Tad Daley

Why did the first humans to set foot off Planet Earth plant the flag of only part of Planet Earth?

On July 20, 1979, the tenth anniversary of Apollo 11, a Cincinnati reporter asked Neil Armstrong how he felt saluting the American flag from the surface of the moon. “I suppose you're thinking about pride and patriotism,” he replied. “But we didn't have a strong nationalistic feeling at that time. We felt more that it was a venture of all mankind."

Keep reading... Show less

Why the late US Senator and JFK confidant Harris Wofford believed the human race could someday abolish war by establishing a 'United States of the World'

“Count no man happy until he dies,” declared Sophocles 24 long centuries ago, in the immortal final line of Oedipus Rex.The sages of ancient Greece understood that the purpose, the meaning, the verdict on a life couldn’t be rendered until after it had run its course – and perhaps not until decades or centuries later.

Keep reading... Show less

What If the Bomb Warning Text Message in Hawaii Hadn’t Been a False Alarm?

Did you even know, before last Saturday, that if the Button were pushed, the apocalypse was nigh and nuclear doom was enroute…that you would receive a text message first? Mudslides and tsunamis and Amber Alerts, sure. But an Armageddon Alert?

Keep reading... Show less

Why Not 'A Global Anthem,' Donald Trump? Who Does 'Represent the World,' Steve Bannon?

“We will serve the citizens of the United States of America, believe me,” said President Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 24th. “There is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency, or a global flag.” Four days later, in his first speech before a joint session of Congress, he continued, “My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America.”

Keep reading... Show less

50 Years Later, JFK's Vision of Enduring World Peace Eclipsed by Focus on Assassination

In the wake of the extraordinary media focus on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, and on the search to define his legacy, a significant element was overlooked: the story of a young congressman joining in a legislative initiative to advance no less than the solution to the problem of war. It is an initiative Kennedy pursued again in a major address in his creative last season as president.

Keep reading... Show less

Ban the Bomb!

Several months ago, even the most politically engaged Americans had probably never heard of either the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Keep reading... Show less

How Reagan Brought the World to the Brink of Nuclear Destruction

As Ronald Reagan is lionized this month to commemorate the centennial of his birth, it ought to be recalled that Reagan’s presidency brought America and the world to the brink of infinite peril. President Reagan’s nuclear buildup and nuclear saber-rattling so increased the temperatures inside the pressure cooker of the Cold War that it seemed likely to blow its lid at any moment – splattering everyone standing in the kitchen of Planet Earth. In retrospect, what might have done more than anything else to prevent such an atomic eruption was much the same thing we are seeing in Tahrir Square in Egypt at this very hour. A million outraged citizens, gathering together in one of the most important public spaces in the land, and saying, simply, "no more."

Keep reading... Show less

How Much Do You Know About the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

The year 2008 was filled with anniversary commemorations and remembrances of the many epochal historic events that had taken place four decades earlier, during the seminal year of 1968. The Tet offensive in Vietnam, which for the first time caused many Americans to comprehend that this was a war we might actually lose. The assassination of Martin Luther King, and the riots that ensued around the country. The assassination of leading presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy two months later. The melee at the Chicago Democratic convention. The Mexico City Olympics, and the black power salutes of Tommie Smith and John Carlos. The tumultuous three-way November presidential election and the victory of Richard M. Nixon. And – at the very end of the year, on Christmas Eve – the flight of Apollo 8 from the earth to the moon, and the first view that any humans had ever been granted of our single, borderless, breathtaking planet, lonely and fragile and whole, suspended among the blazing stars.

Keep reading... Show less

Space Travel: The Path to Human Immortality?

On December 31st, 1999, National Public Radio interviewed the futurist and science fiction genius Arthur C. Clarke. Since the author had forecast so many of the 20th Century's most fundamental developments, the NPR correspondent asked Clarke if anything had happened in the preceding 100 years that he never could have anticipated. "Yes, absolutely," Clarke replied, without a moment's hesitation.  "The one thing I never would have expected is that, after centuries of wonder and imagination and aspiration, we would have gone to the moon ... and then stopped."

Keep reading... Show less

The Race to Save L.A. from Nuclear Terror

I once asked a journalist friend, who had been chained inside the courtroom every single day of the O.J. Simpson trial, the obvious question. "Did he do it?" Or had the LAPD, instead, planted a boatload full of fake "evidence," in an effort to frame the famous defendant?

"How do you know," she replied, "that it wasn't both?"

These days, working as a policy wonk on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, I am sometimes asked whether the danger of nuclear terror is "real" -- or whether, instead, certain modern-day Machiavellis are manipulating our most nightmarish fears, to promote their own cynical political agendas.

"How do you know," I am inclined to reply, "that it isn't both?"

Nuclear Terror -- Mission Impossible?

During the Cold War, it became commonplace to observe that "mutually assured destruction," or MAD, was surely the most appropriate acronym in human history. But I have always preferred the label given to fun characters like me who study these things, "nuclear use theorists," whom one can hardly resist acronyming as NUTS.

The NUTS today usually identify four broad scenarios that can loosely be called "nuclear terror." (This is the framework adopted, for example, by the excellent 2005 book The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism by Charles D. Ferguson and William C. Potter.)

In one, perpetrators obtain -- through theft, bribery, a paramilitary operation, pick your poison -- an intact nuclear warhead. There are probably more than 25,000 worldwide. Then, they find a way to transport it to a "high-value target" (e.g., a large American city). Then, they find a way to set it off. The sudden and unexpected vaporization of a major American city, without any warning whatsoever, by your everyday garden-variety nuclear warhead, would kill tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, possibly even more than a million. All in the blink of an eye, the snap of a finger, the single beat of a human heart. Many thousands more would die slow and agonizing deaths from radiation poisoning in the weeks that followed -- and all our modern medical marvels will do little even to alleviate their suffering, let alone to save their lives.

It could also plunge the planet into a worldwide depression. It could plunge the U.S. into martial law. It could plunge the nation into military responses -- without evidence any state was behind the dastardly deed -- that could take us from nuclear terror to nuclear war. In which case, the death and devastation would increase by a factor of 10. Or 100. Or more. (Khrushchev famously observed that after a nuclear exchange, "the survivors will envy the dead.")

In another scenario, perpetrators obtain -- through similar methods -- weapons-usable plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU). (The latter is far more likely, since HEU is easier to handle, easier to procure, and easier to design a bomb around.) Then they manage to assemble it into a crude nuclear device, transport it to the target (unless they had actually built it in, oh, a warehouse in Culver City), and set it off. If successfully constructed with a large enough yield, such an act could have identical consequences.

In another scenario, perpetrators attack or sabotage a nuclear power plant, causing not a nuclear explosion but a release of radioactivity. Such an act could kill thousands, and contaminate hundreds of square miles for many years to come.

Finally, perpetrators obtain a bit of radioactive material, assemble a conventional explosive around it, and set it off in a concentrated urban area -- discharging radioactivity in all directions. That's the "dirty bomb" you have heard so much about. While such a bomb could kill hundreds, contaminate several square miles, and impose a widespread psychological shock, its consequences would be nothing like those of an actual nuclear explosion.

Our focus today is on the first two scenarios. They are probably less likely than the last two scenarios. Nevertheless, they are enormously, almost inconceivably, more catastrophic.

In a disturbing article in the November/December 2006 issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Peter D. Zimmerman and Jeffrey G. Lewis constructed a chillingly plausible nuclear terror scenario. Zimmerman and Lewis argued that such a project could be undertaken by as few as 19 terrorist operatives, including a few nuclear physicists, a few expert machinists, an experienced metallurgist, perhaps one or two ballistics specialists, and perhaps a couple of electrical engineers. This team, the authors claim, in the space of a year, for a cost of less than $5.5 million, could easily construct the kind of simple gun-like device that killed more than 100,000 people at Hiroshima.

But only if, first, they had managed to procure the necessary HEU. Is that possible? Let's ask Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. In a speech in Munich in February, he said that his agency tackles 150 cases of illicit nuclear trafficking every year. Some of the material reported stolen has never been recovered, he said, and "a lot of the material recovered has never been reported stolen."

Right next to Foreign Policy on the newsstands that same month, in the November/December 2006 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nick Schwellenbach and Peter D.H. Stockton presented a terrifying new nuclear nightmare. Suicide terrorists might launch a lightning paramilitary operation on an American nuclear facility, barricade themselves inside, and quickly improvise a nuclear detonation right there. How? Unbelievably, simply by holding 100 pounds of HEU six feet above a similar mass, and letting go -- giving disturbing new meaning to the phrase "dropping the atom bomb." Luis Alvarez, Nobel Laureate in Physics, said famously more than two decades ago, "With modern weapons-grade uranium, terrorists, if they have such material, would have a good chance of setting off a high-yield explosion simply by dropping one half of the material onto the other half. Most people seem unaware that if separated U-235 is at hand, it's a trivial job to set off a nuclear explosion."

But surely, the American nuclear laboratories must be among the most extraordinarily secured facilities anywhere on the planet! If there are any American assets that we can guarantee terrorists will never infiltrate, it must be these, right?

Not according to the people responsible for testing such security. In 2004, a U.S. government team of mock terrorists breached the boundaries of Oak Ridge, and managed to "kill" the entire lab security force in 90 seconds. Similar episodes have apparently taken place at Los Alamos as well. Richard Levernier, who led several such mock attacks there, says, "In more than 50 percent of our tests ... we got in, captured the plutonium, got out again, and in some cases didn't fire a shot because we didn't encounter any guards." That astonishing revelation suggests the "dropping the bomb" scenario needn't take place in a nuclear lab. It could just as easily be done in that Culver City garage.

