by U.S. war planners. Following the 9-11 attacks, the Bush Administration openly declared the potential first use of nuclear weapons — even against those countries that don’t have them. The 2002 Nuclear Posture Review revealed U.S. plans for first use of nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks or threats involving biological or chemical weapons or “surprising military developments” and targeted countries including Iraq, Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, Syria, and Libya.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which entered into force in 1970, codified a pledge by the U.S., Britain, Soviet Union, France and China to negotiate “in good faith” the end of the nuclear arms race and the elimination of their nuclear arsenals. States that agreed to forswear nuclear weapons were guaranteed “the inalienable right” to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, “without discrimination.” Thirty-five years later, the U.S. and the other nuclear weapon states have failed to live up to their disarmament obligations, establishing a de facto international system of “nuclear apartheid,” in which they claim the exclusive right to determine who may possess (and threaten to use) nuclear weapons. They also have been responsible for spreading “peaceful” nuclear technology around the globe, ensuring the possibility of nuclear proliferation.

Now the Bush administration wants to add a second tier to its nuclear double standard by denying uranium enrichment technology — usable for both nuclear power and weapons — to countries that don’t already have it. Iran will be the test case. But just beyond Iran’s border, the U.S. continues to turn a blind eye towards Israel’s sizeable undeclared nuclear arsenal. In 1991, the U.N. Security Council stated that its requirements for the elimination of Iraq’s WMDs “represent steps towards the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction…” The importance of establishing a Weapons of Mass Destruction free zone in the Middle East played a crucial role in obtaining agreement by non nuclear weapons states to the NPT’s indefinite extension in 1995.

By many accounts Iran remains five to ten years from possessing the capability to enrich sufficient uranium to make nuclear weapons. In any case, Iran should not go down the path towards the development of nuclear weapons. The only way to genuinely reduce the global nuclear threat is for all countries to forswear the possession and use of nuclear weapons, and to make concerted efforts to develop and promote energy sources not dependent on nuclear technology or fossil fuels. Nonproliferation efforts will be greatly weakened unless the nuclear weapon states — led by the U.S. — live up to their unequivocal undertaking to disarm, and implement in good faith the commitments they made in connection with the 1995 indefinite extension of the NPT and the 2000 NPT Review Conference.

Finally, regarding America’s oil addiction, President Bush got it partly right. But we knew this 30 years ago. This time, let’s skip the hyper-expensive, environmentally disastrous, proliferation-provocative nuclear energy proposals. What’s needed is a serious commitment to a major investment in the development of renewable, non-polluting energy technologies that don’t require or produce as by-products ingredients that can be used to make weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration is proposing to build new nuclear reactors, even though there is no way presently known to “dispose” of the approximately 120,000 tons of radioactive waste the first generation of reactors will produce. Now, Bush, Cheney and their Congressional supporters are promoting the reprocessing of nuclear fuel from commercial reactors, reversing a 30-year policy of considering spent (used) nuclear fuel to be “waste.” Nuclear power production employs inherently dual-use technologies. There are two ways to make weapons useable nuclear materials: uranium enrichment and separation of plutonium from spent fuel. The U.S. is accusing Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons through its civilian uranium enrichment program. At the same time, it is modernizing its own nuclear weapons and advocating for the resumption of plutonium reprocessing in the United States.

This is both hypocritical and unsustainable. If the U.S., the most powerful military entity in history, overtly relies on the threatened first use of nuclear weapons to ensure its “national security,” it should not be surprised if other countries follow suit. Further, if the U.S. insists on meeting its energy needs through a new generation of nuclear power production, it must take responsibility for imbuing nuclear technology with a special status. Nuclear technology currently is viewed by many developing countries as a hallmark of technological sophistication. In order for that to change, the most technologically sophisticated country on earth should take the lead in promoting sustainable, non-nuclear energy sources. It should also demonstrate compliance with its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations to negotiate, in good faith, the reduction and elimination of its nuclear weapons. And it should begin to articulate a new vision of universal “human security,” instead of a narrowly defined “national security” premised on overwhelming military might.