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June 19, 2013 12:38 PM Doing His Job

By Ed Kilgore

The content of Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin today may not get as much attention as crowd-size comparisons to his famous 2008 address in that city, or comparisons to JFK’s famous address there a half-century ago, or rumination on Obama’s diminishment in European eyes since his election as president, or snark about him fleeing domestic “scandals.” But he actually had a pretty important message to deliver on a crucial subject that rarely gets much attention, per this report from WaPo’s Scott Wilson:

President Obama on Wednesday called for the reduction of the number of deployed U.S. strategic nuclear warheads by one-third if the Russian government agrees to similar cuts, reviving a goal outlined early in his presidency to work toward a world without nuclear weapons….
The president’s call for further reductions in deployed strategic nuclear warheads from levels already approved under the three-year-old New START agreement echoed his speech from Hradcany Square in Prague a few months into his presidency.
“So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” Obama said then, drawing praise from European leaders and concern from some defense policy analysts and hawkish politicians in Washington.
Obama signed New START in April 2010 with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now the prime minister. The agreement, ratified by the U.S. Senate later in the year, limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, a two-thirds reduction from the level set by the original START treaty signed two decades earlier.
Obama on Wednesday also called for a reduction of the number of deployed tactical nuclear warheads in Europe and will pledge to work with European allies and the Russian government to find ways to do so.
During the Group of Eight summit that concluded Tuesday in Northern Ireland, Obama briefed Russian President Vladimir Putin on the nuclear weapons proposals in his speech, according to administration officials.

In other words, Obama is doing his job, with no reasonable expectation of glory overseas or especially at home. That this chore involves essential efforts to minimize the risk of the fiery annihilation of the planet ought to make it matter more, but probably won’t.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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