Obama in Hiroshima, Memorial Day and the Iran Deal

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Obama in Hiroshima gave an anti-war speech.

He said,

” But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them. We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe. We can chart a course that leads to the destruction of these stockpiles. We can stop the spread to new nations and secure deadly material from fanatics.”

Although it is true that Obama has been the least successful president in some time in reducing nuclear stockpiles, there is one area where he has had success in reducing world tensions, and that is with regard to Iran. Moreover, the Iran breakthrough has implications for both nonproliferation and for conventional warfare. A war on Iran was one of the central objectives of the Cheney/ Neoconservative faction in the George W. Bush White House, and had their war of aggression on Iraq not gone sour, the would have likely gone on to Tehran.

The standing War Party in Washington has figured out how to pursue conventional wars of aggression in the face of public skittishness: They simply hype a country they want to plunder as an unconventional threat– i.e. as a country that could have nuclear weapons or even chemical and biological weapons.

It was pure propaganda that Bush’s “brain,” Karl Rove, melded these together as “weapons of mass destruction,” so that they could equate some old canisters of mustard gas to an atomic bomb. Unfortunately for the Bush warmongers, the Baath regime in Iraq had actually destroyed its chemical stockpiles, so they were left empty-handed when it became clear that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program at all.

That is, nuclear proliferation is only one danger. The other is that even the appearance of such proliferation has been turned by the unscrupulous into a casus belli where the “wrong” regime undertakes it. The chain of events unleashed by Bush’s Iraq War killed many more people than did the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Obama continued,

“We must change our mindset about war itself to prevent conflict through diplomacy and strive to end conflicts after they’ve begun. To see our growing interdependence as a cause for peaceful cooperation and not violent competition. To define our nations not by our capacity to destroy, but by what we build. And perhaps above all, we must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race.”

Obama’s major breakthrough was to convince Iran, which has never given any evidence of wanting a nuclear weapon (as opposed to the ability to enrich uranium for fuel and to use that ability as a deterrent to foreign aggression) to take steps to reassure the US and the world about its intentions. Most urgently, that required Iran to mothball the heavy water reactor it planned at Arak (the Iranians have concreted in its core), to reduce the number of active centrifuges they are running for enrichment, and to reduce their stockpile of low-enriched uranium of the 19.25% enriched variety (ostensibly produced for their medical reactor, which makes isotopes for treating cancer). Iran has done all of these things as required and in a timely way, and is subject to the sort of regular inspections that make effectively deter cheating (the signatures of highly enriched materials are easily detected and linger for months, and can’t be cleaned up).

Critics of Obama can point to other instances where he was not as successful as in Iran, can point to his long war and failed troop escalation in Afghanistan, his backing for the Saudi attack on Yemen, his fascination with drone-assassination, and the many covert actions he pursues. Even Bill Clinton was less of a war president than Obama. But surely it is possible to praise his instance of successful peace-making even when he hasn’t been universally a peace-maker. Historians will see Obama’s Iran diplomacy as one of the greatest achievements of his presidency, and perhaps as a turning point in anti-proliferation through diplomacy.

Future leaders should take a lesson from Obama; when there is a war you don’t want fought, then resolve the outstanding issue and spike the warmongering. The Military-Industrial Complex is so powerful in both parties that sooner or later they will get a candidate into the White House and a pliable Congress, and they they will want to turn some ramshackle third world piggy bank upside down and shake out its billions into their accounts. The MIC made trillions off the Iraq War.

So anti-proliferation diplomacy is necessary both to deter further stockpiles of nuclear weaponry *and* to remove a pretext for war-making from the War Party in Washington.

With regard to Iran, Obama has probably succeeded in forestalling a US attack on that country, though both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have taken an aggressive posture toward it. And, both will be lobbied by the Netanyahu regime in Israel and by Saudi Arabia to heighten tensions with Tehran.

As we consider the poignant moment when the president of the United States hugged a Hiroshima survivor, and as we mourn our war dead (on a day that was founded as an anti-war commemoration) — including 4,425 killed in Iraq for no good reason– we have reason to treasure the achievements of determined diplomacy in resolving the Iran nuclear issue without more bloodshed and terror from the skies.

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Related video:

The White House: ” President Obama Participates in a Wreath Laying Ceremony”

24 Responses

  1. There is a complex interplay between issues revolving around global warming and issues that revolve around nuclear proliferation. The more global warming is taken seriously and addressed, the less instability there will be in the world and the less nuclear weapons become an urgent issue. On the other, the nations who do not take global warming seriously are the nations that will contribute to increasing chaos and tensions, and consequently greater concerns around nuclear weapons. The areas of greatest concern are the areas already being dramatically affected by global warming (in the Middle East, for example). The more inaction there is on global warming, or less speed there is in addressing global warming, the more the areas will grow that are seriously disrupted by global warming. There are complex interplays that can’t be described in one paragraph.

    I give Obama and his administration some credit for seeing these issues more clearly than many nations, and more clearly than many right wing conservatives in Washington.

  2. Last week I listened to Laura Ingraham, right wing radio host and rabid Trump groupie, sneer at Obama for going to Japan and apologizing for, her words, “Vaporizing people.” First off…he did not apologize to anyone but rather gave a speech the Pope could have delivered.

    Secondly, the nonchalance with which Laura spoke of “Vaporizing” men, women and children speaks to the evilness of the American neocon empire and their total disregard for what they euphemistically call “Collateral damage.”

    Obama has certainly not been a perfect president but standing up to Netanyahu and his bought and paid for Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran politicians here in the US will always in my mind be worthy of a Bronze Star for heroics.

  3. I agree with your assessment. As in chess, at times you lose pieces to win the game.
    If Obama wants to be really serious about getting rid of atomic weapons he should name all the countries that have atomic bombs and how many of them.

