Trump channels Kennedy, Reagan on nukes

Donald Trump's critics seem to say that on one hand, our president-elect is going to give away the store to Vladimir Putin and on the other hand, provoke him into war.  Well, it can't be both, but judging from their reaction to Trump's tweet on modernizing and expanding our nuclear arsenal, they seem to be leaning to the latter at the moment.

Yet all Trump is saying, while borrowing the "peace through strength" slogan from President Ronald Reagan, is what Reagan said and Kennedy said in the constitutional context of defending us against foreign enemies. This contrasts with President Obama's mantra that weapons, not tyrants, cause wars, a theme he echoed when he visited Hiroshima, the site of the use of the first atomic bomb in war.

That our nuclear arsenal needs upgrading as Russia, China, and North Korea expand theirs, with Iran waiting in the wings, is beyond question.  As the Heritage Foundation notes in its publication The Daily Signal:

The United States is the only nuclear power that does not have a nuclear modernization program. The U.S. approach to the nuclear triad during the Cold War was different than that of today: Replacing weapons was routine, with updates occurring every decade. This is not true today.

The ICBMs, however, are not the only aging leg of the nuclear triad. The Navy has been relying on Ohio-class submarines for about 30 years. Its replacement is scheduled for the 2030s. The B-2 bomber has been in service for more than 14 years and the B-52 bomber for more than 50 years.

When it comes to modernizing nuclear weapons programs, other countries are not being timid. Russia is aggressively working on a new class of nuclear-capable submarines that have already begun sea trials.

President Reagan was once treated with the same apocalyptic disdain, dismissed as a Cold War cowboy ready to plunge us into a nuclear Armageddon. Yet his commitment to a U.S. nuclear and military buildup, including the Strategic Defense Initiative for missile defense, secured not only peace, but also victory in the Cold War.  As Investor's Business Daily noted, Reagan's response to Soviet belligerence in Europe and elsewhere was quite different from Obama's:

Crimea was Putin's Rhineland, and the sanctions involving travel restrictions on low-level oligarchs was laughable. Tyrants do not move swiftly. They test the waters. They nibble. They watch. Weakness and inaction only delay the inevitable.

When Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met Ronald Reagan in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986, he hoped the U.S. president would be willing to trade his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) away in exchange for arms-control agreements and vague promises of making nice with America.

Reagan refused to negotiate the SDI away. He opposed the proposed nuclear freeze and put Pershing missiles in Europe to counter the Soviet SS-20s that were targeted on Western Europe. He put America's security in the hands of American technology, not the goodwill of its enemies.

Would President Obama have dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima?  Probably not.

It wasn't quite an apology at Hiroshima, though some might argue that President Obama's mere presence at the site of the world's first use of nuclear weapons was itself an apology.  What it was is a reiteration of President Obama's mantra that  our weapons are the threat, whether guns or nukes, and not the criminals and tyrants who would use them against us.  As the New York Times reported his remarks:

We may not be able to eliminate man's capacity to do evil, so nations and the alliances that we form must possess the means to defend ourselves. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them[.] ...

And yet that is not enough. For we see around the world today how even the crudest rifles and barrel bombs can serve up violence on a terrible scale. We must change our mind-set about war itself. To prevent conflict through diplomacy and strive to end conflicts after they've begun.

This is a rehash of what he said in Prague  in October 2009:

So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons[.] ...

[T] he United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons. To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same.

Munich, Mr. President, was an attempt to "prevent conflict through diplomacy."  Appeasement, not any arms buildup, brought on World War II.  We ignored Hitler's global game plan, written in Mein Kampf, just as we ignored the plans of Imperial Japan.  We ignored Japan's aggression against China.  We ignored the rape of Nanking.  The road to Hiroshima began at Pearl Harbor.

World War II was not caused by our battleships, Mr. President.  It was caused by the ambitions of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.  We ignored them, just as your are ignoring the ambitions of Putin's Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

As Investor's Business Daily editorialized in 2013, it is the policy of "Peace Through Strength," not the absence of weapons that deters both war and aggression:

When Kennedy proclaimed "Ich bin ein Berliner" in June 1963, it was a statement of solidarity with the free people of West Berlin and a pledge of resistance to the tyranny that surrounded it. It was not an act of appeasement or a vain hope for peace in our time.

Similarly, Kennedy said in his 1961 inaugural address that "only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed."

The next year, Kennedy used our supremacy to make the Soviets blink during the Cuban missile crisis. Obama probably would have apologized for threatening Cuba.

Ronald Reagan, who in June 1987 stood in West Berlin to demand that Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall, spent his presidency rephrasing Kennedy's doctrine as "peace through strength." He built a 600-ship Navy, launched the Strategic Defense Initiative and, when Gorbachev in October 1986 in Iceland demanded he give it up, told him, "Nyet!"

The result was the Berlin Wall came down – and the Soviet Union with it.

It was Obama's vision of a "world without nuclear weapons" set out in a speech in Prague in 2009, three months into his presidency, that arguably earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. He ignored the fact that before 1945 we lived in such a world, and it was neither peaceful nor secure.

It is arguable that U.S. possession of nuclear weapons prevented World War III.  Obama  forgets that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the end result of murderous tyrants seeking to extinguish freedom and liberty throughout the world.  He forgets the Bataan death march, the rape of Nanking, and what the world would have been like if Japan had won or gotten the atomic bomb before we did.

It is not nuclear weapons that threaten us, but rather the tyrants and terrorists who would use them against us.  We are not threatened by French, British or Indian nukes.  We are threatened by those in the hands of China, Russia, and North Korea, and someday, thanks to his appeasement, Iran.

A world without nuclear weapons or a world without resistance to tyrants?  Putin knows full well Obama's weakness in responding to any foreign threat to U.S. interests and security.  President Obama has been the Neville Chamberlain of our era, promising "peace in our time" as he invites war with weakness, disarmament, apologies, and appeasement.  The Russians respect strength, and they will respect President-Elect Trump, just as they respected Kennedy and Reagan as they stared into their eyes and blinked.

Daniel John Sobieski is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor's Business Daily, Human Events, Reason Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.

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