Osama bin Laden: Scratching a Nuclear Itch

Osama bin Laden's thirst for the atom bomb dates back at least to 1992, when he reportedly tried to purchase nuclear materials in South Africa. Al Qaeda operatives have apparently sought intact nuclear warheads from both Chechen separatists and Pakistani scientists -- the latter most alarmingly in a chilling meeting in Afghanistan just weeks prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001. American troops in Afghanistan discovered drawings of rudimentary nuclear devices in Al Qaeda sanctuaries. The 9/11 Commission concluded, "Al Qaeda has tried to acquire or make nuclear weapons for at least 10 years [...] and continues to pursue its strategic goal of obtaining a nuclear capability."

After his organization had murdered nearly 3,000 innocent souls on 9/11, Al Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith alleged that American policies, over the decades, had killed many more Muslims than that. He then drew what was for him a logical conclusion: "We have not yet reached parity with them. We have the right to kill four million Americans -- two million of them children."

Al Qaeda, of course, has its share of internal dissensions and disagreements. Lawrence Wright, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his masterful study The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, discussed some of them in the June 2 issue of The New Yorker. Wright described an ideological and theological civil war inside the worldwide terrorist organization. He pointed to the transformation of longtime bin Laden colleague Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, known as "Dr. Fadl," who -- writing from an Egyptian prison -- now conclusively rejects all Islamic justification for Al Qaeda's terror attacks, and also insists that 9/11 itself was, on balance, "a catastrophe for Muslims."

However, it scarcely needs saying that complete internal unity and ideological unanimity are hardly essential to pulling off a successful nuclear terror attack on an American city. Zimmerman and Lewis say that no more than 19 individuals could pull it off! Few things could be more fatuous than to read the reports of investigative journalists like Wright and conclude that because some within the jihadist world have foresworn the terrorist road, no one else remains on the march.

MAD World

The United States has immense military capabilities, including thousands of nuclear weapons of unimaginable destructive power. Surely, our massive nuclear arsenal will cause bin Laden, and his acolytes or imitators, to rethink aspirations for nuclear mass murder, and to step back from the atomic abyss. Won't it?

Of course not.

Because our nuclear weapons, and our nuclear doctrines, are all directed at the power of states. And Al Qaeda is not a state. Osama bin Laden does not control any territory. Terrorists are non-state actors. And our vast, bristling nuclear arsenal can do nothing, absolutely nothing, to deter a non-state actor.

There are at least five fundamental reasons why this is so.

First, if the terrorist does not control any territory, then there is no infrastructure, no capital city, no place to threaten to retaliate against. This is the crucial difference between Osama bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. For all the current turmoil about the mere possibility that Iran might someday acquire a few nuclear weapons, it is inconceivable that Ahmadinejad could ever actually use one, without ensuring both personal and national suicide. But bin Laden does not face such a constraint. Mohamed ElBaradei, in his February 2008 speech in Munich, stated this as clearly as anyone. "This, to me, is the most danger we are facing today," he said. "Because any country, even if they have nuclear weapons, would continue to have a rational approach. They know if they use a nuclear weapon, they will be pulverized. For an extremist group, there is no concept of deterrence. If they have it, they will use it."

Second, if the terrorists are not traditional "rational actors" wanting to preserve their own lives, then threatening them with nuclear obliteration is no discouragement at all. As we saw on 9/11, and in many horrific terrorist episodes since, many are quite willing to commit suicide to serve their odious aims.

Third, if the terrorist does want to preserve his own life and we seek to deter him by threatening to kill him, we can do that in any conceivable circumstance with conventional weaponry alone.

Fourth, we may not know where the perpetrators are. After all, we still cannot locate bin Laden nearly seven years after the horror of 9/11. Finally, we may not even know who the perpetrators are. Some terror attacks in recent years have been followed by no claims of responsibility at all. Imagine it's the day after, the month after, the year after the sudden vanishing of an American city, and we never get any idea at all who did it.

The U.S. Army didn't protect us on 9/11. The U.S. Air Force didn't protect us on 9/11. The U.S. Navy, with its 11 "aircraft carrier battle groups" (no other country has even one), didn't protect us on 9/11. And the thing that protected us the least on 9/11 was our swollen atomic stockpile, our so-called "nuclear deterrent," our arsenal of the apocalypse. More than 10,000 American nuclear warheads, of incomprehensible destructive force. And they failed utterly to deter 19 men armed with box cutters. Nor will they deter the nuclear terrorists.

What are we going to do, threaten to fire a nuclear cruise missile through the balcony window of their $750-a-month bachelor apartment in suburban Las Vegas?

"My City Was Gone"

The Los Angeles office of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR, the American affiliate of my own organization, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize) projected the results of an atomic warhead the size of the Hiroshima bomb -- about 15 kilotons -- detonating at noon on a weekday in downtown Los Angeles. They concluded that more than 117,000 people would perish instantly, more than 15,000 more would die within a few hours, and more than 96,000 after that would slowly wither away.

Similarly, the RAND Corporation released a study in August 2006 calculating the effects of a 10-kiloton device exploding shortly after unloading onto a pier at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the busiest in the United States. They concluded that 60,000 people would die at once, 150,000 would be directly exposed to hazardous radiation, and 2 to 3 million would have to relocate immediately because their homes would be hopelessly contaminated.

However, many of the city-busting hydrogen bombs produced during the protracted Cold War, and still in service today, are far more potent than 10 or 15 kilotons. Like 170 kilotons. Like the 550 kiloton warhead still quite common in the Russian arsenal. Like the B-83, America's largest warhead today, at 1,200 kilotons (1.2 megatons). That's about 100 times the explosive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

You can raise those PSR and RAND casualty estimates accordingly.

The aspiring nuclear terrorists are probably not in a hurry. Time is on their side. Everything we have learned since 9/11 about those in the inner circles of terror indicates that they are tough, smart, implacably dedicated, and in it for the long haul. (Recall the enormous flap when television host Bill Maher, immediately after 9/11, asserted that men who rationally chose to slam themselves into concrete buildings could hardly be called cowards.)

That is not to say that a successful nuclear terror attack will be easy for aspiring nuclear terrorists to make happen. Many may try but fall short along the way. But if those who aspire to pull off the necessary sequence of events fail 999 times out of 1,000, but manage just a single time to obtain an atom bomb, or to build an atom bomb, and then to transport it into the heart of a large American city, we lose. "You have to be lucky every single time," the Irish Republican Army used to say. "We have to be lucky just once."

So is there anything we can do to prevent the nightmare of nuclear terror? Indeed. There are answers in the short term, answers in the medium term, and answers -- most importantly -- in the long term. Because the only long-term solution to the threat of nuclear terror -- and to all the other worrisome nuclear scenarios we can conjure -- is the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Short Term Fixes

In the short term, we must do everything possible to ensure that no nuclear warheads or materials find their way into the clutches of Al Qaeda or anyone else with similar mass murder ambitions.

Michael Levi's important 2007 book On Nuclear Terrorism provides grounds for optimism. The physicist argues that nuclear terror will likely be quite a bit more difficult to pull off than some (often with political motives) have argued. Levi argues that while the "lucky every time/lucky once" framework is not untrue when considered over the course of many plots, each individual plot can be tackled from precisely the opposite perspective. The aspiring nuclear terrorists, he argues, have to succeed at every step of a complex and difficult process. The authorities, on the other hand, only need to nab them once. Consequently, Levi advocates a systematic, interactive, many-layered strategy of prevention, one that integrates "controls over nuclear materials and weapons, military power, diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, border security, and consequence management," all seeking to disrupt the aspiring nuclear terrorist at many potential chokepoints along the way.

For all our worries about North Korea, Iran, and the several states that may eventually follow their lead, priority number one in the nuclear terror realm has to be Russia. Russia today has several thousand nuclear weapons, and hundreds of tons of nuclear material, at perhaps as many as 250 sites. "The actual amount of weapon-usable nuclear material in Russia," says national security expert Joseph Cirincione, "may not even be known by the Russian government." In 1997, retired Soviet General Alexander Lebed claimed that when the USSR unraveled at the end of 1991, Soviet authorities lost track of more than 100 nuclear weapons roughly the size of a suitcase. Lebed's widely publicized claim has never been conclusively confirmed or refuted. But what he put forth was hardly an implausible scenario.

The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, instituted almost immediately after the December 1991 dissolution of the USSR to help secure the late Soviet Union's enormous nuclear arsenal, has done much to diminish these dangers. So too has the more recent U.S. Global Threat Reduction Initiative, a program established in 2004 to secure dangerous materials of Soviet or other origin which found their way into civilian nuclear programs of other countries. And the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, which George Bush and Vladimir Putin unveiled together at the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg in July 2006, is another promising step. But the pace of all of them has been slow, much remains to be done, and it is difficult to understand why anything should be considered a better investment in national security than programs like these.

Russia is not the only country where we have to worry about loose nuclear weapons and materials. The long history of transfers of nuclear technology and knowledge by the now infamous A.Q. Khan network certainly suggests that Pakistan, or particular Pakistani individuals, could serve as a source for aspiring nuclear terrorists. The martial law declared by President Pervez Musharraf in late 2007, followed soon thereafter by the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and subsequent electoral setbacks for Musharraf, set off a flurry of commentaries about the worrisome nuclear chaos inside Pakistan that -- still -- might ensue.

Of course, enhancing port and border safeguards in the United States must remain a perpetually high priority. The Bush administration, commendably, has made considerable progress in this regard since September 11, 2001. Before 9/11, not a single container crossing our border was screened for radioactivity. Today, more than 80 percent are.

Still, the sheer volume of global commerce makes this job almost impossibly big. To find smuggled nuclear materials in the vast sea of consumer goods shipped by container around the world is to seek the proverbial needle in a haystack. An article in the October 2006 issue of Risk Analysis magazine reported the results of a rigorous statistical evaluation of U.S. container screening capabilities, and concluded, "The likelihood that the current screening system would detect a shielded nuclear weapon is quite low (around 10 percent)."

So it is beyond naive to imagine that these kinds of short-term steps, no matter how elaborate, can forestall the fateful day forever. Strict controls over all things nuclear may well save us in the short term. But in the medium term, we need to reduce not just the availability of nuclear weapons and materials, but also the motivations for nuclear terror.

