War Stories

National Security’s Hard Men

Don’t be fooled by Condi’s apparent embrace of “soft power.’

Condoleezza Rice flies off to Europe this week, presumably to mend rifts in the Atlantic alliance. She seems to be staffing her State Department with pragmatists and diplomats, as opposed to ideologues and obstructionists. But don’t infer just yet that the Bush administration plans a second-term shift to a more conciliatory foreign policy. Quite aside from whether Rice herself is an advocate of “soft power” (and much evidence suggests otherwise), the intense focus on her doings and whereabouts is a distraction from the churnings in those other two buildings—the White House and the Pentagon—where the real decisions get made and the prevailing concept of power is unequivocally harsher.

Two news reports Tuesday suggest no mulling of new directions from those bunkers.

The first sign of continuity is the news that J.D. Crouch will be named deputy national security adviser, replacing Stephen Hadley, who succeeded Rice in the top slot when she moved over to State. Crouch is currently the ambassador to Romania, a post he’s held for a mere eight months (so much for the primacy of “new Europe”). Before then, he was assistant secretary of defense for international security policy (he’d been deputy assistant secretary in the same Pentagon shop during the presidency of Bush’s father). During the Clinton years, he was a professor of defense and strategic studies at Southwest Missouri State University and an editorial-board member of the hawkish journal Contemporary Strategy.

It was during those years of exile that Crouch expressed his views most clearly. He criticized President George H.W. Bush’s decision to withdraw tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea, calling it “a major geopolitical mistake.” He advocated setting “a firm deadline for the destruction of North Korea’s nuclear complex.” He called for the end of the Anti-Ballistic-Missile Treaty and the swift development of missile defenses (a development that he oversaw in his recent Pentagon tenure). Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1995, he fervently supported resuming the production of chemical weapons and said of an international accord to ban them: “I cannot imagine an agreement less suited to our security needs in the post-Cold War environment. … It will contribute to the weakening of deterrence … by eliminating the ability of the United States to respond in kind to a chemical attack.” In 1997, in a letter to Sen. Trent Lott (obtained and reprinted by the Council for a Livable World, an arms-control lobbying group), Crouch offered the further argument that a treaty would “create a massive new UN-style international-inspections bureaucracy” that might cost taxpayers $200 million a year. He added, very oddly, that the accord would “jeopardize US citizens’ constitutional rights by requiring the United States Government to permit searches without either warrants or probable cause.”

At the time, Crouch was a member of the Claremont Institute, an organization that opposed tighter gun-control laws. He had no doubt read many pamphlets that invoked the Second and Fourth Amendments to support the ownership of handguns and assault rifles. But it is downright bizarre to see him applying such language to oppose restrictions on chemical weapons.

And while it may not say much about his understanding of national security matters, an antigun-control essay that he wrote for the Washington Times of April 29, 1999, speaks volumes about his broader politics. Dismissing the calls for gun control in the wake of the Columbine massacre, Crouch wrote, “The sources of this anarchism are 30 years of liberal social policy that has put our children in day care, taken God out of the schools, taken Mom out of the house, and banished Dad as an authority figure from the family altogether.”

None of these views, by the way, would surprise the people who hired him. His new boss, Hadley, knows him especially well. Back in 1990-92, when Crouch was deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, the assistant secretary directly above him was … Stephen Hadley.

Welcome to the White House, Dr. Crouch.

The second bit of news takes us to the Pentagon, where Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has decided to take another crack at putting the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator—a.k.a. the nuclear bunker buster—in the military budget. Last year, Congress uncharacteristically zeroed the $27 million request for the program, in part because some staffers looked at its five-year budget, saw that its managers were counting on a total of $500 million from fiscal years 2005-09, and inferred that it was shaping up to be a real weapon system, not just a “research study,” as Bush officials had reassuringly claimed. According to a story by the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus, Rumsfeld wrote a memo on Jan. 10 advocating a revival of the program. A request for money is included in the budget that President Bush will send to Congress this month.

The rationale for the program is that hostile powers might store nuclear weapons or facilities, or other vital military assets, in underground bunkers that could be destroyed only by nuclear bombs capable of burrowing deeply into the earth before detonating.

There are three problems with this notion. First, assuming a president wanted to “take out” such bunkers, he wouldn’t have to destroy them but only disable them—cut off their access points, clog their ventilation systems, cover them with rubble. For that task, a highly accurate non-nuclear weapon would do just fine. Second, physicists have calculated that, no matter how deep such a nuclear bomb went off, radioactive fallout would leak above the surface; people would die, perhaps for miles around.

Third and most important, at a time when President Bush is urging regimes to refrain from developing nuclear weapons, his rhetoric would look hollow and ridiculous if the United States started developing a new generation of such weapons. A number of regimes (rogue and otherwise) are on the verge of going nuclear, in some cases to deter aggression from what they see (correctly or not) as real threats. The vital task now is to persuade such regimes that nuclear weapons have no military utility. Instead, Rumsfeld is promoting the bunker buster as a nuclear weapon that has great utility, that expands U.S. military options.

Have fun in Europe, Secretary Rice.