Sunday, April 19, 2009

Good Sense Will Hunting

I read George Will's column about Russia three times and couldn't figure out what it means. Then I realized that he doesn't know what it means, either. He accuses President Obama of being nostalgic for the Nixonian era of U.S.-Soviet detente by making the blunder of proposing arms control negotiations with Moscow. Without meaning to do so, he then shows why Obama is right.

Reprising arguments he made two generations ago from the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party, Will says that arms control wasn't the ticket for combating rampant Soviet militarism. Ronald Reagan's tough policies were. Will's setup prepares the reader for the argument that Obama is overlooking the threat that Putin's Russia still poses to U.S. interests. Instead, marshaling his usual flurry of statistics, Will argues that Russia, drowning in vodka and stunted by declining fertility rates, is dying as a great power. He enumerates no threats posed by Russia to U.S. interests except one: The nukes that Obama's policy is aimed at reducing:
Today, in a world bristling with new threats, the president suggests addressing an old one -- Russia's nuclear arsenal. It remains potentially dangerous, particularly if a portion of it falls into nonstate hands.
But if it's dangerous to have several thousand thermonuclear devices aimed at us by a crumbling nation (which I would think Will would accept as an axiom), and if Obama can achieve reductions in their number at no risk whatsoever to our interests, why is it a bad idea to have arms control negotiations?

It's not Obama who's nostalgic for the Nixon era (which he barely remembers, of course). It's Will, who embarks on the same anti-arms control column he would've written back then, even though he ends up proving (in spite of himself) that U.S.-Russian arms control today makes abundant good sense. If things are really so bad for Russia, perhaps we'd even be doing it, and the stability of the Asia-Pacific region, a favor by helping relieve it of the cost of maintaining its arsenal.

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