Published: February 7, 2018

By Jim Lichtman
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Two commentaries regarding two possible wars demonstrate the vital need for statesmanship over salesmanship.

Lawrence Wilkerson served as chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell during the George W. Bush administration at the time the U.S. was ramping up for war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

“Fifteen years ago,” Wilkerson writes in an opinion for The New York Times (Feb. 6), “Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, spoke at the United Nations to sell pre-emptive war with Iraq. As his chief of staff, I helped Secretary Powell paint a clear picture that war was the only choice, that when ‘we confront a regime that harbors ambitions for regional domination, hides weapons of mass destruction and provides haven and active support for terrorists, we are not confronting the past, we are confronting the present. And unless we act, we are confronting an even more frightening future.’ …

“That effort led to a war of choice with Iraq — one that resulted in catastrophic losses for the region and the United States-led coalition, and that destabilized the entire Middle East. …

“As I look back at our lock-step march toward war with Iraq, I realize that it didn’t seem to matter to us that we used shoddy or cherry-picked intelligence; that it was unrealistic to argue that the war would ‘pay for itself,’ rather than cost trillions of dollars; that we might be hopelessly naïve in thinking that the war would lead to democracy instead of pushing the region into a downward spiral.

“The sole purpose of our actions was to sell the American people on the case for war with Iraq. Polls show that we did. Mr. Trump and his team are trying to do it again. If we’re not careful, they’ll succeed.”

I have known David Krieger for many years now. He is the founder and president of The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a group dedicated to the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

David and his wife Carolee were among those who had to evacuate due to the recent mud slides that killed 21, and displaced hundreds of residents in Montecito, California. In a commentary, originally published in The Hill (Jan. 22), Krieger compares his experience with that of another group of Americans.

Returning to their home after evacuating due to the Thomas fire, Krieger says, “…the expectation of heavy rains and possible flooding caused us to again be put under mandatory evacuation. We left our home again, thinking this would be a short and easy evacuation and we would soon be able to return. This was not the case.

“The floods overwhelmed our community… [it] looked like a war zone. Trees were uprooted and, along with huge boulders, had been swept down from the fire-denuded mountains and fallen upon our quiet community of Montecito. The rescue workers were again heroic.

“…The disaster of it all looms large in my mind. The results were not predictable. … Death and destruction did not discriminate. Nature only did what nature does. It was mostly beyond our control. …

“While still evacuated… news came that on Jan. 13 a worker at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency accidentally released an Emergency Alert warning that a ballistic missile was inbound to the state and that the people should seek immediate shelter. The alert emphasized, ‘THIS IS NOT A DRILL.’ It was all too believable.

“People scurried to be with loved ones or to call them to tell them they loved them and to say goodbye. The threat seemed very real, but the solution offered by the authorities was ridiculous. Shelter does not protect against thermonuclear weapons.

“Nothing protects against thermonuclear weapons: not shelter, not nuclear deterrence, not missile defenses.

“Thirty-eight minutes later came the message that the warning had been a ‘false alarm.’ This is yet another reminder that accidents happen, and humans are fallible, even in the best designed systems.

“In our community, we have been living through radical uncertainty from forces of nature. But we also live daily with the radical uncertainty of nuclear survival, which is not a force of nature, but rather a man-made threat. It is a threat entirely of our own making, and it can be remedied by facing it and doing something about it, namely convening the nuclear-armed countries to negotiate the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of these weapons. And, as a step prior to this, or simultaneously, to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which includes prohibitions on the development, deployment, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons.

“Also, during the period of evacuation and devastation of our community, a copy of the newly drafted U.S. Nuclear Posture Review was leaked. The review calls for a ‘safe, secure and effective’ nuclear deterrent force. But nuclear weapons are not safe or secure by their nature, and it doesn’t really matter how safe and secure the U.S. nuclear forces are, if another country’s nuclear arsenal is not.

“The greatest issue, though, arises with ‘effective’ nuclear deterrent force. This falls into the category of radical uncertainty. No one can claim a deterrent force is effective, because it is always subject to failure. If it were clearly effective, missile defenses would not be needed. Neither would civil defense drills and warnings.

“In addition, the draft Nuclear Posture Review calls for modernizing the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal at great cost; for the development of new, smaller, more usable nuclear weapons; and for using nuclear weapons against a wide range of non-nuclear attacks against the U.S. and its allies. These steps will provoke other nuclear-armed countries, as well as potential proliferators, to follow our lead.

“I would hate to see the catastrophe experienced by our community played out on a global nuclear battlefield, but that is the direction in which the world is heading. The time ending the nuclear weapons threat to humanity is now, before it is too late. The draft Nuclear Posture Review should be scrapped and replaced with the commitment to take nuclear weapons off high alert status; to implement pledges of No First Use; and to commit to negotiate to achieve the only number that makes sense in a nuclear context: Zero.

“With nuclear weapons, evacuation is not an option.”

Due to the rising nuclear tensions between North Korea and the unpredictability of President Trump, the Doomsday Clock has been reset to two minutes before midnight.


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