What a Mess To Clean Up

Americans have traditionally been optimists, and still probably think that if we could only make the right choices, the next President – working together with the next Congress – could clean up the mess Bush-Cheney and The Best Congress Money Can Buy have made, thereby making it safe to go abroad once again carrying an American passport.

Perhaps you’re wondering, now, how we ever got into this mess?

Well, scroll back in time to the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991.

Hallelujah! Dancing in the streets! Peace in Our Time! The prospect of Armageddon in central Europe was no more!

Hence, both the Soviet Union and the United States began to withdraw from service the tens of thousands of nuclear weapons that had been specifically developed and deployed to fight that final battle.

Later that year, with the Soviet Union itself on the verge of economic collapse, Russian officials came to "lobby" our Congress.

They told Senator Sam Nunn that they wanted to dismantle the tens of thousands of Soviet nukes excess to Russian needs, recover the fissile material (essentially pure U-235 uranium and Pu-239 plutonium) from those dismantled nukes, and then store it until they could eventually dispose of it as reactor fuel.

The problem was, the Russians didn’t have the money to do all of that. Would Congress help?

Rarely has Congress responded so quickly to any request. The Nunn-Lugar Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act was attached to the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty Implementation Act of 1991, which just happened to be pending before the Senate.

Nunn-Lugar declared "that it is in the national security interest of the United States to facilitate on a priority basis the transportation, storage, safeguarding, and destruction of nuclear and other weapons in the Soviet Union, its republics, and any successor entities, and to assist in the prevention of weapons proliferation."

Congress immediately authorized Bush Senior to "reprogram" up to $400 million from funds already appropriated for that fiscal year to the Department of Defense (DoD) to implement Nunn-Lugar!

But hold on.

In 1992, Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense and Paul Wolfowitz was Undersecretary for Policy.

Periodically, the Undersecretary develops for the Secretary a top-secret document entitled Defense Planning Guidance. The document is supposed to be "threat-driven."

Once developed and approved, the Secretary issues it to the military Departments and to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It tells them what their "force structure" needs to be as well as the manpower, weapons, equipment, and logistical support that will be required to meet the "threat."

So when the New York Times revealed in 1992 some contents of Wolfowitz’s Defense Planning Guidance which "envisioned a future in which the United States could, and should, prevent any other nation or alliance from becoming a great power" – there was understandably quite a flap, here and abroad, in and out of government.

But surely Cheney-Wolfowitz shared the view of President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker and the Congress that nukes getting into the hands of terrorists was the Number One threat to our national security? Surely they were anxious to implement Nunn-Lugar as soon as possible, weren’t they?

Apparently not then. Not ever.

But, with Cheney-Wolfowitz gone from the Pentagon, surely incoming President Clinton could proceed to apply correctly and expeditiously the Nunn-Lugar solution to "loose nukes"; still widely acknowledged to be the Number One Threat to our national security – right?


For one thing, the Republicans soon took control of both Senate and House and many Republicans were not all that appalled at the Cheney Cabal vision.

As a result, of the billions of "Nunn-Lugar" dollars that have been appropriated over the years, the vast majority of it has been spent by the Pentagon – most of that going to American contractors – with only a small fraction ever being spent in Russia to prevent proliferation of nuclear materials, technology and scientists.

In addition, for the entourage that Clinton brought to power, our national security was not as important as world peace.

For that entourage and its fellow travelers, the thousands of nukes – yea, even the hundreds of nuclear power plants – in our hands were more of a threat to world peace than a few "loose" nukes in the hands of terrorists.

So, instead of pursuing nuke proliferation-prevention with the Russians, Clinton pursued, instead, "a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control" as required by Article VI of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

And if that wasn’t enough, taking a page from the Cheney-Wolfowitz 1992 grand strategy, Clinton – with the support of Congress – began pushing the boundaries of NATO eastward, toward the walls of the Kremlin.

Furthermore, at the urging of the Cheney Cabal and human-rights activists, Clinton – with the support of Congress – began bashing the Russians for their efforts to suppress Islamic terrorist activities in Chechnya.

Now, there could have been some good news. Iraq had agreed, as a condition of the Gulf War ceasefire, to accept UN Security Council sanctions and to allow the IAEA to preside over the complete destruction of all Iraqi nuclear programs, peaceful or otherwise.

By mid-1998, Director-General ElBaradei was able to report to the Security Council that Iraq’s nuclear program did not now pose a “threat to the peace in the region.” So, the Security Council should have removed some or all of the sanctions previously imposed.

But No! President Clinton – with the support of Congress – declared he would never allow sanctions to be lifted, despite the IAEA report that Iraq was in total compliance with its Safeguards Agreement, so long as Saddam Hussein was in power.

Consequently, over the Christmas Holidays, Clinton tried to effect regime change in Iraq from 20,000 feet, claiming he had "intelligence" that Saddam was conducting a nuke development program beneath the palaces he bombed.

Clinton further angered the Russians that year by attempting to achieve regime change in Kosovo-Bosnia from 20,000 feet, killing many thousands of Russia’s Slavic brethren, the Serbs, on the ground.

Worse, Pakistan surprised everyone that year by testing a half-dozen or so nuclear fission devices, just days after India – defying Clinton – had tested several of their own.

The prospect that the next India-Pakistani conflict would involve – thanks to Clinton – nukes was bad enough. But nuke-armed Pakistan openly supported the ruling Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan, and the Taliban openly provided refuge to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

What a mess.

So, there we were, eight years ago, thinking that if we Americans could only make the ‘right’ choices, the next President – working together with the next Congress – could clean up the mess Clinton and a complicit Congress had made of the world, thereby making it safe to once again go abroad carrying an American passport.

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.