Medium Range Ballistic Missions

Western leaders would do well to recall that the very first word in the very first work of Western literature, Homer's Iliad, is menis. Anger. Wrath. Rage.

During the Vietnam War, it was often said that every time we killed a Viet Cong guerrilla, we created two more. Isaac Newton's laws of action and reaction do not apply only to billiard balls. The Bush administration has consistently rejected any suggestion that we consider what might motivate impressionable young Muslim men to show up on Al Qaeda's doorstep. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan blithely dismissed the "truce" that Osama bin Laden floated on January 19, 2006, indicating that President Bush had given it not a nanosecond's consideration. "We do not negotiate with terrorists," he said. "We put them out of business."

But can't we be more in the international arena than a hammer looking for nails? Do Americans have even a clue about the depth of the bitterness, the scale of the humiliations, the extent of the resentments simmering around the planet toward us? George Bush's foreign policies have made us new foreign enemies. George Bush's defense policies have weakened our defenses. George Bush's responses to 9/11 have made future 9/11's -- possibly far worse than the original 9/11 -- far more likely to occur.

So much for Republicans being "strong on defense."

There are undoubtedly hard-core terror types out there who are determined to attack us no matter what. Obviously, we must do everything we can to prevent them from acting, and to make sure that we get them before they get us.

But thousands more out there are still thinking about it. Thousands of young Muslim men are on the fence. They have perhaps spent their childhoods in madrasa Islamic religious schools. Their families have lived in poverty for as long as anyone can remember. They are unemployed and idle. They are looking for some purpose in life, some meaning, perhaps even some cause worth dying for.

The next president must do more than simply threaten these potential perpetrators, if we want to dissuade them from marching down the dead end terrorist road. Perhaps we could talk in a serious way about global economic inequality, about the cultural humiliations arguably at the root of the so-called "clash of civilizations." We might actually seek to dry up some of the swamps of hopelessness, exploitation, and despair around the world. We might offer the dispossessed some rewards for the better choice, some hope and opportunity, some promise of full participation in a prosperous and peaceful global civilization. We might act on the world stage with a little less hubris and a little more humility. We might recall the admonition of Abraham Lincoln as our Civil War wound to its bitter close, when he said, "The only lasting way to eliminate an enemy is to make him your friend."

And he was a Republican.

But even these kinds of steps, important though they are, are unlikely to save us indefinitely from the nightmare of nuclear terror. We need to do more than prevent the bad guys from gaining access to nuclear devices in the short term. We need to do more too than reduce the motivations for seeking access to nuclear devices in the medium term. In the long term, our only real hope for saving ourselves from the nightmare of nuclear terror is to get rid of the nuclear weapons themselves. Every last one.

The Long and Winding Road

Some call it "America's nuclear hypocrisy," others the "nuclear double standard," others still "nuclear narcissism." Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad often calls it "nuclear apartheid."

Why is it that some countries can possess thousands of nuclear weapons without a whisper of comment, while when others aspire to even one, it generates a torrent of righteous indignation? What's the principle? What's the argument?

It is never said. And it cannot last.

The Reverend William Sloane Coffin, one of the great peace activists of the 20th century, who died in 2006, liked to quote Mahatma Gandhi, who said, "A fat man cannot speak persuasively to a skinny man about the virtues of not overeating." To much of the rest of the world, the nuclear double standard appears sanctimonious and self-righteous, and based on the notion that some are responsible enough to be "trusted" with these weapons of the apocalypse, while others are not.

President Bush himself, perhaps unwittingly, often manages to let slip this conceit of cultural superiority. "We owe it to our children," he said in August of 2002, "to free the world from weapons of mass destruction in the hands of those who hate freedom." "We cannot allow the world's most dangerous men," he insisted at the end of 2005, "to get their hands on the world's most dangerous weapons."

Here, surely, we have the most candid, unvarnished answer to the $64,000 nuclear question. Some are rational, sober, righteous ... and hence can be trusted with the nuclear prize. Others are simply too "dangerous," or not sufficiently "freedom loving," to be permitted the same.

And who will decide? Who will render subjective, ad hoc, case-by-case verdicts on whether certain leaders or peoples can be trusted with nuclear weapons? Who will serve as prosecutor, judge, jury, and enforcer? Why the Freedom Lovers, of course, in whose hands nuclear weapons already reside.

The nuclear double standard is militarily unnecessary, morally indefensible, and politically unsustainable. Try to imagine the human community in 2018, or 2045, or 2077, with the same small group of "great powers" still clinging to the nuclear chimera, still insisting that nuclear weapons are vital for their own national security but unnecessary for the national security of others. Then try to imagine all the other states in the world just placidly and permanently acquiescing to that -- no bitterness, no resentment, no aspirations to challenge the nuclear status quo and obtain a few nuclear weapons of their own.

The mere act of performing such a thought experiment demonstrates the wild improbability that such a future history might ever come to pass. If we refuse forever to relinquish our nuclear weapons, then we had better get used to a world not with nine nuclear weapon states, as today, but 18, or 45, or 77. That world will provide that many more opportunities for just one really bad nuclear warhead to find its way into the hands of just one group of really bad guys. And what will that mean for us, for Los Angeles?

It will mean we will simply have to await our fate, our date with our nuclear terror destiny.

A comprehensive nuclear policy agenda, one fully integrating non-proliferation with disarmament, should become the most important immediate foreign policy priority for the new president who takes office on January 20, 2009. Such a policy agenda should contain many of the kinds of short- and medium-term steps described above to diminish the danger of nuclear terror.

But that nuclear policy agenda should also state, unambiguously, that we are committed to the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons -- ours and everyone else's. It must describe abolition not as some utopian fantasy, but instead as a concrete political goal. And it should begin to discern the path, and commence negotiations, toward a universal, verifiable, and enforceable Nuclear Weapons Convention requiring the phased dismantling and destruction of every nuclear weapon on Planet Earth, imposing strict worldwide controls with rigorous international inspection provisions over all things nuclear, and legally prohibiting nuclear weapons from ever being constructed again.

Our best shot at dodging the nuclear terror bullet forever is to get serious, now, about moving toward a nuclear-weapon- free world.

An Inconvenient Choice

On January 15, 2008, four lions of the American foreign policy establishment -- Sam Nunn, William Perry, George Shultz, and Henry Kissinger -- authored a landmark opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, calling not just for greater attention to the nuclear peril, but also for "turning the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a practical enterprise among nations." This call to action from such mainstream figures, has, by all accounts, transformed the nuclear policy debate, and in a stroke expanded the parameters of political possibility. "The goal of a world free of nuclear weapons is like the top of a very tall mountain," said the authors. "From the vantage point of our troubled world today, we can't even see the top of the mountain, and it is tempting and easy to say we can't get there from here."

Yet not only has the top of that mountain been painted in fine detail, but so too has the path we might take to march upward toward the summit. In 2007, a broad coalition of scientists, international lawyers, disarmament experts, and anti-nuclear organizations issued Securing Our Survival: The Case for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (available at www.ippnw.org). This extraordinary document contains an actual draft of a model nuclear weapons abolition treaty, with extensive commentary on both the components therein and on alternative processes by which it might come into being. It provides perhaps the best description yet both of what a nuclear- weapon-free world might actually look like, and how we might actually get from here to there.

The American government can choose to go down something like the path advocated here. If it does not, the American people will probably simply have to await their fate. Walt Kelly's Pogo, in another context, said famously, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." Today, in this context, we might say that we have met the victims of the device that we ourselves unleashed upon the world. And they are us.

We are the ones who devised these weapons in the past. We are the ones contemplating the use of these weapons in the present (several credible news reports have revealed that war planners in the bowels of the Pentagon have considered not just a preemptive military strike on Iran, but a preemptive nuclear strike). We are the ones who vaingloriously insist that we -- but not others -- must perpetually possess these weapons indefinitely into the future.

And now, in what must surely be one of the greatest ironies in all of human history, we are the ones who may soon feel the menis of our own invention. We are the ones who may turn out to be the authors of our own annihilation. We can get it through our thick skulls that the only long-term solution to the threat of nuclear apocalypse is the abolition of nuclear weapons. If we do not, we may well be the ones, in the end, who are devoured by our own creation.

Radioactive Hypocrisy: American Hubris Threatens Perpetual Nuclear Proliferation

"Why can't we have them when they can?" That, for the "nuclear have-nots," has long been the essence of what some call the nuclear double standard, what others call nuclear narcissism, what others still call America's nuclear hypocrisy.

The bitterness about that double standard has steadily intensified for almost exactly four decades now (the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, was signed on July 1, 1968, and came into force in 1970). Why? Because in the basic bargain of the NPT, the non-nuclear weapon states promised forever to forego nuclear weapons, in exchange for a pair of promises from the nuclear weapon states. First, the nuclear weapon states conceded -- quite explicitly, in Article IV -- that the non-nuclear weapon states possess an "inalienable right" to develop "nuclear energy for peaceful purposes" and even promised "to facilitate" their efforts to do so. Second, the nuclear weapon states promised -- quite explicitly, in Article VI, and reiterated quite explicitly at the NPT Review Conferences in 1995 and 2000 -- to negotiate the complete elimination of their own nuclear arsenals, and eventually to deliver to the human race a nuclear-weapon-free world.

In a speech in Geneva on Monday, May 5, however, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, speaking to the preparatory committees that were meeting in advance of the 40 year NPT Review Conference coming up in 2010, offered a more complex and quite illuminating elucidation of the range of grievances held by non-nuclear weapon states regarding the nuclear status quo.

Soltanieh began by complaining about "nuclear apartheid" -- just as his country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has done many times, and just as Indian government officials did many times a decade ago when they conducted nuclear tests in the spring of 1998 in defiance of world opinion. However, the Iranian ambassador on this day was referring not just generally to the basic nuclear divide, but specifically to the United States imposing harsh export controls on countries like Iran, while at the same time, he claimed, secretly assisting Israel in the development of its sizeable nuclear arsenal.

