Wednesday, December 07, 2005

O ye of little faith...

Some doubters have asked what Barack Obama has been doing as a Senator to merit my hopes that he runs for President in '08.

Well doubters, he's only doing his part to end partisan bickering while simultaneously trying to save your skeptical ass by keeping Soviet-era weapons from the international arms blackmarket.

From the Scripps Howard News Service:
Just days after the 2004 election, two Midwest politicians who seem as publicly diverse in politics and persona as any two of the breed can be exchanged private messages that violated the shrill principles of partisan name-calling and political negativity that have made Washington what it is today.

Barack Obama, the dark-haired Democratic freshman from Illinois whose face was on the cover of Newsweek before his posterior was in his Senate chair, wanted to talk with Sen. Richard Lugar, the snow-haired Republican icon from Indiana who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Obama wanted to explore the possibility of serving on Lugar's panel.

Lugar, meanwhile, had just sent Obama a letter of congratulations in which he encouraged Obama to join his committee. The Indiana veteran was motivated by more than just good-neighbor policy. Obama had campaigned by strongly supporting the Nunn-Lugar program, co-authored in 1991 by then-Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and Lugar to secure and destroy vulnerable former Soviet nuclear, chemical and biological weapons _ before terrorists steal or buy them on the black market.

The message swap led to a Washington odd-coupling that may be as close to a beautiful friendship as things get here in Casablanca-on-the-Potomac. ***

For Lugar has taken Obama under his wing, onto his jet plane and into his confidence in ways that are rare in Washington under any circumstances _ and which border on the unprecedented given their political divergence. In August, they traveled together to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. ***

In Russia, Lugar and Obama toured sites of nuclear, biological and conventional weapons _ and were detained for three hours by Russian authorities at the Perm airport who acted as though they were back in the bad old days of the Cold War. In Donetsk, Ukraine, they saw what looked like a junk yard, but was in fact a poorly secured arsenal of thousands of tons of live munitions, land mines and shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles.

Back in Washington, Lugar and Obama introduced a bill creating a new program designed to bring the principles of the Nunn-Lugar program to efforts to at least secure conventional weapons such as those shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles by which a terrorist could down a jetliner. This is a homeland-security sort of bill that America urgently needs to become law.

Lugar and Obama cleverly titled their bill: "Cooperative Proliferation Detection, and Interdiction Assistance and Conventional Threat Reduction Act." If you think this is a title only a senator can love, you are right. But perhaps you haven't figured out why. It is because these senators know how Washington works: After the bill passes, we will all simply call it the "Lugar-Obama program."
Obama and Lugar explained the "Lugar-Obama program" in Sunday's Washington Post:
Our bill would launch a major nonproliferation initiative by addressing the growing threat from unsecured conventional weapons and by bolstering a key line of defense against weapons of mass destruction. Modeled after the successful Nunn-Lugar program to dismantle former Soviet nuclear weapons, the Lugar-Obama bill would seek to build cooperative relationships with willing countries.

One part of our initiative would strengthen and energize the U.S. program against unsecured lightweight antiaircraft missiles and other conventional weapons, a program that has for years been woefully underfunded. There may be as many as 750,000 missiles, known formally as man-portable air defense systems, in arsenals worldwide. The State Department estimates that more than 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by such weapons since the 1970s. Three years ago terrorists fired missiles at -- and missed -- a jetliner full of Israeli tourists taking off from Mombasa, Kenya. In 2003 a civilian cargo plane taking off from Baghdad was struck but landed safely. ***

The other part of the legislation would strengthen the ability of America's friends and allies to detect and intercept illegal shipments of weapons of mass destruction or material that could be used in a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon. Stopping weapons of mass destruction in transit is an important complement to our first line of defense, the Nunn-Lugar program, which aims to eliminate weapons of mass destruction at their source.

We cannot do this alone. We need the vigilance of like-minded nations, and the existing Proliferation Security Initiative can enlist their help. But while the Proliferation Security Initiative has been successful in creating cooperative arrangements, many of our partners lack the capability to detect hidden weapons and interdict shipments. Our bill would address that gap. ***

A thorough, multifaceted nonproliferation strategy is essential to fully defend the American people. The Nunn-Lugar program has provided a solid foundation, valuable experience and measurable results. With the Lugar-Obama legislation, we could take the next critical step forward to reshape, refocus and reinvigorate our country's nonproliferation mission.
The Bush administration should get behind this legislation because it looks like the Lugar-Obama program would address many of the failing grades that the 9-11 Commission gave the Bush Administration's efforts in the War on Terror.

So let's hope Georgie is clever enough to copy from the smart kids and get his grades up before it is too late.


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