Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

WHAT REALLY MATTERS

We are inundated with absurdities, fatuities, insanities, and excrescences. Glen Beck and Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, Jon Kyl, Mitch McConnell, Michelle Bachman, the IPad, Tiger Woods ... there seems no end of them. Under the circumstances, it is perhaps understandable that really important things slide by without the degree of attention they deserve. One of those underappreciated matters of great moment is the decision just taken by Barack Obama to make a fundamental alteration in America's policy with regard to the use of nuclear weapons. The new nuclear use policy rules out the use of nuclear weapons in response to threats or attacks from non-nuclear nations, even if those threats or attacks involve biological or chemical weapons. To be sure, there is a qualifying clause excluding such nations as North Korea and Iran from this prohibition, but that is a small concession to what could be expected to be hysterical outrage from the right. This unilateral revision of U. S. policy, coupled with the recent bilateral agreement with Russia to reduce the numbers of nuclear warheads, and the potentially even more significant decision by the Obama Administration to stop the development of new generations of nuclear weapons, marks a fundamental reversal of a half century direction of policy evolution. It is more important than the health care reform package just signed into law, more important than financial regulatory reform or immigration reform or climate change legislation. Obama's action will significantly reduce the risk of nuclear exchanges or first-use nuclear attacks by the United States, and may even strengthen the effort to limit the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the nations who already possess them.

Unless you have been watching closely, you may not have grasped the real significance of the refusal to use nuclear weapons in response to chemical or biological attacks. The Bush Administration, in its effort to justify the unprovoked attack on Iraq, sought to portray Iraq as in possession of weapons of mass destruction [WMD] so dangerous that even the slenderest possibility of their use fully justified preemptive war. Now, despite the fantasies about yellowcake, which gave rise to the Joe Wilson mission and the outing of Valerie Plame, and the unconscionable allusions to mushroom clouds by the egregious Condoleezza Rice, there really was not any credible evidence that Saddam Hussein had, or had any prospect of acquiring, nuclear weapons. But he did have chemcial weapons. We knew that, not merely because we gave them to him, but because he was publicly acknowledged to have used them against Iran, and also against Kurdish dissidents in Northern Iraq.

The concept of "weapons of mass destruction" was introduced into the discourse about war and international relations in recognition of the quantum jump in destructive power over all previous weaponry achieved by even the relatively primitive 20 kiloton weapons used against Japan near the end of World War II. A single bomb did as much damage to Hiroshima as a sustained firebombing attack did to Dresden using what came to be called conventional weapons. Now, despite science fiction fantasies of Andromeda Strains, neither chemical nor biological weapons, when used, produce damage orders of magnitude greater than that produced by conventional weapons. Indeed, the only unconventionality regarding such weapons consist in the fact that they have, by and large, not been the weapons of choice of nations at war -- except, of course, for Iraq, and the United States, which used nuclear weapons in Japan and chemical weapons [Agent Orange] in Viet Nam. It was in World War I that a sustained use of chemical weapons occurred, and the experience on both sides of the trenches persuaded professional soldiers not to use them again.

Chemical and biological weapons, therefore, are not, properly speaking, "weapons of mass destruction." But they are weapons that Saddam was known to possess. So the Bush Adminiastration pulled a bait and switch on the American people, with the craven compliance of reporters of every political stripe. It bundled them together with nuclear weapons under the catch-all acronym WMD, so that it could combine the horrific prospect of nuclear weapons with the demonstrable Iraqi threat of chemical weapons. All that remained was to con Colin Powell into making his fantasy presentation to the United Nations, and the Senate caved.

By de-linking nuclear weapons from chemcial and biological weapons in his new nuclear use policy, Barrack Obama is implicitly putting the lie to the central Bush rationale for the Iraq war, and is reintroducing some measure of rationality into America's military stance.

This really is big news, folks.

Now, about the Duke victory over Butler.

3 comments:

Andrew said...

Great story and sitting here in a small liberal arts college getting ready to teach my seminar: this at least bought a smile to my face ---as our BoT plans to cut 10% of our tenure and tenure track faculty. Thanks, Professor Wolff.

Andrew said...

This was suppose to go under the next piece on the memory of the meeting about the PhD. Sorry about the error.

Ann said...

You're correct! I missed the significance of this policy innovation entirely!

So now what about opposition from the right? Are they O.K. with this toning down of U.S. military power, or just too busy promoting Sarah Palin on prime time TV? or happy enough that we are still doing battle in Afghanistan?