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Nuclear Proliferation and the Debate
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Michael Levi has an interesting look at the issue of nuclear proliferation, noted as the most serious threat facing the U.S. today by both candidates in the Presidential debate (alas, there are no major candidates running on the "Well we have nukes, why should't the whole world?" platform, for those of you who endorse such a stance).

Having successfully opened the nuclear front, Kerry won on the merits. In fact, the proliferation debate was particularly unkind to President Bush. He recited his standard list of successes, and they are, to be sure, legitimate ones: Libya is disarmed, Iraq is no longer a problem, and the A.Q. Khan nuclear smuggling network has been unmasked. However much Democrats might want to brush away Libya as the outcome of past administrations' policy, the Iraq war as a mistake, and the Khan fiasco as unresolved, these are deservedly strong points for the president, and he was right to take credit for them.

I think this is about right (although we still can't get a straight answer on whether or not Kerry thinks the Iraq war a mistake).

Levi's analysis of North Korean policy just strikes me as dumb, though:

The president saved his least convincing arguments, however, for North Korea. First, he insisted that anything good for Kim Jong Il is necessarily bad for the United States. While the United States clearly must be cautious in dealing with the North Korean dictator, that sort of attitude is a recipe for failure. It rejects the essence of diplomacy--the search for solutions that benefit both sides--and makes progress impossible.

Worse was the president's solicitous attitude toward China. In the rare case a Kerry proposal could not be dismissed as good for Kim Jong Il, Bush rejected it as no good for China. (Add bilateral talks? "[China would] be happy to walk away from the table. I don't think we want that.") After two years of deriding Democrats for wanting to give Paris and Berlin a veto over U.S. action, why would the president now act as if China deserves one?

People criticize Bush for the way he talks, but I think there are just as many people out there who don't know how to listen. How is saying we don't want them to walk away from the table saying they deserve a veto over our policy?

Of course we want China involved. As of last year, they provided North Korea 70% of its energy and 40% of its food. I'd call that leverage...wouldn't you?

Levi points out that Kerry is misleading on the amount of uncontrolled Russian nuclear material, and then on Iran notes:

His proposal to "test" Iran's nuclear intentions by offering the country an alternative energy package may make sense tactically, but Kerry is naïve if he doesn't yet have his mind made up about Iran's intentions. rogue nations the benefit of the doubt isn't very savvy non-proliferation policy.

He showed a much more realistic understanding of how sanctions work than the president did: In response to Bush's claim that we're out of sanctions to use against Iran, Kerry pointed out that this is precisely why we need alliances--America's allies have the power to impose new, painful sanctions, and we desperately need them to wield those economic sticks. And while the president's discussion stopped at the border, Kerry extended his observations to the domestic front, highlighting the need to screen cargo coming into America's ports.

It's important to highlight such a need, and I agree with Kerry on this. But the problem with screening cargo is that it is a huge logistical nightmare. Some 6 million cargo containers enter the U.S. each year, and screening all of them would slow commerce considerably and be extremely costly. What is Kerry's plan?

I'd have to say that Kerry's recognition of nuclear proliferation as a dire threat is a plus in his column, though I can't say I was reassured entirely by his plans to deal with it.

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