"Access of developing countries to peaceful nuclear materials and technologies has been continuously denied," Soltanieh said, "to the extent that they have had no choice than to acquire their requirements for peaceful uses of nuclear energy ... from open markets." Usually, he said, that means that countries like his own must purchase items that are more expensive, of poorer quality and less safe.

Therefore, Soltanieh insisted that Iran would not submit to more intrusive IAEA inspections as long as this situation persisted. "The existing double standard shall not be tolerated anymore by non-nuclear weapon states," he said. "No additional measure in strengthening (IAEA) safeguards can be accepted by non-nuclear weapons parties unless these serious constraints and discrimination are removed."

Moreover, Soltanieh continued, "Israel, with huge nuclear weapons activities, has not concluded" any kind of agreement with the IAEA to allow for inspections of its own nuclear facilities.

Now Israel, it must be said, has never signed the NPT, so it is under no international legal obligation to conclude such an agreement. (Nor are the NPT's nuclear weapon states for that matter -- under the NPT, only the non-nuclear weapon states must open themselves to international inspections.) Still, the aspiration for the NPT has always been that it would eventually apply universally. (It is, at present, the most nearly universal treaty in history, as all but four states on the planet -- Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea after its withdrawal -- are members.) Israel's failure to join the regime can hardly be expected to diminish the simmering antipathies -- and not just in Iran -- about the perception that in the nuclear realm, there are different rules for different actors.

So, the "double standard" or "nuclear apartheid," in Iran's latest rendering, did not just signify the basic chasm between the "nuclear haves" and the "nuclear have-nots." Instead, Ambassador Soltanieh conveyed what one might call a more sophisticated nuclear resentment -- first, at Washington's (allegedly) assisting Israel with nuclear technologies while at the same time hampering Iran's abilities to obtain the same, and second, at Washington demanding that certain adversaries submit to rigorous IAEA inspections -- profound intrusions on national sovereignty -- while certain allies are under no obligation to do so.

Mohamed El-Baradei, head of the IAEA and 2006 Nobel Peace Laureate, says that the time has long since come to "abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue nuclear weapons but morally acceptable for others to rely on them." Why is it that when some countries act to protect their national security we hear barely a whisper of comment, while when others do the same it generates a torrent of righteous indignation? More fundamentally, why can some countries possess hundreds of nuclear warheads (e.g., Israel), or even many thousands (e.g., the United States and Russia), while other countries cannot aspire to obtain even one? What's the principle? What's the argument?

It is never said. And it cannot last.

Ironically, the American envoy to the same meeting, Christopher A. Ford, conveyed a much more traditional understanding of the nuclear double standard -- not so much by what he said, but instead by what he did not say. "This treaty regime," said Ford in Geneva, "faces today the most serious tests it has ever faced: the ongoing nuclear weapons proliferation challenges presented by Iran, by North Korea and now by Syria."

Now there is some candid, unvarnished nuclear narcissism for you. An American official labels the (alleged) nuclear quests of certain non-nuclear weapon states as the "most serious" challenges confronting the NPT, "ever." Yet he says not one single word about the continued deployment by the United States of nearly 10,000 nuclear weapons. Nor about its explicit and detailed plans to build both new generations of its nuclear weapons and of its systems for delivering them (long-range strategic bombers, nuclear submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles) -- extended over the next three or four decades! Nor about the complete absence of any kind of initiative in Washington even to commence negotiations to comply with our Article VI obligation to achieve universal nuclear disarmament. Nor about the fundamental connection, so clearly articulated and envisioned by the framers of the NPT four long decades ago, between nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament.

One might venture to say that all those American nuclear policies, standing together, pose at least as much of a "serious test" to the fate of the NPT regime as the (alleged) nuclear activities of Iran, North Korea and Syria.

And one might venture to suppose that Mr. Ford's single sentence in Geneva, standing alone, could be the most straightforward statement by a Bush administration official, "ever," of America's nuclear hypocrisy.

Super Tuesday: Where's the Candidate That Represents Me?

"I'd rather vote for what I want and not get it," said Eugene Debs, who ran for president five times in the first two decades of the 20th century, "than vote for what I don't want, and get it."

On Tsunami Tuesday, Feb. 5, I was really hoping to have the opportunity to vote for what I want.

For years, the presidential primary here in California, where nearly 13 percent of all Americans reside, was not held until June. This consistently meant that election after election, nearly 13 percent of all Americans exercised absolutely no influence at all on the selection of the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees.

However, when my state this year joined more than 20 others in scheduling our primary for the first week in February, many of us hoped that, at last, we would be able to vote on a full field of candidates who would come before us debating the full range of issues confronting our nation and our world.

No such luck.

With only seven primaries or caucuses down for the Republicans, and a mere four for the Democrats, most of the original candidates, in both parties, are already gone. Before even the end of January, the Republican field had been whittled down to just four candidates and the Democrats down to just two.

So in the end, tens of millions of voters, in both parties, in more than 40 states, will simply not have the opportunity to cast a vote for their first choice for president.

This disenfranchisement was particularly excruciating, after last Wednesday's withdrawal of John Edwards, for what the late Paul Wellstone called "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party." That wing is hardly insubstantial. Progressive Democrats of America claims to be the fastest-growing political advocacy group in the country. The new Air America radio network is thriving. Millions of "netroots" citizens, every day, not only visit websites like AlterNet, Common Dreams, DailyKos, and MoveOn -- but also use them to generate collective political action.

But not one of us will have the opportunity next Tuesday to express our political sentiments by voting for an unambiguously progressive presidential candidate.

This profoundly undemocratic dynamic hardly applies only to those who share my politics. The same frustrations will be severe next Tuesday for conservative voters who might have wanted to vote for candidates like, oh, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson or Duncan Hunter. I have little more than contempt for voters whose primary political agenda is to bash immigrants. Nevertheless, our democracy is hardly well served when most of those voters, nationwide, never get the opportunity to express those sentiments by casting a vote for Tom Tancredo.

Votes cast for longshot candidates in both parties could have had an enormous impact on the health of our democracy ... if only those candidates had not been forced out so early. If all voters nationwide had the chance to cast votes for all candidates, they could send powerful messages to the eventual nominees about what they hope to see incorporated into both party platforms and the next presidency. If certain candidates failed but still did well nationwide, or even "better than expected" -- in money, in volunteers and in votes -- then the nominee might have concluded that there was a critical mass of support for the things that candidate was about.

But not if virtually all the candidates are gone before the end of January.

In addition, if the primaries and caucuses in this volatile political season do not decisively settle on party candidates, the results will be hammered out at the conventions -- in Denver in August for the Democrats, in St. Paul in September for the Republicans. If 2008 sees the first brokered conventions in a generation, failed candidates, wielding small but critical contingents of delegates, could have emerged as the crucial powerbrokers in choosing the nominees. Although most had given up on him actually winning the nomination, that was certainly the scenario many Edwards supporters had begun to envision after the results came in from two state primaries and two state caucuses.

But then he dropped out before the end of January.

D.H. Lawrence said, "The ideas of one generation become the instincts of the next." History tells us that the American electorate is hardly set in stone -- 45 percent hard left, 45 percent hard right, and an all-coveted 10 percent "in the center." The center has moved over time. Those of us on the left know that a great many ideas and initiatives that were once considered far out -- women's rights, civil rights, human rights, gay rights, labor protections, environmental protections -- are now much more in the mainstream, much more commonly accepted, much more now "centrist." And votes for candidates who espouse positions outside the mainstream, beyond the contemporary boundaries of political discourse, can be votes to shift the center of gravity of the public policy debate.

Unless they leave the race before the end of January.

Failed presidential campaigns, many times in the past, have helped to drive the engines of American history. The American people did not elect Eugene McCarthy or Bobby Kennedy as president in 1968. However, their candidacies had an enormous impact on bringing a unilateral, illegal and very unwise war of choice to an end. "Fear not the path of truth," said Kennedy, repeatedly during his campaign, "for the lack of people yet walking on it."

The American people did not elect Adlai Stevenson as president in 1952 or 1956. However, the Illinois governor was distressed to learn that atmospheric nuclear tests were raining radioactive poisons upon plants and animals and human beings practically everywhere on Earth. So he made a nuclear test ban one of the strongest planks of his 1956 campaign. That helped to build a worldwide citizens movement, joined by moral giants like Albert Einstein, Norman Cousins, Bertrand Russell, Linus Pauling and Albert Schweitzer, that produced the Limited Test Ban Treaty signed by John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev in 1963.

And perhaps the best example is Eugene Debs himself. In five campaigns, he talked about women's suffrage, child labor, workplace safety in the mines and the factories and the railroad yards, economic justice, a world without war. In 1920, he actually ran for president from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary! Why? Take note, anti-war activists. He had been sentenced to 10 years for protesting American entry into the First World War, violating, according to the courts, the Espionage Act of 1917. "For President," said the campaign poster, "Convict #9653."

Over the years, failed presidential candidacies have pressured the structures of power. They have injected new ideas into the public square, inspired new generations of activists and accelerated our progress on the road ahead. They have served as beacons in the political night.

And, indeed, arguably as a direct consequence of this kind of movement-building, when Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office on March 4, 1933 -- 75 years ago this spring -- it is fair to say that he set out, at long last, to enact the Eugene Debs agenda. (In this context, too, we undoubtedly need to credit Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose campaign of 1912, which lost, but put forth an astonishing progressive platform.)

Victor Hugo said, famously, "No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come." But how will the time for such ideas ever come if our system does not allow most of us to vote for those who articulate them before their time has come? If politics, as every undergraduate knows, is the art of the possible, then stepping into that voting booth ought to be an opportunity to expand the parameters of political possibility.

But not if our broken presidential selection process prevents almost all of us from voting for what we want.