  4. and then obama said, “when my term is over, all the major sunni cities of iraq will be rubble. so suck on that apologists!”

  5. “Although it is true that Obama has been the least successful president in some time in reducing nuclear stockpiles,”

    I should say not. He has ordered a trillion dollars to be spent on making new nuclear weapons. Including smaller weapons that make their use more ‘acceptable’ (to those who are firing them off, anyhow).

    What were the terms of the NNPT again? We don’t build them and the nuclear nations disarm. IIRC.

    Treaties, the rest of the world is to respect them, but the ‘exceptional’ nation gets to view them as suggestions.

    • the trillion dollar figure is over 30 years, which is a little deceptive. And, if he can’t get Putin and Congress to reduce the numbers it is desirable that they not be kept in a deteriorated state.

      • The nasty thing about those weapons is that they’ll kill the survivors as well. I’m not referring to the survivors in the ‘nuked’ nations either, it’ll be the rest of the world which will suffer their use.

        The ecological effects of a large scale nuclear war are known, but the uncontrolled fires at the nuclear plants in the ‘victim’ nations are not fully understood. Even a ‘small’ nuclear war between India and Pakistan would be enough to cause the end of life on the Earth.

        I’m sorry to disagree with you, but it’s better that the weapons fall into a state where none of them can be used. Ever. It’s one thing to kill yourself, but taking everyone with you when you go is utterly dishonourable.

        • The idea is to maintain our nuclear arsenal in operational condition unless and until we can get Russia and other nuclear powers to disarm their nuclear forces as well. To allow our nuclear force to deteriorate while potential adversaries maintain operational nuclear forces is to invite intimidation to gain influence (by Russia against our European allies, for example) as a best-case scenario and a potential attack as a worst-case scenario.

        • Unless one is smitten with the “exceptional” bug, it should be obvious that the nation state that created, deployed, used, and led the nuclear arms race at every stage . .
          has a special responsibility to lead the way toward disarmament – that is certainly the way the rest of the world sees it, as well they should.

        • The United States and Russia have negotiated arms control agreements over the years that have reduced stockpiles on both sides. Reagan and Gorbachev sealed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement in 1987 that rid Europe and the (then) Soviet Union of Intermediate-Range Missiles and warheads.

          In 2010, Obama and Medvedev signed the “New START” treaty that resulted in a 30 percent reduction in deployed warheads and lower caps on deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, submarine-based missile launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear weapons.

          These negotiations take time, but we are far better off than we were during the Cold War. Were the United States to unilaterally allow its nuclear arsenal to deteriorate and become inactive, Russia (and probably China) would be very much emboldened to be more aggressive in their respective regions. To think otherwise is to ignore history and entertain a fantasy.

  6. Can someone explain to me why Iran actually held their stockpile of low-enriched uranium if not for the medical reactor?

    • They stockpiled more than the medical reactor could use any time soon. Likely this was a form of implicit deterrence. LEU is still easier to upgrade to highly enriched uranium than starting from scratch. So don’t mess with them. The problem is that this stance is 50/50 deterrence and invitation to attack. The current Iranian position of no nukes and transparency removes the invitation to attack.

  7. “there is one area where he has had success in reducing world tensions, and that is with regard to Iran” World? Only if the “world” consists of the US, Israel and perhaps Saudi Arabia. Hardly “the world”. The majority of the world did not consider Iran a threat. The US if you have forgotten combined with Britain engineered the overthrow of the elected government in Iran in the early 1950’s because it wanted to nationalize it’s oil and a despot dictator the Shah was installed by the aggressors. So because the Iranians overthrew the dictator and had the temerity to take a few US hostages the US has had an irrational hate and goal of the destruction of Iran ever since. Iran was no threat to the US, Saudi or Israel certainly not with the US providing billions of dollars in armaments to the Saudi regime and to Israel. I forsee another regime now that Iran has no nuclear capability as the US has a habit of invading any state non compliant (to US diktats) without nuclear capabilities.

    • The threat came not from Iran, but from the US attacking Iran and creating more chaos and instability in the region. That is the threat reduced by Obama. If Trump is elected then all bets are off.

      • Wait until Hillary becomes president. Most of her foreign affairs advisors are neocons Robert Kagan among them. Iranians are simpletons; American policy can change when a new president takes office.

      • So Obama gets some kind of credit for making Iran pay by making itself more vulnerable to attack by the US for an issue caused by actions of the US and the rest of the world is supposed to be awed by this. The Emperor has no clothes!

  8. You wrote, “they will want to turn some ramshackle third world piggy bank upside down and shake out its billions into their accounts.”

    The MIC shakes our piggy bank first and foremost.

  9. Since the 1960s, silently moving in the depths of our oceans are killing machines which can annihilate every living thing on the surface of our planet, THRICE!!

    Very few living today have lived in a time free of being incinerated or worse at any given moment when some patriot decides to push that button.

    Mutually-Assured-Destruction or MAD is our way of life – until every single nuclear armed tribe, country and super-power openly agrees to rid our planet of these dumbass WMDs.

    And actually does it, once and for all.

  10. Dave is correct, that “Treaties, the rest of the world is to respect them, but the ‘exceptional’ nation gets to view them as suggestions.”
    The US is obligated by treaty and law (NNPT) to vigorously pursue nuclear weapons abolition, and has been for well over 40 years.
    As the US constitution states, “all Treaties made, . . shall be the supreme Law of the Land;”
    Please support the Marshall Islands court case against the nuclear powers to enforce the NNPT.

  11. Bumper sticker from the past: I’m a child, not a choice.

    Bumper sticker for today: I’m a child, not collateral damage.

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