By BOB HERBERT
The key to understanding the Bush administration and its policies is contained in the widely cited New York Times Magazine article, "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush," by Ron Suskind.
That's the article in which Mr. Suskind described how a senior Bush adviser contemptuously dismissed the community that most of us live in, "the reality-based community."
The times have changed and reality isn't what it used to be. As the adviser explained, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."
This mad-hatter thinking was on display again last week. President Bush, who used specious claims about a nuclear threat to launch his disastrous war in Iraq, agreed to a deal — in blatant violation of international accords and several decades of bipartisan U.S. policy — that would enable India to double or triple its annual production of nuclear weapons.
The president turned his back on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (dismissed, like reality-based thinking, as passé) and moved the world a step closer to an accelerated nuclear arms race in Asia and elsewhere. In the president's empire-based, otherworldly way of thinking, this was a good thing.
For decades, U.S. law and the provisions of the nonproliferation treaty have precluded the sale of nuclear fuel and reactor components to India, which has acquired an atomic arsenal and has refused to sign the treaty. President Bush turned that policy upside down last week, agreeing to share nuclear energy technology with India, even as it continues to develop nuclear weapons in a program that is shielded from international inspectors.
The attempt to stop the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the five original members of the so-called nuclear club — the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China — has not been perfect by any means. But it hasn't been bad. Back in the 1960's there was a fear that before long there might be dozens of additional states with nuclear weapons. But so far the spread has been held to four — Israel, India, Pakistan and most likely North Korea.
A cornerstone of the nonproliferation strategy has been the refusal to share nuclear energy technology with nations unwilling to abide by the provisions of the nonproliferation treaty. Last week George W. Bush decided he would change all that by carving out an exception for India.
Presidents from both parties — from Richard Nixon through Bill Clinton — had refused to make this deal, which India has wanted for more than three decades.
"It's a terrible deal, a disaster," said Joseph Cirincione, the director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment. "The Indians are free to make as much nuclear material as they want. Meanwhile, we're going to sell them fuel for their civilian reactors. That frees up their resources for the military side, and that stinks."
With President Bush undermining the nonproliferation treaty, critics are worried that it's only a matter of time before other bilateral deals are made — say, China with Pakistan, which has already asked Mr. Bush for a deal similar to India's and been turned down.
"We can't break the rules for India and then expect other countries to play by them," said Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who is one of the leading opponents of the deal, which will require Congressional approval.
In the early 1960's, President John F. Kennedy, a member in good standing of the reality-based community, tried to convey the menace posed to mankind by nuclear weapons. "Today," he said, "every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us."
Today, in 2006, as Congressman Markey reminds us, terrorists as well as rogue governments are racing to get their hands on nukes.
"We've had a consensus for a generation," he said, "that the world will cooperate to restrict the spread of these nuclear materials. If this consensus breaks down, then we increase exponentially the likelihood that the catastrophic event that Kennedy warned about will, in fact, occur."