America's Shocking Nuclear Hypocrisy

Some call it "America's nuclear hypocrisy." Others call it the "nuclear double standard," others still our "nuclear narcissism." Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, echoing the phrase used by Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh at the time of his own country's nuclear tests in 1998, often calls it "nuclear apartheid." But it has rarely been expressed as baldly as it was during the last days of October 2007.

It started with two passings. Paul Tibbets, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces B-29, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, that killed at least 80,000 people, and Randall Forsberg, the genius behind the 1982 Central Park nuclear freeze rally, which the New York Times, in her obituary, called the largest political demonstration in American history, both died -- with exquisite irony -- within just a few days of each other.

As if that didn't illustrate enough the tensions of the nuclear age, two separate Bush administration officials -- U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey -- made simultaneous remarks the day before Tibbets died that illuminated the nuclear double standard more starkly than ever.

This time it was not, as it usually is, the divergence between the rules of the game for countries like Iran (nuclear weapons permitted: zero) and for countries like ourselves (nuclear weapons presently possessed: 10,000-plus ... with concrete plans already unrolling to design, develop and deploy new and improved nuclear weapon models fully a third of a century down the road).

No, this time it was the double standard between our expectations for countries we like and those for countries we don't like.

First, on Oct. 29, Khalilzad repeated the formulation about Iran that has been expressed many times by many Bush administration voices. "Given the record of this regime, the rhetoric of this regime, the policies of this regime, the connections of this regime, it cannot be acceptable for it to develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons." It was a wearyingly familiar argument. Our assessment of the character of the Iranian regime determines whether we will permit them to pursue a nuclear "capability."

But on the same day that Khalilzad made his statement, America's good friend Egypt announced that it intended to build several new nuclear power plants over the next several decades. Washington was quick to indicate that it did not disapprove. "Any country that fulfills its obligations under the NPT and follows proper IAEA safeguards will have a program that is perfectly acceptable to us," said Casey (emphasis added). "They're fully within their rights to go that way."

The two remarks are well worth parsing. It is true that Iran, illegally, kept many nuclear activities secret from the IAEA for many years. It is a matter of some debate whether Tehran is fully cooperating with the IAEA now.

But the Bush administration's standard for Iran has never been simply that it must fully cooperate with the IAEA. It demands, instead, that Tehran cease all uranium enrichment -- the crucial element for the development of both nuclear power and nuclear weapons. The essential administration position, in fact, which (military action or not) it will unlikely abandon before the end of its term, is that it will not even negotiate directly with Iran until Iran first concedes the central issue of any negotiation.

Had Khalilzad said "develop nuclear weapons" instead of "develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons," he would perhaps not have found himself standing on such very thin ice. But the NPT forbids non-nuclear signatories like Iran and Egypt from acquiring nuclear weapons, not from acquiring the enrichment capabilities that can be used for both nuclear power and nuclear weapons. On the contrary, Article IV explicitly acknowledges that all parties possess an "inalienable right" to pursue nuclear energy "without discrimination."

It is becoming more and more apparent that Article IV was a fundamental flaw in the original terms of the NPT itself. But that flaw is hardly Iran's fault or Iran's problem.

(The NPT also, in Article VI, requires its nuclear signatories to negotiate the complete elimination of their own nuclear arsenals, a requirement our own government formally reacknowledged at the NPT Review Conferences in 1995 and 2000, and a requirement that the International Court of Justice said in 1996 legally obliged us "to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects." A broad coalition of nongovernmental organizations and experts, in fact, has already hammered out, in draft form, a universal, verifiable and enforceable nuclear weapons elimination treaty known as the "Model Nuclear Weapons Convention," which would require the phased dismantling and destruction by a time certain of every nuclear weapon on Planet Earth, impose strict worldwide controls with rigorous inspection provisions over all things nuclear and prohibit nuclear weapons from ever being constructed again. But that is another argument for another time.)

It may well be that Tehran does ultimately aspire to produce not just nuclear electricity, but a small nuclear arsenal -- to deter the aggression that certain other states keep threatening to launch. But no one claims that they are doing so now. Indeed, just the day before Khalilzad and Casey made their remarks, IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei told Wolf Blitzer on CNN: "Have we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weaponization program? No."

So contrary to Mr. Casey's declaration, the U.S. government is hardly conceding that "any country" meeting his stated criteria is acting in a manner "perfectly acceptable to us." Because what Egypt announced at the end of October was that it intended to start doing exactly the same thing that Iran has already begun to do -- nothing more and nothing less. The Bush administration, instead, subjectively and unilaterally, is assessing the "record, rhetoric, policies and connections" of both Egypt and Iran, and pronouncing, in our wisdom, that the one may proceed down the nuclear road while the other may not.

The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, one of the great peace activists of the 20th century, who died last year, liked to quote Mahatma Gandhi, who said "a fat man cannot speak persuasively to a skinny man about the virtues of not overeating." To much of the rest of the world, our double standards appear sanctimonious, self-righteous, and based on a notion that some are inherently responsible enough to be "trusted" with these weapons of the apocalypse, while others are not.

President Bush himself, perhaps unwittingly, often manages to let slip this conceit of cultural superiority. "We owe it to our children," he said in August of 2002, "to free the world from weapons of mass destruction in the hands of those who hate freedom."

Here, surely, we have the most candid, unvarnished answer to the $64,000 nuclear question. Some are rational, sober, righteous ... and can be trusted with the nuclear prize. Others are simply too volatile, too dangerous, too unpredictable to be permitted to venture down the same road -- or perhaps not quite as freedom loving as a great Jeffersonian democrat like Hosni Mubarak.

And who will decide? Who will render ad hoc, case-by-case verdicts on whether certain leaders or peoples can be trusted with nuclear weapons? Who will serve as prosecutor, judge, jury and enforcer?

Why the Freedom Lovers, of course, in whose hands nuclear weapons already reside.

No other possible conclusion can be drawn, since Iran, in pursuing, so far at least, merely a nuclear "capability," is in fact in accord with its obligations under the NPT.

They're fully within their rights to go that way.

Why Progressives Should Care About Human Destiny in Space

Everybody knows that whether it's lavish Broadway spectacle or humble community theater, the lead actors have understudies. If Hamlet, Sky Masterson or Galinda the Good Witch come down with laryngitis a couple of hours before curtain, some brave soul needs to be ready, at a moment's notice, to step into the breach.

But perhaps not everybody knows that astronauts, too, have "understudies." If Mission Specialist No. 4 comes down with laryngitis a couple of days before launch, NASA doesn't want to scrub a flight after years of training by the crew and all the preparation that goes into every mission by thousands more on the ground.

The crew of the Challenger, which perished on Jan. 28, 1986, when the space shuttle disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean 73 seconds after liftoff, had backups. Christa McAuliffe, who was selected to be the first "schoolteacher in space," was herself backed up by another schoolteacher. Her name was Barbara Radding Morgan, who taught elementary school in Fresno, Calif., and was then 34 years old.

On Wednesday evening, more than 21 years later, Ms. Morgan, now 55, went up on the space shuttle Endeavor as NASA's first "educator in space" to continue the mission that Ms. McAuliffe began two long decades ago. And she's doing it from the same place where McAuliffe sat -- in the middle of the lower deck.

Morgan and the rest of the Endeavor's seven-member crew will be spending about two weeks at the international space station to continue a construction project that will include replacing a gyroscope, attaching a new truss segment to the station and delivering 5,000 pounds of cargo.

Many of the educators who had competed with Morgan and McAuliffe to become the first teacher in orbit, were in Florida to watch the liftoff. Even June Scobee Rodgers, the widow of the Challenger's commander, was present for the launch.

"The Challenger crew -- my husband Dick Scobee, the teacher Christa McAuliffe -- they would be so happy with Barbara Morgan. They'd be excited for her, they'd be proud of her and her following through with the mission for the teacher to fly in space,'' said Scobee Rodgers, founding chairman of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.

But why go to all the trouble to launch a now 55-year-old woman into the cosmos? What is the meaning of Barbara Morgan? As we approach our 50th anniversary as a spacefaring civilization (Sputnik was launched into orbit by the late USSR on Oct. 4, 1957), what is the space program for?

And why should progressives, with a full menu of more immediate causes on our activist plates, care about this one?

I heard one answer last month, in Kansas City, at the commemoration of the centennial, on 7/7/7, of the birth of perhaps the greatest apostle of human destiny in space that humanity has yet produced -- Robert A. Heinlein. His majestic Time Enough for Love told the life story of Lazarus Long, one of the most charismatic characters in 20th century literature. Setting the scene in the year 4272, Heinlein wrote, "We are no longer able to make a reasoned guess at the numbers of the Human Race, nor do we have even an approximate count of the colonized planets. The most we can say is that there must be in excess of two thousand colonized planets, in excess of five hundred billion people. The colonized planets may be twice that number, the Human Race could be four times that numerous. ... Pioneers care little about sending records to the home office; they are busy staying alive ..."

4272. That's not so far off. It's just a little bit longer in the one direction than Caesar and Christ are in the other. But that's what the voyages of Christa McAuliffe and Barbara Morgan are really about. All of us now alive, on behalf of all those not yet alive, have only just barely embarked on that endless expedition. That is the journey, for the Human Race, toward immortality.

What does immortality have to do with progressive values? Conservatives, most fundamentally, are about the idea that individuals ought to devote their blood, tears, toil and sweat to pursuing their own individual interests ... and leave it to other individuals to do the same. But if political progressives are about anything, we are about the idea that our lives are about something larger than ourselves. The idea that, as Michael Moore says in Sicko, we are not a "me society" but a "we society." The idea that we have obligations and responsibilities not just to ourselves and our immediate families, but also to the community of the whole.

And that means ultimately not only the human community of the present moment, but also the community of our remotest ancestors and our distant descendants as well. Space is ultimately about our duties to generations beyond our own. "The greatest good for the greatest number," said progressive giant Teddy Roosevelt, "applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction."

