No nukes pointed this way? Think again
by J Michael Waller, Washington Times, July 6, 1998
After years of assuring the public that no nuclear missiles are aimed at the United States, President Clinton came to China with a proposal to Beijing — a proposal admitting that what he told the American people was untrue.
The president asked China’s communist leaders to de-target their nuclear missiles directed at American cities. His proposal is modeled after a 1994 accord with Russian President Boris Yeltsin to remove targeting data from the strategic nuclear missiles in their countries’ arsenals. The stated purpose was to protect both countries from an accidental or unauthorized nuclear strike by the other. Beijing agreed after rejecting at least two similar U.S. overtures.
While militarily meaningless and completely unverifiable — the missiles can be re-targeted in minutes — the agreement gave President Clinton the grist for a crowd-pleasing line he has repeated time and again: No more Russian nuclear missiles are aimed at America. But on many occasions, the president and other top officials went further, saying that no nuclear missiles, period, were pointed at the U.S. Yet in China, the president once more asked Beijing if it would please stop targeting the people he had told were no longer targeted. Asked recently at a news conference about this contradiction, Pentagon spokes-man Kenneth Bacon said, “I think that the vast majority of times the president has made that statement, it’s been very clearly tied to Russia. There may be one time when he didn’t mention Russia in particular. But I know that, since all of you in the press are very fair and pay a lot of attention to context, that you realize that if he forgot to mention Russia, it was a mistake.” A mistake?
Scanning the president’s official speeches posted on the White House internet web site, we find our commander-in-chief guaranteeing the public at 131 times that America is free from the threat of nuclear missile attack. Most of the time he said it in the context of Russia. But a quarter of the time, in at least 32 speeches, President Clinton stated very clearly that no country — anywhere — was aiming nuclear missiles at the American people.
Not once did the White House issue a correction. Indeed, of those 131 speeches, the president never told the public that Russia could re-target in minutes, or that both Russia and China were modernizing their nuclear missile forces. Mr. Clinton told a crowd in Des Moines, Iowa, “for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, there’s not a single, solitary nuclear missile pointed at an American child tonight.” Not one. Not one. Not a single one.
A slip of the tongue? One could argue so if it happened once or twice. But the president said it again and again and again:
New York City, October 23, 1995: “For the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, there’s not a single solitary nuclear missile pointed at the people of the United States of America.”
Concord, New Hampshire, February 2, 1996: “. . . for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, there is not a single nuclear missile pointed at an American child today.”
Philadelphia, April 26, 1996: “. . . for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, there is not a single, solitary nuclear missile pointed at an American child tonight.”
Toledo, Ohio, August 26, 1996: “. . . for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, on this night, this beautiful night, there is not a single nuclear missile pointed at a child in the United States of America.”
And so on: In Nashville, Washington, Iowa City, New Orleans, Coral Gables, San Francisco, Santa Monica, St. Louis; Ashland, Kentucky; Sun City, Arizona; Hartford, Connecticut — even in a telephone speech to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the very people who would coordinate disaster relief in the event of a nuclear attack. Mr. Clinton is not alone in making this mistake.
Vice President Al Gore echoed the president in his carefully rehearsed speech to the 1996 Democratic National Convention: “Our strength at home has led to renewed respect abroad: nuclear missiles no longer pointed at our cities. . . .” No clear tie to Russia.
Even Mr. Bacon’s boss at the time, Defense Secretary William Perry, parroted the line. In an April 1996 speech at the George Washington University, Mr. Perry stated, “Today, we do not need a national missile defense system because our nation is not now threatened by missiles of mass destruction.” Another mistake? Paying very close attention to the context, we see that Mr. Perry specifically acknowledged that Russian and Chinese missiles could strike the United States by accident or from outside the chain of command, but added that the probability is “remote.” Furthermore, he said, “we are working to make it even more remote through arms control and diplomacy.”
And so, two years later and in the midst of a widening missile technology transfer-to-China scandal, Mr. Clinton goes to Beijing with an arms-control-and-diplomacy fig leaf to beg Chinese leaders to stop aiming their new nuclear missiles at us. He wants a regime the U.S. can’t trust to do something the U.S. can’t verify. Mr. Clinton will no doubt boast that at long last, no Chinese missiles target America’s children. But how can he believe his strategic partners in Beijing? More importantly, how can we believe him?