Tales from the Trail

Best of the debate: Ron Paul v. Michele Bachmann

Presidential debates allow voters to hear how candidates differ, and there are few policy differences as great as that between Rep. Ron Paul and Rep. Michele Bachmann on Iran. Take this exchange from last night:

Bachmann:

“Without a shadow of a doubt, Iran will take a nuclear weapon, they will use it to wipe our ally Israel off the face of the map and they’ve stated they will use it against the United States of America.”

For what it’s worth, Politifact has looked into Bachmann’s claim and rated it “false.”

Paul responded:

“I think this wild goal to have another war in the name of defense is the dangerous thing, the danger is really us overreacting.”

Bachmann shot back:

The problem would be the greatest under-reaction in world history if we have an avowed mad man who uses that nuclear weapon to wipe nations off the face of the earth.

Budget-cutters take aim at nuclear modernization funds

In hardball negotiations over the START nuclear arms treaty last year, Senate Republicans wrested a commitment from the White House to redouble work to overhaul the nation’s nuclear infrastructure.

USA/President Barack Obama agreed to spend an additional $5 billion over 10 years on the effort, including some $650 million in the 2011 fiscal year.

The funds would be used to refurbish facilities and upgrade technology to provide safer and more secure devices, for example by making it impossible for them to be detonated if they are stolen by extremist groups. Obama and Senate Democrats even agreed that if it became necessary to cut discretionary spending in the future, the funding for nuclear modernization would be considered on the same basis as defense spending, making it harder to trim.

Washington Extra – No Refuge

Not only does Barack Obama face a united and hostile Republican Party at home, he cannot easily take refuge in foreign policy in the second half of his term. From Afghanistan to Russia and the Middle East, from climate change to nuclear weapons, there are more problems than easy solutions out there.obama1

But if all that wasn’t bad enough, the president is facing a few problems even keeping his fellow Democrats on side. As we report today, the Dems are in disarray about what to with the expiring tax cuts, and there is a distinct feeling of post-election disappointment with the president. As one aide told Reuters, many congressional Democrats felt they got their fingers burned for backing Obama’s healthcare plan and are wary of getting hurt again.

“Our guys aren’t sure what comes next,” the aide said. “Will Obama help them in 2012, or will just be focused on getting himself re-elected?”

U.S. reveals nuclear target: oceans

ARMS MISSILE

The new U.S.  nuclear weapons doctrine released on Tuesday had stern warnings for Iran and North Korea, with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explaining that it left “all options on the table” for dealing with atomic renegades despite its broader goal of restricting the U.S. use of its nuclear stockpile.

But Gates also let slip a bit of information that may give pause to environmentalists: most U.S. nuclear missiles are now targeted at the world’s oceans.

“Our ICBMs are all targeted right now on the oceans, so that if, God forbid and for the first time in 60 years, there were an accidental launch or a problem …it would put a missile right into the middle of the ocean, rather than targeted on any country,” Gates told a news briefing.

Doomsday Clock rolls back — what would you do with an extra minute?

BRITAIN-PARLIAMENT/GREENPEACEGood news! We’re one symbolic minute further away from total annihilation!

The Doomsday Clock, created  in 1947 to dramatize the nuclear threat, was reset today to six minutes before midnight, back from five minutes before midnight — midnight being the symbol of the Ultimate Big Kaboom. Or as the board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists puts it, “the figurative end of civilization.”

The board, which includes 19 Nobel laureates, has only adjusted the clock’s virtual hands 18 times, most recently in 2007 when the board moved it forward by two minutes. They cited North Korea’s test of a nuclear weapon, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and a renewed U.S. emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons.

President Barack Obama gets a bit of credit for the latest move away from midnight. So do developments on nuclear weapons control and climate change. Learn more about it here.

from Global News Journal:

Does Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

U.S. President Barack Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee said Obama had been awarded the prize for his calls to reduce the world's stockpiles of nuclear weapons and work towards restarting the stalled Middle East peace process.

The committee praised Obama for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

"Very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future."

from Global News Journal:

A world without nuclear weapons: Obama’s pipe dream?

U.S. President Barack Obama says he wants a world without nuclear weapons. But will that ever happen?
    
Obama showed he's serious this week. He chaired a historic summit meeting of the U.N. Security Council which unanimously passed a U.S.-drafted resolution that envisages "a world without nuclear weapons".
    
It was the first time a U.S. president chaired a meeting of the Security Council since it was established in 1946.
 
John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, an advocacy group, identified serious weaknesses in the resolution, including the absence of mandatory disarmament steps for the world's five official nuclear powers -- the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia.
    
