This month, former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta – he of minimal loyalty to his bosses — published his memoir “Worthy Fights,” in which he criticizes Obama’s national security strategies and in particular how the administration has dealt with Iraq and Syria.
In his book, Panetta decries the “Red line” debacle of 2012 when President Obama said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a “red line for us.” Panetta suggests that Obama’s failure to enforce the red line, when chemical weapons really were used a year later, undermined U.S. credibility amongst Syrians and the rest of the world.
Ironically, Panetta’s book makes a serious semantic blunder of its own when Northeast Asian news outlets took a keen interest in this sentence:
“If North Korea moved across the border, our war plans called for the senior American general on the peninsula to take command of all U.S. and South Korean forces and defend south Korea – including by the use of nuclear weapons, if necessary.”
The sentence garnered attention from South Korean media and even prompted a response from Pyongyang, which promised to bolster their nuclear deterrent to counter the U.S. policies toward North Korea.
World order hanging in the balance of your every word is pretty difficult, isn’t it, Mr. Panetta?
The importance of rhetoric cannot be overplayed. Need you be reminded of the infamous “16 words” (“the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”) spoken by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address that were used to justify war in Iraq.
Or Ronald Reagan’s joke before a Saturday radio address: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”
Panetta’s words are alarmist. Threatening the use of nuclear weapons in the event of a conventional attack only heightens the importance of these weapons that should only serve as a nuclear deterrent.
If there is a North Korean conventional attack on South Korea, the United States has ample non-nuclear means at its disposal to respond. According to Lt. General (USA, Ret.) Robert G. Gard, Jr., Chair of the Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation, U.S. conventional weapons would be sufficient to defend South Korea from North Korean forces.
Gard writes, “Stopping the attack of poorly trained and ill-equipped North Korean forces does not require the use of nuclear weapons.”
He goes on to say, “Should North Korea be able to bypass the demilitarized zone by moving some troops by air or through tunnels into South Korea, an option that has been threatened, they obviously would have to be killed or captured by conventional means. Employing nuclear weapons in densely populated South Korea brings to memory the parallel concept of destroying a city in order to save it. And since the war plan for defense of South Korea envisions invading North Korea and seizing Pyongyang, the capitol, attacking the North with nuclear weapons would endanger our own troops, as well as causing massive casualties on the long-suffering North Korean population.
“There is no justification for threatening to break the generally accepted barrier between the use of conventional high explosive munitions and nuclear weapons in the defense of South Korea. The only practical utility of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter their use by other nations against our vital national interests and, by extension, against our allies,” concluded Gard.
Perhaps Panetta’s ill-considered words deserve the old bar of soap to the mouth treatment a la Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.”