Isolating the far-right on national security

ISOLATING THE FAR-RIGHT ON NATIONAL SECURITY…. Some fairly prominent conservative voices have tried to characterize the Obama administration’s recent efforts on nuclear arms — a new treaty with Russia, a shift in the Nuclear Posture Review — as some kind of radical and dangerous step. One right-wing member of Congress went so far as to suggest the moves were evidence of President Obama deliberately betraying the nation.

It’s been interesting, then, to see some GOP officials move in the other direction. Nicholas Burns, for example, served as undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Bush/Cheney administration*. Last week, Burns praised the Obama White House:

“The president is clearly signaling that we are really decades away now from the end of the Cold War,” he said. “That the real threats are no longer just those nuclear weapons states that bedeviled us in the past but they’re the terrorist groups, and they’re the renegade states like Iran and North Korea that are truly disruptive and a threat to the world.

“It seems to me that this new nuclear policy review by the Obama Administration strengthens the ability to the United States to counter that threat and safeguard American interests.”

What’s more, Christopher Ford served as U.S. special representative for nuclear nonproliferation under George W. Bush. He told ABC News that he’s not fully persuaded by Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review, but conceded that the policy is better than he expected it to be.

Ford … applauded the president’s focus — as evidenced by this week’s summit — on keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.

“This actually represents a very specific continuity in U.S. policy. Make no mistake, there are bad guys out there trying to acquire these technologies and they have no scruples whatsoever,” he said. “I think that the Obama administration is quite right to focus heavily upon nuclear terrorism. One might quarrel as to whether the risk of nuclear attack as we are told is actually higher than say during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that’s nitpicking. The bottom line is quite simple: This is an area that has and deserves broad bipartisan support in the U.S. political context.”

It’s a reminder of a larger dynamic we’ve seen repeatedly over the last year or so — the major national security and foreign policy fights do not necessary pit left vs. right, or Democrats vs. Republicans. Rather, they pit the American mainstream against what’s become of contemporary conservativism.

In the case of nuclear policy, President Obama is being attacked by far-right personalities like Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and assorted right-wing members of Congress. The White House’s approach has been endorsed, meanwhile, by the Secretary of Defense, the chairman and vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and top officials from the Bush and Reagan administrations.

We’ve seen this same dynamic — Obama and the mainstream vs. confused conservative clowns — again and again, on everything from Iran to civilian trials to Gitmo to torture.

And yet, we’re apparently supposed to take Giuliani, Palin, and Gingrich seriously.

* Clarification: For the record, Nicholas Burns worked in the Bush administration, but he is not, and has never been, a Republican.