Some diplomats from countries without nuclear weapons said the lack of mandatory disarmament moves is not just a weakness, but a loophole the five big powers -- which have permanent seats and vetoes on the Security Council -- deliberately inserted into the resolution so that they wouldn't have to scrap their beloved nuclear arsenals.
 
An official from one of the five big powers appeared to confirm this in an "off-record" email to Reuters explaining the language in the resolution: "I would underline that creating the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons is not the same as calling for a world free of nuclear weapons." He added that "the spirit of the resolution is much more about non-proliferation than disarmament."
    
A diplomat and disarmament expert from a European country with no nuclear weapons said this was typical of the "cynicism" of some permanent Security Council members. He added that the U.S. delegation had made very clear that the use of the word "disarmament" meant total nuclear disarmament -- perhaps not today, but someday. 
    
China's President Hu Jintao said China was not planning to get rid of its nuclear arsenal anytime soon. So did French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
    
The resolution didn't name Iran and North Korea. However, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Sarkozy filled in the blanks and called for tougher sanctions against Iran for defying U.N. demands to halt sensitive nuclear work.
 
The resolution didn't mention Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea, the four others known or assumed to have nuclear weapons. But it did politely ask "other states" to sign the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and get rid of their atom bombs.
 
Libya's Muammar Gaddafi was the only leader of a council member state that stayed away from the meeting. Several council diplomats expressed relief at his absence, saying they had been afraid the long-winded Gaddafi would have exceeded the five-minute limit for statements.

(Photos by Mike Segar/REUTERS)

Is Chavez helping Iran build the bomb?

IRAN/

Veteran Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau is on Hugo Chavez’s case.

Morgenthau warned last week at Washington’s Brookings Institution that Iran is using Venezuela’s financial system to avoid international sanctions so it can acquire materials to develop nuclear weapons and missiles.  He urged more scrutiny of the “emerging axis of Iran and Venezuela” in an op/ed article in the Wall Street Journal, in which he said a number of mysterious Iranian factories had sprung up in remote parts of Venezuela.

Chavez’s man in Washington, Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez, called the allegations “outrageous … unfounded and irresponsible” in a letter to the district attorney seen by Reuters.

True, leftist President Chavez has done little to endear himself to Americans. A fierce critic of the United States, his foreign policy rule of thumb is my enemy’s enemies are my friends. His last trip abroad included visits to Libya, Algeria, Syria, Iran, Belarus and Russia. He loudly announced plans to buy Russian tanks and anti-aircraft missiles.

from Global News Journal:

How Ill is Kim Jong-il?

Photo:A compilation by Reuters of pool photographs and images provided by North Korea's KCNA news agency showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from 2004 to 2009. The photograph in the lower right was released this week by KCNA

By Jon Herskovitz

The image the world once had of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, with a trademark paunch, platform shoes and a bouffant hair-do, is gone and may never come back. He has now become a gaunt figure with thinning hair who has trouble walking in normal shoes, let alone ones with heels 8-10 centimetres (3-4 inches) high like he used to wear.

A look at photographs the North’s official media has released of Kim over the past few months indicate he is not a healthy man. There has been an enormous amount of speculation about what is wrong with Kim, 67, including a report from South Korean TV network YTN this week that he has life-threatening pancreatic cancer.

Kissinger, Shultz back Obama push to eliminate nuclear arms

President Obama’s push to reduce the global nuclear arms threat received an endorsement Tuesday from some big names in U.S. national security policy.
 
With a new round of strategic arms talks getting under way in Moscow, Obama met in the Oval Office with former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Senator Sam Nunn.
OBAMA/ 
Obama, who outlined his vision of a world free of atomic weapons in a speech in Prague last month, said he welcomed the support of the bipartisan group, who have been pushing for over two years for the United States to lead an effort to eliminate nuclear arms.
 
“We do not want a world of continued nuclear proliferation,” Obama told reporters after the meeting.
 
“It is absolutely imperative that America take leadership working with not just our Russian counterparts but countries all around the world to reduce and ultimately eliminate the dangers that are posed by nuclear weapons,” he said.
 
“We can take some very specific steps in order to do that. We can revitalize our Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We can work with the Russians as the two countries with by far the largest nuclear stockpiles to continue to reduce our dependence on nuclear weapons. We can move forward on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty …  And we can lock down loose nuclear weapons that can fall into the hands of terrorists.”
 
Shultz, speaking on behalf of the group, said the four former U.S. officials supported Obama’s approach.
 
He did have one little quibble though. The group, he said, was really non-partisan, not bipartisan.
 
“This is a subject that ought to somehow get up above trying to get a partisan advantage,” he said. “And it’s of such importance that we need to take it on its own merits. And that’s the way we’ve proceeded, and that’s the way, at least it seems to us, you’ve proceeded.”
 
For more Reuters political news, click here

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama with Shultz and Kissinger in the Oval Office)