America will survive the Obama administration, though it might test the limits of the patience of the divine providence that has protected the republic so far. The president wants to give us all a cheap thrill. That's the most generous explanation of his misadventure into nuclear policy.
The Democrats mock Sarah Palin's credentials for venturing into anything more serious than moose-hunting, but their man's lengthening record in dealing with the rest of the world gets scarier and scarier. His banging his head on the floor to bow deeply enough to foreign kings and potentates was infuriating, but by comparison relatively harmless, like his apology tour of the Middle East to reassure Islamic red-hots that we understand that crashing airplanes into skyscrapers and blowing up innocents are just the rituals of a religious cult that we have a duty to better understand.
Now he's getting into seriously important territory. His "Nuclear Posture Review," revealed this week, sets out for the first time that the United States "will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons [nations] that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty" - even if in answer to chemical, biological or cyber attacks." The president offers only a little of his hopey-changy to reassure doubters: he hopes the new policy will shame the rogue states pursuing the bomb into giving up their dreams of nuclear piracy.
Maybe there would be good reasons (though it's difficult to imagine what they would be) for restraint with Boston paralyzed by a million anthrax deaths or Los Angeles prostrate under a chemical cloud dealing death to half the population. But presidents before him understood the value of discretion and secrecy. Why tell prospective enemies what, exactly, you'll do in such circumstances? Such reticence would be difficult for a president in love with the sound of his voice, confident in his ability to make a speech so pretty that it would melt the hearts of the vilest villains. Keeping your mouth shut would be smarter strategy.
The president's friends and allies in the disarmament lobby, where arguments run to the arcane and theological, dismiss practical concerns, and some of them even say the change in policy doesn't actually mean very much. If the unthinkable happens, and Boston and Los Angeles (or Chicago and Houston) are laid waste by chemical or biological weapons, the president could always change his mind. A president beyond 2012 surely would. But the State Department or the National Security Agency would require 30 days to organize a task force, with a dozen study groups, to formulate a recommendation to the White House. By then we might all be dead.
Mr. Obama told the New York Times that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or the NPT, will not only reduce the American nuclear arsenal, but "outliers" like Iran and North Korea "should see that over the course of the last year and a half we have been executing a policy that will increasingly isolate them so long as they are operating outside of accepted international norms."
All this sounds very nice, and impressive to the editorial board of the New York Times and various think-tank "experts" who put their faith in paper promises. Nevertheless, that treaty hasn't changed much in the world where the rest of us live. India and Pakistan have joined Israel as members of the nuclear club since the treaty was introduced as the big idea to tame the ambitions of wicked nuclear bomb-throwers, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-il continue to mock the concerns of the West with jeer and insult.
But the worst of what Mr. Obama's latest feel-good initiative will do is to make him still smaller in the eyes of the enemies that he thinks the United States doesn't have. These adversaries, who may be evil but they aren't dumb, will conclude that they're not dealing with a president so much as a community activist who wandered into the White House on a nation's naive whim.
We've avoided World War III so far largely because the United States has been the ultimate guarantor of the security of most of the free world. This guarantee worked for 70 years because the free world believed the United States meant what it said. Now Mr. Obama would eliminate that trust and dismantle the guarantee. It's more of his vision of a Little America, neutered and pacific, like the neutered and pacific little nations of Europe. Some thrill.