As in previous addresses about things nuclear, President Bush seemed to be struggling not to laugh this morning as he pronounced the words "nuclear" and "proliferators" during his brief news conference. Undoubtedly, like the infamous "where's the WMD" video he filmed for the Washington press corps, his difficulty with pronouncing those words correctly is a subject of great White House mirth. As usual, Americans watched in dread as our president struggled to put the interest of the nation and the world above his own urgent narcissistic instincts and it was a relief when he concluded without having giggled aloud.
The Bush administration's carelessness over nuclear weapons extends far beyond the president's inability to pronounce the words "nuclear" and "proliferators." In the march to war in Iraq, the administration effectively trivialized them by lumping them with unconventional biological and chemical weapons, which kill limited numbers of people in confined spaces. A nuclear bomb is the only true weapon of mass destruction.
The administration has spoken repeatedly of developing new nuclear bombs, for use as bunker busters, and has effectively threatened Iran with a nuclear strike by leaking "plans" of such a strike to the press. Those positions are abhorrent to the entire world, not least because the United States is the only nation ever to have used nuclear bombs in war.
President Bush and key advisors allowed the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network to operate for nearly three years without intervention, according to a February 13, 2006, article in the New Yorker, written by Steve Coll and unfortunately unavailable on the Internet. The administration chose to monitor the network, from early 2001 to late 2003, rather than shut it down, according to Coll. Perhaps that decision made good sense from an intelligence perspective, but in light of Iran and North Korea's success in acquiring nuclear technology from Khan and the international crises that have resulted, Americans deserve more information about, and a justification for, that decision. It is ironic that, while the administration foisted fake intel on the American public about aluminum rods and yellow cake uranium in Iraq, it may have been monitoring a real, ongoing transfer of nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
Radiation and seismic signature studies will have to be concluded, perhaps as early as this evening, before the world knows whether North Korea actually conducted a nuclear test or not. Ironically, the international Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that would have allowed nations to quickly confirm the test has not been ratified and awaits the signature of both the United States and North Korea. A confirmation of the test would mean that one of the world's most dangerous and unpredictable dictators now has the world's deadliest weapon. It is an announcement the world awaits with dread.