A second core progressive value beckons to us from space as well. Progressives believe that our national citizenship must be accompanied by a global citizenship, that our allegiance to our nation stands alongside an allegiance to humanity, that our national patriotism must in the end be transcended by a planetary patriotism. We stand in the tradition of what the great psychologist Erik Erikson called an "all-human solidarity." We see the first glimmerings of what the political scientist Robert C. Tucker calls an "ethic of specieshood." We are the vanguard of what Voltaire called "the party of humanity."

And space has already shown that it can serve as perhaps the single greatest engine of human unity.

On July 20, 1979, on the tenth anniversary of humanity's first footsteps on the moon, Neil Armstrong was asked how he had felt as he saluted the flag up there. "I suppose you're thinking about pride and patriotism," he replied. "But we didn't have a strong nationalistic feeling at that time. We felt more that it was a venture of all mankind." (One wonders if any consideration was given, in the high councils of the Johnson and Nixon administrations, to having Armstrong and Aldrin plant not a flag of the United States on the moon, but a flag of Planet Earth.)

Many of the fortunate souls who have made it into Earth orbit (and the infinitesimal 27 who have left Earth orbit and ventured to the moon) have expressed remarkably similar sentiments.

"The first day or so we all pointed to our countries," said the Saudi astronaut Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud. "The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth." "The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone," said the Russian astronaut Aleksei Leonov, "our home that must be defended like a holy relic." "From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty," said Edgar Mitchell, one of only 12 humans to have walked on the surface of another world. "You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter million miles out and say, 'Look at that, you son of a bitch.'"

This is why the late Carl Sagan claimed that spaceflight was actually subversive. Although governments have ventured into space, Sagan observed, largely for nationalistic reasons, "it was a small irony that almost everyone who entered space received a startling glimpse of a transnational perspective, of the Earth as one world."

Seeing our planet as a whole, apparently, enables one to see our planet as a whole.

Finally, space may someday deliver to us arguably the greatest progressive value of all. The ethic of human unity that space seems inevitably to engender may, down the road, ultimately engender permanent human peace as well.

Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, widely considered the greatest science fiction series ever constructed, are set much further down the road than Time Enough for Love -- not 2200, but 20 or 25,000 years in the future. The Foundation's universe contains several million colonized star systems and several quadrillion human beings, so widely dispersed that anthropologists debate which among the millions was humanity's original sun. And yet, for all the extent, diversity and complexity of human affairs, humanity has managed to abolish war. The human race has forged itself into a single politically unified community -- what Asimov calls a "Galactic Empire." The unraveling of that community, and the reintroduction of war into human affairs, is the grand cataclysm that protagonist Hari Seldon and his compatriots, for seven epic novels, endeavor to prevent (or at least to mitigate).

How's that for something toward which we on the left can aspire? Progressives insist that it is within the power of the human imagination to create enduring universal peace. We maintain that there can be a next step in the social evolution of our species. In the spring of 2003, many of us demonstrated against a preemptive, unilateral, illegal and very unwise war, the consequences of which we can still only dimly foresee. But for all of our efforts in the past four years to "end the war," isn't our deepest aspiration actually to "end war"?

Bertrand Russell taught us that the greatest moral imperative was this: "One must care about a world one will never see." So in addition to all of our urgent work on all of our urgent struggles, progressives should consider joining and participating in the work of hardy and underappreciated space advocacy organizations like the Planetary Society, the National Space Society, the Mars Society and the Space Frontier Foundation.

Perhaps the single best line of the Heinlein Centennial was uttered to us on an enormous video screen, from Sri Lanka, by 90-year-old Arthur C. Clarke, when he said, "Robert Heinlein will be revered by future generations. If any."

Stephen Hawking, similarly, in remarks just before boarding his widely publicized zero-gravity airplane flight in April, said, "Life on Earth is at risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus. ... I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go into space."

And the Royal Astronomer Martin Rees, of Cambridge University, in his chilling 2003 book Our Final Hour, surveyed the litany of macro-dangers facing humanity (some natural but most of our own making) -- asteroid impact, climate change, nuclear apocalypse, bioterror, nanotechnology spinning out of control, the enormous destructive potentials that can be unleashed today by just a few malevolent individuals. Then he delivered this astonishing verdict: "I think the odds are no better than 50-50 that our present civilization on Earth will survive to the end of the present century."

How such a forecast has failed to generate any political debate whatsoever -- among progressives or anyone else -- is surely a testament to the shallowness of our contemporary political conversation.

There are two responses that progressives might make to the challenges posed by Clarke, Hawking and Rees -- and to the responsibilities passed on to us by Teddy Roosevelt. One is to confront those challenges head on, to focus upon not only Iraq and impeachment and the issues of the hour, but also the issues of the century, and to endeavor over time to perhaps alter Rees' odds for the better. The other is to dedicate ourselves to the goal, however distant, of establishing the human race permanently beyond the cradle of its birth. First beyond our planet, then beyond our solar system, as we venture, slowly but inexorably, in tiny lifeboats afloat on an infinite sea, to live forever among the stars.

These twin undertakings, obviously, need not be mutually exclusive. After all, people who do everything possible to protect their health still take out life insurance policies. Unfortunately, the agendas of our politicians these days seem mostly about neither of these undertakings. The legacies of Christa McAuliffe and Barbara Morgan, educators and astronauts, seem quite obviously about both.

For Progressives, Gore's the One in 2008

In recent days, the word used more and more frequently to describe Hillary Clinton's march to the Democratic presidential nomination has been "inevitable." She consistently leads public opinion polls across the country by a good 10 points over her nearest rival. Hollywood, after a brief infatuation with Barack Obama, is now, according to the Los Angeles Times, consolidating its support behind the junior senator from New York. Rupert Murdoch employee Peter Chernin extracted a cool $850,000 from wealthy Angelenos for the former first lady at a recent event in his home. A few days later, she was endorsed by the King of Hollywood himself -- Steven Spielberg.

I wonder if Mr. Spielberg will change his mind when Al Gore declares his candidacy this fall.

I have never met Mr. Gore. I make no claim to any inside knowledge on this question. I have no idea whether he's gaining or losing weight.

But I think he's coming.

I think he's going to find it impossible to resist.

And I think progressives should get busy, right now, working to hasten the day.

Many Prefer Gore Over the Entire Democratic Field
I have been working on Democratic political campaigns, international policy analysis, and anti-nuclear advocacy for a couple of decades now -- usually finding myself on the left side of the room. So, although I was somehow left off the invitation list for the event at Mr. Chernin's, I have met a great many rank-and-file Democratic voters over the years. And -- like other political junkies -- I have been talking with them a lot recently about the 2008 presidential contest.

The majority of my Democratic friends have devoted most of their attentions to the three avowed front-runners -- Clinton, Obama, and John Edwards. Yet during the last six months or so, whenever I've asked them whom they would choose if they were choosing between four candidates -- Clinton, Obama, Edwards, and Al Gore -- probably 90 percent have told me, in a heartbeat, that they'd go for Gore.

So I've been thinking a bit about why that might be the case.

Gore v. Obama
When Democrats compare Al Gore to Barack Obama, they see someone with the same compelling charisma (at least now, if not in 2000), the same grass roots attraction, the same heart-over-head allure. Yet, it is beyond obvious to point out that Gore has almost infinitely superior experience in the national and international arenas. Obama, despite his manifest intelligence and palpable political gifts, still today has served less than two and a half years in the U.S. Senate, with stints as a state senator and a law professor before that. Al Gore -- who is only 13 years older than Obama -- has under his belt eight years in the House, eight years in the Senate, and eight years as vice president. Not to mention six and a half years since then as an amazingly effective environmental activist, worldwide, during which time "the Goracle" has become a cultural icon larger than mere politics.

Plus, you want to know the first thought that will spring into the minds of 90 percent of Obama supporters, the instant that Gore announces?

"Gore/Obama 2008."

Gore v. Edwards
When Democrats compare Al Gore to John Edwards, they see two political leaders who insist on talking about Big Ideas. Edwards, displaying what all progressives should applaud as a profile in political courage, has centered his second presidential campaign on the injustice of intractable inequality -- not only around the block but also around the world. (In a little-noticed remark during the South Carolina debate in April, he called for "making primary school education available to 100 million children worldwide.") And he has crafted arguably the most important single campaign sentence at this critical juncture in our history, when he calls upon Americans "to be patriotic about something other than war."

Gore, of course, has one or two Big Ideas of his own up his sleeve. He has spent the last quarter-century sounding the alarm on global climate change and environmental sustainability -- and has almost single-handedly willed it into mainstream public consciousness. And now, with his new book, The Assault on Reason, already number one on the New York Times best-seller list, he takes on the sustainability of our American democracy itself.

Yet when it comes to political and policy experience, the single term in the U.S. Senate served by Edwards, with no other prior or subsequent political offices held, provides a national and international affairs resume arguably as thin as Obama's.

Only a few still dispute that climate change and other environmental challenges pose the single greatest long-term threat to the viability of the human community. (I like to accompany that by saying that nuclear terror poses the single greatest immediate such threat.) In April 1993, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity," from more than 1670 scientists including 104 Nobel laureates. "No more than one or a few decades remain," said the scientists, "before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished."

Now, 14 years later, almost as if on cue, leading atmospheric scientist James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, tells us that we probably have only two remaining election cycles to elect a president to undertake the kind of comprehensive programs that seriously addressing the climate crisis will demand. After that, it will probably be too late.

Gore v. Clinton
When Democrats compare Al Gore to Hillary Clinton, they see two political titans -- similar experience, similar gravitas, similar authority both to manage the labyrinthine federal government and to credibly represent the United States in the global arena.

