Obama’s useful idiocy: A look back

As John notes below, Sarah Palin attacked President Obama’s announcement of a new strategy on nuclear weapons that foreswears development of new weapons and promises not to respond to chemical or biological attacks with nukes. Asked about Palin’s comments by George Stephanopolous, Obama responded: “Last I checked, Sarah Palin’s not much of an expert on nuclear issues.”
Is Obama himself an “expert on nuclear issues”? We know they have been on his mind a long time, and his thinking does not appear to have evolved much over the years. Let’s take a look back at Obama’s thoughts on the American nuclear arsenal during the Cold War.
When Ronald Reagan set out to bring down the Soviet Union, he built up America’s nuclear arsenal while deploying short-range nuclear warheads in Europe and undertaking a widely derided missile defense program. Reagan’s build-up took place over the massive worldwide opposition of the left, much of it orchestrated by the Soviet Union under the auspices of one or another of its “peace offensives.”
Reagan’s efforts induced a kind of mass hysteria. ABC brought us The Day After, the documentary-style film portraying a fictional nuclear war between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact that rapidly escalated into a full-scale exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. The film graphically displayed the effects of the war on Lawrence, Kansas. Nuclear war was a bitch, of course, and the film served as a timely warning against the nightmare toward which Reagan’s policies would deliver us.
in Useful Idiots Mona Charen also recalls that public television brought us Testament (1983), “a moving film about a family in Washington State slowly dying of radiation poisoning after a nuclear war.” Not to be outdone, Charen adds, NBC “broadcast its own scaremongering documentary called Facing Up To the Bomb (1982).” (The title of Charen’s book comes from a phrase attributed to Lenin describing Western left-liberals and Social Democrats.)
In 1983 protesters formed a 14-mile anti-nuclear “human chain” in Berkshire, England. When Reagan visited London for an economic summit the following year, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament turned out somewhere between 80,000 (police count) and 200,000 (CND count) protesters marching from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square to greet him. Reagan modestly allowed that he didn’t “take credit for all of the demonstrators being there for me…”
Nowhere was the hysteria greater than on college campuses. It manifested itself in intense hostility to the military, to national defense and security, and to every aspect of the Reagan defense build-up. The college crowd hated Reagan’s opposition to Communism, wherever applied.
Last year the New York Times reported that in 1983, as a Columbia undergraduate, Barack Obama was among the “useful idiots” expressing high-minded disparagement of Reagan’s defense policies. That’s not exactly how the Times put it, because Times reporters William Broad and David Sanger failed to supply the missing historical context that Charen’s book provides, and because the Times itself figures prominently among the “useful idiots” chronicled by Charen.
The Times article reported on Obama’s March 1983 article “Breaking the war mentality.” The Times noted that in the article Obama railed against discussions of “first-versus second-strike capabilities” that “suit the military-industrial interests” with their “billion-dollar erector sets,” and agitated for the elimination of global arsenals holding tens of thousands of deadly warheads.
In his article Obama praised the nuclear freeze movement and celebrated the work of two groups: Arms Race Alternatives and Students Against Militarism. By Obama’s description of them, the groups were among the “useful idiots” promoting the Soviet line on Reagan’s build-up: “These groups, visualizing the possibilities of destruction and grasping the tendencies of distorted national priorities, are shifting their weight into throwing America off the dead-end track.”
Obama expressed and dismissed a possible reservation regarding the “narrow focus” of the groups, citing the deep wisdom of Peter Tosh that “everybody’s asking for peace, but nobody’s asking for justice.” Heavy, man.
But if Peter Tosh was heavy, he had nothing on Obama himself. Obama decried “the most pervasive tendency of the collegiate system specifically, and the American experience generally.” Obama described this “tendency” as the disembodiment of “elaborate patterns of knowledge and theory from individual choices and government policy.” According to Obama, Arms Race Alternatives and Students Against Militarism had come “to save us from the twisted logic of which we are today a part.”
The Times chose to portray Obama’s 1983 article as the early expression of his continuing pursuit of “a nuclear free world.” That’s one way to put it. While others may hope that Obama has outgrown his youthful radicalism, the Times suggested that he is fulfilling it. The Times unfortunately appears to have gotten that right.

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