John Culleton: Nuclear issues demand attention

In a nation apparently obsessed with local scandals or pseudo-scandals on both left and right, two major scandals that involve nuclear weapons are not getting sufficient attention.

For some time our Air Force sites that house and can fire nuclear-tipped ICBM weapons have been getting poor reports after periodic inspections. Now it has been reported that 11 launch officers have been stripped of their clearances to perform such duties because of drug abuse. And 34 more have been found to have cheated on the periodic examinations that test their knowledge of their duties.

These launch officers are lieutenants and captains, occupying the three lowest ranks in the officer schedule. Their duties must be boring in the extreme. Nevertheless, this poor performance is frightening, whatever the cause. They control weapons that, if all fired at once, could destroy life on earth.

Even a single missile fired in error would be a national and international tragedy. But to my knowledge, only one reporter, Rachael Maddow, of MSNBC, has featured this story. It deserves broader attention and effective corrective action.

The second scandal involves three nations, the United States, Israel and Iran. The first two have nuclear arsenals and the third aspires to develop one. Severe sanctions have been placed on Iran by the world community in an attempt to force that nation to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Now, after years of sanctions and the near ruin of the Iranian economy, a new and allegedly more moderate political leader, Hassan Rouhani, has been elected president in Iran. For the first time in decades, serious diplomatic discussions have taken place. A short term agreement has been reached for a limited period in order to allow time for more comprehensive negotiations. Iran agreed to a largely symbolic halt to certain enrichment activities, and the U.S. allowed them access to a relatively small amount of their sequestered funds in foreign banks.

Neither side trusts the other. But this first small step may presage a broader agreement, and the eventual halt to the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The sanctions are really hurting them.

There are war hawks in all three nations. The hawkish president of Israel, American-born Benjamin Netanyahu, who apparently much prefers a U.S. strike against Iran to patient negotiation, has condemned the first small agreement in the stongest terms. He knows how to pull the strings of Israel's supporters in the U.S.

Now, 16 Democratic senators, including Maryland's own Sen. Ben Cardin, all dependent on votes and funding from the pro-Israel lobby, have proposed immediate further sanctions against Iran, which would breach the present agreement and halt the negotiations altogether. They expect President Obama to veto their proposal, thus saving the diplomatic process. But there is a danger that the war hawks in Iran (they have politics too) will seize upon this action despite any subsequent veto as a sign of American duplicity and scuttle the negotiations from their end.

Not everyone in Israel supports Netanyahu on this issue (they have politics too). But he has the support one assumes of the majority in that country. His reckless manipulation of Israel's supporters in the U.S., apparently to force an eventual military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, is dangerous and not the act of a friend. In the meantime he is busy demanding yet more of the occupied Palestinian land as a condition of making peace with Palestine.

We have had enough of war hawks, unnecessary wars and the casualties they incur. With 42 percent of the entire world's military expenditures occurring in our budget, we have nothing to fear from any nation. I served, my father served, my son served and one grandson served in uniform. I would not want to lose any family members in yet another foolish war.

Hopefully the ill-timed sanctions proposal will not come up for a vote.

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