But Hillary Clinton has always engendered bitter antipathies, like perhaps no other figure in American political life today. These come not only from the millions of Republicans who say they would "never" vote for her, but from much of the core left Democratic base as well. I've never quite figured out why so many on the right so loathe the Clintons. But many progressives read the June 4, 2007 cover story of The Nation magazine by Ari Berman, entitled "Hillary, Inc.," which detailed the intricate web of the senator's corporate connections. Much of the core left sees her as a centrist, an incrementalist, a triangulator, a hawk who would do little to challenge the unaccountable leviathan that Eisenhower's military/industrial complex has become, a DLC Democrat who favors caution over conviction, calculation over commitment.

And with both the intensity of feelings about the Bush legacy and the rise even just since the last presidential election of the "net roots," that core left today is quite substantial.

In addition, with Senator Clinton, the old chestnut about her ultimate "electability" seems destined to become her decisive variable. In a June 12 Los Angeles Times survey, Senator Clinton comes out 11 points ahead of any competitor to win the Democratic nomination. When matched up against Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani, however, Obama defeats Giuliani 46-41 percent, and Edwards defeats Giuliani 46- 43 percent. But Giuliani defeats Clinton by a whopping 49- 39 percent margin!

Several polls have consistently validated this result. Although a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll two weeks ago had Clinton over Giuliani 48-43 percent, three others by Gallup have had Giuliani over Clinton by an average of 5 points. This, despite some surveys reporting that voters favor a generic Democrat over a generic Republican by more than 20 points.

There is no way this does not become the defining issue for Democratic primary voters in the first three months of 2008.

Senator Clinton's healthy and enduring advantage in the polls clearly indicates that many Democrats do like her. But in their moment of truth in the privacy of the voting booth, primary voters who think highly of her may in the end not pull the lever for her. Why not? Think the opposite of what happened to John Kerry.

Remember how, in the first three months of 2004, millions of voters who did not adore Kerry voted for him anyway, because they said they saw him as the most "electable" Democratic candidate? (Some wags observed that Democratic voters were so intent on ejecting George Bush from the White House that they voted not for the candidate they liked, but for a candidate they believed others would like in November.) Four years later, we may see almost exactly the reverse phenomenon. Millions of voters who like Hillary Clinton may vote for someone else anyway, because they will conclude, regrettably, that she "cannot win" in November.

And there really is only one possible "someone else."

Gore v. the Rest
The other five declared Democratic candidates -- Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, and Bill Richardson -- offer a wealth of political experience and wisdom. All have advanced imaginative policy proposals that Americans would do well to study -- and the media would do well to illuminate.

Many friends on the hard left retain a deep affection for Kucinich, and his uncompromising, inspiring, and comprehensive vision of progressive peace patriotism. (Not to mention his vision of getting insurance companies and employers out of the health care business altogether, and replacing them with non-profit single-payer national health insurance -- "Medicare for All" -- the only plausible long-term solution to the health obstacle course that confronts not just 50 million uninsured, but virtually all Americans.)

A few of my colleagues in the anti-nuclear arena have even cheered a bit for Gravel, who tried desperately to inform viewers during the April South Carolina debate that all three of the Democratic front-runners, incredibly, have refused to take "off the table" a pre-emptive American first strike, with nuclear weapons, against the nation of Iran.

But it doesn't seem terribly likely that in the end any of these five will stand between the Hillary Clinton juggernaut and the "inevitability" of her nomination.

Gore and the War
Al Gore also distinguishes dramatically from several Democratic candidates on the issue that voters rate as the single most important -- in some polls by 20 percentage points.

Iraq.

In September 2002, the former vice president spoke before the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, excoriating the very idea that our country might be about to launch a pre-emptive, illegal, unilateral, unwarranted, and unwise march of folly in Mesopotamia. "The president is proclaiming a new uniquely American right to preemptively attack whomsoever he may deem represents a potential future threat," said the veteran of Viet Nam about the veteran of the Texas Air National Guard in September of 2002. "The administration has not said much of anything to clarify its idea of what would follow regime change, or the degree of engagement that it is prepared to accept for the United States in Iraq in the months and years after a regime change has taken place. ... If what America represents to the world is leadership in a commonwealth of equals, then our friends are legion. If what we represent to the world is an empire, then it is our enemies who will be legion."

Those words were spoken a month before Senator Clinton, in voting on the defining war and peace resolution of our time, spoke the word "aye."

Gore, the Critic of Contemporary American Democracy
I saw Al Gore speak on May 22nd, at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills, in the inaugural event of his tour for The Assault on Reason. In a live on-stage conversation with Harry Shearer, the contrast between Gore's sheer intellectual firepower and that of the man who (didn't) beat him in 2000, the man who I recently heard on the radio, with my own ears, say, "the literacy level of our high school students are appalling," was, well, appalling. Gore traced the path from the Middle Ages to our own constitution. He discussed the relevance of Marshall McLuhan to our present predicaments, and the overwhelming dominance today of images over ideas. He lamented that the "well-informed citizenry" envisioned by our framers has degenerated into a "well-amused audience." He issued a plea for all Americans to work to restore to our public square a rational policy debate within a democratic marketplace of ideas.

On a more prosaic and immediate level, he delivered a blistering critique of the Bush Administration's Iraq debacle, its inaction on climate change, its obeisance to the rich and the powerful and the corporate elite, and its casting aside the long-standing American ethos against torture -- first insisted upon, he reminded us, by George Washington. And he made my own anti-nuclear heart beat more quickly when he delivered a one-word verdict on Bush's plans to build a new generation of nuclear weapons while hectoring countries like Iran and North Korea (and likely soon others) to forego nuclear weapons.

"Insane."

Gore 2000 and Gore 2008
Oh, there is one more asset that Al Gore brings to the table. Something unique only to him. In 2000 -- even with Ralph Nader siphoning 2.8 million votes from just over 100 million ballots cast -- the sitting vice president still beat the sitting governor of Texas nationwide by more than half a million votes. In addition, a great deal of evidence indicates that more Floridians tried to vote for Al Gore than for George Bush -- which means, of course, that Gore actually won in the Electoral College as well.

But, at least according to five Supreme Court justices, George Bush won and Al Gore lost.

That means that millions of Americans, even many who might not necessarily adore the former vice president, hold a rough recollection that in 2000, Al Gore had something taken away from him that he rightfully earned. And deserved. And won.

And that is why the "RAG" bumper sticker, in itself, will be worth ten million votes next time around, for this candidate and this candidate alone. First in the primaries, then again in the general election.

What is the "RAG" bumper sticker?

"RE-ELECT AL GORE."

Gore and the Human Future
Three years ago, in an excruciating effort to wrest the presidency back, Democrats nominated a candidate who focused virtually all his attentions on a hypothetical few million undecided "swing voters," rather than on the seventy million eligible Americans who -- waiting in vain to hear some kind of big, inspiring, courageous vision -- did not even bother on Election Day to show up.

Surely, we're not going to let ourselves make the same mistake again.

On the night before he was elected president in 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy, speaking on the floor of the Boston Garden, said "I do not run for the office of the Presidency after fourteen years in the Congress with any expectation that it is an empty or easy job. I run for the Presidency of the United States because it is the center of action. ... The kind of society we build, the kind of power we generate, the kind of enthusiasm that we incite, all this will tell whether, in the long run, darkness or light overtakes the world."

Is there any political figure in America today who can better restore our faith in the light than Al Gore? Is there anyone who would better pursue not just American national interests but also common human interests, who would call upon not just our national patriotism but also our planetary patriotism, who might deliver a speech from the floor of the Congress not on the "State of the Union" but on the "State of the Earth?" Is there any better way the forces of peace and justice and hope can evoke the better angels of our nature than to mobilize, now, together, to demand an Al Gore candidacy?

Newshounds may remember Trent Lott's catastrophic faux pas in 2002, when he opined at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party that if America had elected the former segregationist as president in 1948, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years." My prescient colleague Gregory Wright, of the venerable Southern California Americans for Democratic Action (socalada.org), tells me he fears that at Al Gore's 100th birthday party, coincidentally in 2048, in a Tennessee by then considerably closer to the shoreline of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, someone -- perhaps someone not yet today even born -- will remark that if America had elected this man as president in 2000, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years."

Of course, no one will need to say that in 2048, if we elect Al Gore president in 2008.

The Peace Movement's Plan For Iran

Three years ago last month, in more than 600 cities around the world, as many as 14 million people marched in their streets to prevent the United States from launching a unilateral, preemptive, illegal, unprovoked, and unwise invasion of Iraq. The "Guinness Book of World Records" has identified Feb. 15, 2003 as the largest global antiwar mobilization in history. Now this same peace and progressive community (which the New York Times has called "the other superpower") is slowly beginning to turn its attention from the last war to the next war -- a looming military showdown between the West and Iran.

The only problem? We haven't quite figured out what we want to say.

At least two military options are probably being "war gamed" today somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon. One is a full-scale invasion of Iran, directed at changing its regime. The other is "surgical strikes" -- air operations, cruise missiles, lethal commandos on the ground -- aimed not at overthrowing the Iranian government but at "taking out" its nuclear program. It all sounds very precise, very swashbuckling, very dramatic.

And very much like what the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor.

Opposed to military action

We, of course, reflexively oppose both options. The costs of war always exceed the benefits. The use of force always causes more problems than it solves. And thousands of innocent souls who have nothing to do with the dispute in question always end up paying the steepest price.

But to forestall a unilateral, preemptive, illegal, unprovoked, and unwise assault on Iran, the forces of peace need to say more than "war is unhealthy for children and kittens and other living things."

We need to say that any kind of military attack on Iran will do enormous harm to America.

Although Iran would put up an almost infinitely better fight than Saddam's Iraq, the invincible U.S. military could probably dislodge Iran's theocratic regime if ordered to do so. But what then? Another interminable and bungled occupation? In a country with three times the population, four times the area, and a 3,000-year heritage of fierce national pride? After the economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz concluded that the Iraq fiasco will eventually cost the U.S. between $1 trillion and $2 trillion?

It would be a long time before America would see any light at the end of that tunnel.

