EVERYTHING that's wrong with Washington is true in spades of the Bush administration's nuclear nonproliferation policy. The policy is shortsighted, controlled by a narrow group of entrenched bureaucrats, and hidden behind a blanket of blather.
The administration has cast itself as an agent of change while conducting nuclear business as usual, as in the recent, virtually empty but very self-congratulatory, "nonproliferation initiative." Timed to coincide with the Democratic National Convention, the announcement sought to deflect the criticism President Bush faces for complicity in building up Saddam Hussein's atom-bomb program.
In fact, the administration's biggest accomplishment since Desert Storm has been to belatedly push the nations in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) - which had been dormant since 1978 - to agree to expanding their list of controlled exports. Many weapons-relevant items, however, are still subject to weak controls or no controls at all.
Now, administration lobbyists are fighting a rear-guard action to kill legislation that addresses the problems the NSG ignored. The legislation tightens US export restrictions on precisely the kinds of goodies sent to Saddam and phases out US exports of bomb-grade highly enriched uranium. The measure directs the president to seek comparable restraints by the NSG, as well as specific improvements in International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
Leading the charge against the measure are the State and Commerce Departments. These were the agencies, it should be recalled, that were insisting until Iraqi tanks rolled into Kuwait and the Iraqi bomb program was unearthed that Saddam Hussein was a reasonable guy we could do business with.
Their target is Title III of the House-passed Export Administration Act (EAA), which is about to be taken up by a House-Senate conference. The key to enactment of the nuclear-export controls in Title III lies with the Senate conferees, who must respond to the House-passed measure and stand up to a veto threat.