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Dr. StrangeBush: Or How GWB Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb
March 13, 2002
By Richard Prasad

George W. Bush's new nuclear posture review brings to mind the scenario of Stanley Kubrick's masterwork: Doctor Stangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The only trouble is, Bush's contingency plans are real, and much more frightening.

For those of you who have never seen Doctor Strangelove, here is a brief summary of the story. The crew of a B52 bomber group mistakenly get the codes for something called Attack Plan R, which is a secret nuclear retaliation plan, after the Russians have already struck the US with nuclear weapons. Problem is, the Russians have not launched a nuclear attack, and our attack would be seen as a first strike on the Soviets.

Peter Sellers is very funny in a triple role. He plays the simple minded President of the United States who has obviously ceded too much power over to his Generals, Sellers also plays a British officer trying to get the nuclear recall codes from the Americans, and he finally plays Dr. Strangelove, a crazy, wheelchair bound Nazi scientist.

Well, the American President in Strangelove tries desperately to recall the B52 bombers, all the while being told by his Generals to enhance the nuclear strike. One of the Generals is played to the hilt of paranoia by a hilarious George C. Scott, if you can imagine George C. Scott being funny. The Generals believe that even if we do strike first by mistake, we should strike hard. Sellers as the President says, "It has never been the policy off the US to strike first with nuclear weapons."

I will not give away the ending of the movie, but the movie itself is full of references to the Cold War arms race that could also apply to the war on terrorism. For example, in Strangelove, the Russians build a doomsday machine because the Soviet premier heard the US was working on one and didn't want there to be a doomsday machine gap, an obvious reference to the "missile" gap feared in the Cold War. It is an extremely funny movie and may be portentous of things to come from the Bush Administration's Nuclear Posture Review.

The Nuclear Posture Review is a usually routine policy statement of where the US stands in terms of nuclear capability and readiness. On March 9th, details of the Bush Administration Nuclear Posture Review were obtained by the LA times. The gist of the new Bush Administration NPR is threefold. First, the US should work on building smaller tactical nuclear weapons, second, these weapons can be used to escalate conventional scenarios, like the Middle East Crisis, or North Korea and South Korea. Finally, and most incredibly, the new NPR explicitly names the countries these new tactical nukes are intended for. North Korea, Iran and Iraq, the infamous axis of evil, Libya, Syria, China and Russia.

Almost immediately Bush Administration officials defended the new policy. Condoleeza Rice said on one Sunday morning talk show, that this plan was meant as a deterrent not as a first us of nuclear weapons. Said Rice, in a masterful bit of Orwellian doublespeak, "We want to make the use of weapons of mass destruction less likely." Said Colin Powell on another Sunday talk show, "We think it's best for any potential adversary to have uncertainty in our calculus. In other words keep our enemies off balance, but does this not also keep our allies off balance as well?

The global reaction was predictable, if muted. According to a March 10 New York Times article, the Libyans reacted with shock. "I don't believe the US intends to destroy the world." A Libyan official said. There was no official comment from Russia as of March 10th. But the Iranians was more vitriolic in their response. "The US thinks that these 7 counties will give up their demands when faced with a great threat" said Iranian President Rafsanjani. Even one official of the British Liberal Party said, "This changes the terms of debate about nuclear deterrence."

It sure does. George W. Bush the simple minded American President, who has ceded much too much power to the Pentagon, has a problem on his hands, and it's worse than the one Peter Sellers faced in Dr. Strangelove. Whereas Sellers, as the American Presient in the movie, states clearly and unequivocally that the US does not believe in first use of nuclear weapons, George Bush's plan turns that notion on its head, saying that the US could use smaller tactical nuclear weapons in "unexpected contingencies" against the 7 countries mentioned above.

Could the new nuclear posture lead to a nuclear accident like outlined in Dr. Strangelove? Sure it could, smaller nukes easier to launch, out of the reach of a centralized launch structure, could lead to a definite possibility of an accidental nuclear war. But that is not the only reason why this policy is wrongheaded.

Preemptive launching of nuclear weapons is wrong for many reasons. It goes against the idea of a just war because the response is neither proportional or discriminating. Nuclear weapons if used, no matter how small or strategic they are said to be, will kill thousands of people, maybe more. Many of those people will be innocent men, women and children, and that's why after they were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have been used only as a threat and not as actual weapons.

This new nuclear posture also encourages what the Bush administration says it seeks to discourage. Nuclear proliferation. If these seven countries decide that the US is going to attack them preemptively, why shouldn't they develop nuclear weapons and use them first against America? If this policy leads to those thoughts by those counties that do not have nukes, this policy will lead to major worldwide destabilization.

Doctor Strangelove has invaded the White House and his name is Donald Rumsfeld. It is he after all who signed off on the new Nuclear Posture Review, with of course the tacit approval of the President, who sees things in dangerously black and white terms. The difference between the movie Doctor Strangelove and the Bush Administration is a stark one. The fictional president was trying to stop an accidental nuclear war. The real president seems driven to start an intentional nuclear war.

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