But the "surgical strike" option would be a disaster for American national security as well. If we attack Iran -- as we did Iraq -- without UN Security Council authorization, we would again flout the UN Charter and further enfeeble the international legal system. If there's anything the peace community stands for, it's that long-tem structures of enduring world peace can only be built through the world rule of law. If one country repeatedly disregards the law of nations, all countries will end up with only the law of the jungle.

In immediate retaliation for any kind of attack, Tehran might well launch missile strikes on both Israel and the many American military bases throughout the region. With its extensive ties to the Shiite majority in Iraq, Iran could cause U.S. casualties there to skyrocket. Tehran might also enhance its sponsorship of suicide bombers in Israel (or Palestinian terrorists might react on their own).

Although a great deal of discord exists within Iran about the balance between theocracy and liberty, virtually all Iranians come together in their defiance of American bullying. Most ordinary Iranians would react to any military strike like the one who told a CodePink delegation in 2005, "We may want freedom and democracy, but we can only achieve those by working within our own country. No one from the outside can impose these on us, especially not the U.S. through unwelcome military aggression. If the U.S. was to bomb us it would unite us against them immediately."

Among the Iranian elite, the hardliners would be vindicated by a military strike -- and their positions in the Iranian power struggle would be immeasurably enhanced. The Iranian government soon thereafter might discard the pretense that it's "only seeking nuclear electricity," formally withdraw from the NPT (as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad already has hinted, North Korea already has done, and all parties have a right to do under Article X), and proceed directly toward constructing a sizeable atomic arsenal. Unless we plan to bomb them again every couple of years or so, the end result could be a nuclear Iran even sooner.

Not to mention gasoline at $4 a gallon long before any of that occurs.

Destroying terrorists, creating others

During the Vietnam war, it was often said that every time we killed a Viet Cong guerrilla, we created two more. Similarly, if we militarily eliminate the danger of a nuclear Iran (for the moment), we will create many more. At this moment thousands of Muslim young men -- inside and outside Iran -- are on the fence. They've spent most of their childhoods in madrasa Islamic schools. They are unemployed and idle. And they are looking for some purpose in life, some meaning, perhaps even -- like so many of the intense young have always sought -- some cause worth dying for.

If we forcibly prevent Iran from obtaining a single atomic bomb, the vast majority of Muslims around the world -- though they may oppose our action -- will react without violence. But some of those young men now on the fence will decide instead to dedicate their lives to obtaining one of the 30,000 other atomic bombs that already exist elsewhere. And to finding a way to smuggle it into this country. And to committing the greatest act of mass murder in human history.

Isaac Newton's laws of action and reaction do not apply solely to billiard balls. The great paradox of the Iranian crisis is that if we, by force, eliminate Iran's nuclear capabilities over there, it will probably make nuclear terror more likely back here.

Talk about a Pyrrhic victory.

What to do instead

The great insight that Mikhail Gorbachev and Eduard Shevardnadze used to break open the Cold War was "mutual security." If you threaten your adversaries, they'll threaten you back. If you make your neighbors more secure, you make yourself more secure. The basis of peace is understanding the fears of others.

But George Bush has exacerbated rather than assuaged Iranian fears. He announces his intention to initiate preemptive wars against states the U.S. determines might someday pose a threat. He declares that three nations (including Iran) uniquely constitute an "axis of evil." He issues a new nuclear doctrine that contemplates nuclear first strikes against non-nuclear states (in explicit violation of the NPT), and actually names seven states (including Iran) as possible targets. He launches a preemptive war against the country next door, decapitating its regime.

After that, Iran finds itself surrounded on all four sides by American military power -- Iraq to the west, Afghanistan to the east, U.S. bases in Central Asia to the north, and the mighty US Navy in the Persian Gulf to the south. And even his attempted reassurances only make things worse. "This notion that the U.S. is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous," he proclaims, only to follow with, "Having said that, all options are on the table ..."

Iran looks west, and sees an Iraq that opened itself to unprecedented international intrusions, did not in fact possess weapons of mass destruction, and got itself invaded for its trouble. Iran looks east, and sees a North Korea that built a nuclear arsenal in secret, and now appears to be successfully deterring any hint of American aggression.

What would you do, if you were Tehran?

To step back from the precipice of war, both sides first must ratchet down their rhetoric. Ahmadinejad's odious comments about Israel and the Holocaust intensified Western antipathy toward Iran. But few Western leaders seem to grasp that when we put "all options on the table," that must have precisely the same effect in Tehran. If each can lay off the language of crude caricature and street ideology, they might begin to have a real conversation.

After the rhetoric subsides, the United States must offer some carrots to Tehran, rather than just waving big sticks. If history has anything to teach us, it is that all stick and no carrot never works. We must offer Iran some rewards for the better choice, some hope and opportunity, some promise of full participation in a prosperous and peaceful global civilization.

Like how about offering a mutual security agreement with formal non-aggression pledges if Iran reverses its nuclear course? How about disavowing any effort to bring down the Iranian government through non-military means (as we did in 1953) -- instead of Condoleeza Rice asking Congress for $85 million to "promote democracy" in Iran? How about proposing investments in alternative energy technologies -- wind, solar, tidal -- to wean Iran from nuclear energy as well as nuclear weapons? And how about offering to restore the full diplomatic relations we terminated during a hostage crisis that ended more than a quarter century ago?

If we both stop making Iranians feel so vulnerable and invite them to reap some of the rewards that accompany joining the community of nations, they might feel less inclined to cross the nuclear Rubicon.

What the president should say

Finally, behind all the nuclear brinksmanship lies a question that Washington cannot dodge indefinitely. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, with his usual clarity, says that the nuclear states "refuse to initiate or respect any restraints on themselves, while ... raising heresy charges against those who want to join the sect."

Similarly the 2005 Nobel Peace Laureate, Mohamed El-Baradei, says that we must "abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue nuclear weapons but morally acceptable for others to rely on them." In bazaars and barracks and boulangeries in many parts of the world, angry young men must ask, "Why can the United States possess more than 10,000 nuclear warheads, while our country cannot acquire even one?"

Some call this the nuclear double standard, others America's nuclear hypocrisy. Ahmadinejad himself, echoing the phrase used repeatedly by Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh at the time of his own country's nuclear tests in 1998, calls it "nuclear apartheid."

Moreover, the Bush Administration doesn't just insist on retaining our nuclear weapons, but on improving them far into the future. The 2002 "nuclear posture review" -- almost wholly unnoticed by the American peace community -- put forth plans to unveil new generations of nuclear weapons in 2020, then again in 2030, and then again in 2040. Just in time for the atomic centennial.

Imagine how the bitterness over the nuclear double standard will intensify if we display our determination to perpetuate it indefinitely through force of arms.

We believe that the Iranian nuclear crisis could be dramatically defused, in a stroke, if American leaders would simply say to Iranian leaders:

"We don't expect you to endure the nuclear double standard forever until the end of time. The NPT doesn't just impose non-proliferation obligations on you, it also imposes disarmament obligations on us. We understand that you will not forever forego nuclear weapons if we insist on forever retaining nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons won't protect you, and nuclear weapons don't protect us. We know that eventually we must abolish these abominations, or they will abolish us."

Think how much it could do -- both to de-legitimize Tehran's nuclear aspirations and to transform the nuclear policy debate -- if an American president were simply to utter something like those five sentences.

Unlikely, admittedly, in the case of this president.

Maybe the next president.

If it's not too late by then.

Deck Chairs on the Titanic

It is often said incorrectly that the United Nations Charter, framed in San Francisco during the final year of the Second World War, was designed for the world of 1945. It was actually designed for the world of the 1930s. The paramount question on the minds of the Charter's framers, not unreasonably, was "how do we prevent another Adolph Hitler?" The idea at the core of their Charter was that the wartime allies – who became the Security Council's five permanent members – would act in concert to repel all such future aggressions.

But consider the great issues facing the human community six long decades later. Environmental degradation. The AIDS pandemic. Failed states. Intractable poverty. Non-state terrorists. Transnational governance of transnational corporations. Genocides in places remote from great power interests like Darfur and Rwanda. States trying to stem the tide of nuclear proliferation while insisting on retaining vast nuclear arsenals of their own. (It is often forgotten that the Charter was drafted months before the world even learned of the existence of the atomic bomb). Few of these bear much resemblance to Wehrmacht Panzer divisions racing across the Polish border on the first day of September, 1939.

In this context it is greatly disheartening to see the timid and unimaginative report that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's High Level Panel for Threats, Challenges, and Change issued on December 2. The panel did make a number of thoughtful recommendations about criteria for the legitimate use of force in a threat environment radically altered since 1945. But virtually since the UN's inception, those who feel like they didn't get invited to the party have pleaded to make the United Nations more legitimate, more accountable, and more representative of the peoples of the world. Toward this end the panel put forth two slightly varying proposals for expanding the Security Council's membership from 15 to 24 – six seats each for Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. That's it.

The UN's 50th anniversary year saw initiatives that proposed a wide range of dramatic changes in the structure of the UN system, like the Commission on Global Governance, the Independent Working Group on the UN in its Second Half Century, the Preferred Futures for the UN symposium, and The South Centre's For a Strong and Democratic UN report – groups brimming with prominent scholars, Nobel laureates and former heads of state. But the High Level Panel said virtually nothing about the dozens of interesting ideas about the democratization of global governance put forth by these groups and others during 1995.

UN reform has never been much a part of the progressive pantheon. It should be now – at least if we believe in basic notions of democratic political participation, and in giving a more direct voice in the affairs of the world to the peoples of the world ... rather than letting all the decisions be made exclusively by "great power" governments.

The international community intends to consider the panel's recommendations at a summit of world leaders just prior to the opening of the UN's 60th General Assembly session next September. It seems quite possible that the opportunity for further restructuring may not come again for – who knows? – perhaps another five or six decades. So consider some of the provocative proposals and fundamental questions that were, in the panel's report, conspicuous only by their absence:

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES