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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bolton and Nuclear Terrorism

Lots of people (including, today, the New York Times) have gone to town on U.N. Ambassador-designate John Bolton’s rich record of extremist foreign policy views. I did the same myself yesterday. But of all the stuff he needs to be held accountable for in his confirmation hearings, the really important thing is the job he has been primarily responsible for at the State Department over the last four years. It just happens to be the single most important national security issue of all, according to no less a figure than Vice President Dick Cheney: avoiding nuclear terrorism.But as arms control chief at Foggy Bottom, Bolton is responsible for a set of policies that have left us unconscionably vulnerable. Who says so? Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, hardly a big-time partisan Democrat these days (disclosure: I was once on his staff). Nunn, co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, didn’t mention Bolton’s name in remarks at the National Press Club today, but his indictment of how seriously this administration has taken the threat of nuclear terrorism is unmistakable:

In measuring the adequacy of our response to today’s nuclear threats, on a scale from one to ten, I would give us about a three, with the recent summit between Presidents Bush and Putin moving us closer to a four.American citizens have every reason to ask, “Are we doing all we can to prevent a nuclear attack?” The simple answer is, “no, we are not.”… Increasingly, we are being warned that an act of nuclear terrorism is inevitable. I am not willing to concede that point. But I do believe that unless we greatly elevate our effort and the speed of our response, we could face disaster…I am not sure we fully grasp the devastating, world-changing impact of a nuclear attack….I believe that preventing the spread and use of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction should be the central organizing security principle for the 21st century. During the Cold War, we saw what it looks like when world leaders unite, when they listen to each other, when they cooperate against common threats. It is my hope that we will soon employ this model of international teamwork in responding to the threats from North Korea and Iran, in securing nuclear materials around the globe, and in confronting the danger of catastrophic terrorism anywhere in the world.

Fine advice for Bush, and an implicit rebuke to the policies supervised by Bolton. It’s bad enough that Republicans who are determined to bankrupt the public treasury are focused on cracking down on bankruptcy filings by regular citizens. To follow that up by sending Mr. It-Ain’t-Worth-Doing-If-We-Can’t-Do-It-Our-Way, John Bolton, to the U.N., is even worse, when it comes to deadly threats to our security that demand an effective international response.I’ll say it again: Bolton needs to load up a jumbo platter of crow, and start chowing down, or expect a potentially successful challenge to his confirmation.

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