Obama unilaterally eliminates some strategic ambiguity about when the US might use nuclear weapons, announces that we will respond with underwhelming force if attacked by biological or chemical weapons, and tells the world that he wants some sanctions against Iran but doesn't expect them to work. All in all, it was a great day foe the unilateral surrender crowd.
The only redeeming news - Obama must have given this interview on April Fool's Day, because officials admit he doesn't really mean all of it:
White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.
Would a chemical or biological attack on one city really be be devastating?
Let's have a To be fair moment - our conventional power, especially our ability to accurately deliver conventional munitions by way of cruise missiles and smart bombs, has gone way up since the 1950's, or even the 1980's.
Still, chemical and biological weapons are already easier to make than nuclear devices. Obama's new policy makes their use a bit less dangerous, as well. And shouldn't we presume that our allies living under the American nuclear umbrella are now protected by the same rules? Under the old rules, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons were all "Weapons of Mass Destruction"; the US didn't have chemical or biological weapons, so our threatened response to an WMD usage was to go nuclear. Under this new strategy, my understanding is that a biological attack on Dusseldorf would draw the same response as as a biological attack on Pittsburgh, namely, escalated aggravation:
Those threats, Mr. Obama argued, could be deterred with “a series of graded options,” a combination of old and new conventional weapons. “I’m going to preserve all the tools that are necessary in order to make sure that the American people are safe and secure,” he said in the interview in the Oval Office.
That's just great. Let's segue to Iran, where Obama threatens to hold his breath but then exhale before turning blue:
Mr. Obama said he wanted a new United Nations sanctions resolution against Iran “that has bite,” but he would not embrace the phrase “crippling sanctions” once used by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. And he acknowledged the limitations of United Nations action. “We’re not naïve that any single set of sanctions automatically is going to change Iranian behavior,” he said, adding “there’s no light switch in this process.”
No light switch in this process? I am not so sure there are any bright lights, either. (Doc Drezner is less worried.)
HAZY: I am unclear as to how radiological dispersal devices, known to '24' viewers like me as "dirty bombs", are are treated under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty or Obama's new strategy. As of 2003, the NPT was not helpful:
While the NPT has the potential to contribute to the control of radiological weapons, it does not supply an effective legal framework to combat radiological attacks because it lacks specific provisions for radiological weapons.
Fine - we can treat a dirty bomb in the same way as a chemical or biological attack. That will fly in the court of public opinion.