The Return of "Kick Me??? Foreign Policy

Jeane Kirkpatrick, when she arrived at the United Nations as U.S. ambassador in 1981, was asked how the new administration’s foreign policy would differ from its predecessor’s.

“Well,” she said in a story President Reagan loved to recount, “we’ve taken off our ‘kick me’ sign.”

She was then asked, “Does that mean, if you’re kicked, you’ll kick back?”

“Oh, not necessarily,” she answered. “But it does mean that if we’re kicked, at least we won’t apologize.”

Ronald Reagan, whom I was proud to serve for eight years, tore up the metaphorical “kick me” sign that symbolized Jimmy Carter’s timid foreign policy and tossed it in the ash-bin of history.

Rather than apologize for America’s greatness, Reagan celebrated it and encouraged other nations to emulate it. Thirty years later, our current president seems eager to recycle that “kick me” sign and plant it squarely on America’s back once again.

Tuesday the Pentagon released its Nuclear Posture Review. The Obama administration’s new nuclear policy retains the longstanding threat to use nuclear weapons first. But the policy takes the irresponsible step of reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy at a time when the number of nuclear-armed actors is increasing.

The review calls for a 30 percent reduction in our nuclear arsenal. It turns out that Barack Obama believes in unilateral action after all—in unilaterally limiting the conditions under which the United States will use nuclear weapons in its own defense.

The new policy also establishes that America will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, as long as they sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and are in compliance with its obligation. Nukes won’t be on the table even if those countries attack us with chemical or biological weapons. 

The New York Times said the new policy “eliminates much of the ambiguity that has deliberately existed in American nuclear policy.” Let me translate for you: Our enemies now know they can use outlawed biological and chemical weapons on us without fear that the U.S. will respond with overwhelming force.

Then on Thursday, Obama signed a new treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to cut each country’s nuclear arsenals by one third. Obama said the treaty sets a foundation for further cuts in nuclear arms. The Obama administration’s actions to diminish our nuclear arsenal come at a time when it is doing very little to prevent Iran from attaining one of its own.

The primary challenge is not just the quantity of states that have developed or obtained, or are trying to develop or obtain, nuclear weapons. It is also the quality of those in control of some of those countries. By that I mean that some of them, like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who vows to “wipe Israel off the map,” worship death. Others are certifiably insane. Kim Jong-Il of North Korea (which has tested two nuclear bombs) has made similar threats about Southeast Asia.

Even if Iran doesn’t use the nukes some suspect it may already possess, just having them would embolden it. Already Ahmadinejad was mocking Obama this week as “a newcomer (to politics)” who should “[w]ait until your sweat dries and get some experience.”

A nuclear Iran would prompt nearby countries to begin pursuing—or to step up their pursuit—of nuclear weapons. And many of those countries, including Iran, are ruled by Islamists who may not be deterred from using nuclear weapons by the prospect of nuclear retaliation. The Soviet Union was always kept in check by the knowledge that a U.S. nuclear retaliation would wipe out millions of Russians.

The Soviet Union understood that a nuclear strike would be suicide for its people, and it acted accordingly. I doubt Islamic regimes that have embraced suicide as a primary tactic of war would be as deterred by the prospect of their own people’s demise. 

Nuclear terrorists would be even less hesitant to strike given that their sole allegiance is to their radical ideology. These are people who tell us they love death more than we love life. They have shown a willingness to kill themselves and their families in the pursuit of our annihilation. 

The president’s gauzy vision of a world without nuclear weapons is akin to liberals’ goal of a United States without guns. The main effect of most gun laws is to keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. Meanwhile the criminals (who by definition do not follow laws) are emboldened with the knowledge that they can commit crimes without fear of retaliation from an armed-citizenry.

In the same way, Obama can reduce our nuclear arsenal and sign all the non-proliferation treaties he wants, but terrorists and rogue regimes won’t feel any obligation to follow his lead. In the end an enfeebled America will be left trying to negotiate with nuclear-armed adversaries.

President Obama dreams of a world without nukes, while others dream of a world without America. Ironically, by getting rid of our nuclear weapons Obama is increasing the chances that he—or more likely some future U.S. president—will need to use them.