Dokodemo Door!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thomas v. Obama

I know this comes about 10 days too late, and this is one of those posts that took a back-seat to packing our stuff in preparation for our long-awaited move to Japan.

Mari and I watched Obama's first live presidential news conference about 2 weeks ago. For the most part, I thought he came-off looking as he wanted to. But one bit gave me pause...

The ninth reporter in line, Helen Thomas (so-called "dean" of the Washington press troupe) asked a question regarding nuclear proliferation but worded it very coyly: "Do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?" I suspect she was trying to test him.

Obama didn't directly answer the question, saying he didn't care to "speculate" and started going off-topic. So great was his desire to avoid the issue that he didn't let her follow-up and he moved right along.

"He dodged the question." I said out loud, causing Mari to peer-back at me through the kitchen door.

Well, yes, presidents do that but this particular instance felt creepy. And if I had been in that room, I would've laughed out loud. That's probably the sole reason I'm not a White House correspondent.

So the answer to Helen Thomas' question was simple: Israel's nuclear stockpile is thought to number around 200 warheads. That is the only country in the Middle East which has nuclear weapons as of 2009.

Everybody knows this. There is no way that Obama could have not known this so there was no need to "speculate" about anything. And, furthermore, I'll bet that almost everybody in the room knew that but kept their mouths shut. That takes some steely discipline, does it not?

Israel has always been ambiguous about its nuclear stockpile and it's understandable. Openly acknowledging them might lead to increased pressure to sign the NPT and open that country's Dimona facilities to nuclear inspectors. Mordechai Vanunu didn't get elaborate restrictions put on his speech and movement for nothing.

Furthermore, acknowledging Israel's nuclear weapons in the U.S. would give rise to questions about why military aid to that country does not comform to 1970s-era restrictions which (theoretically) should be applied to nations which have clandestine nuclear weapons programs.

A better question that Thomas should've asked is: When will American presidents stop lying about this?


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