President Barack Obama's speech Wednesday in Berlin contained so many elements that commentators were calling it a "smorgasbord," but before the speech was delivered, White House aides were drawing reporters' attention to his call for nuclear reductions, according to the Associated Press, "calling it the centerpiece of his address."
In his speech, the president called for negotiations with Moscow for a one-third reduction in deployed nuclear weapons. Any reduction would have to be mutual because a unilateral reduction is a nonstarter politically with Congress.
During Obama's first term, the U.S. and Russia agreed to limit their stockpiles to 1,550 weapons as part of the New START Treaty. But in his second term, Obama faces a Russia that feels it must be assertive to make up for what it feels is its diminished stature in the world and, moreover, faces the loss of a client state in Syria.
And Russian foreign-policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told the AP that any plans for further arms reduction would have to involve nuclear-armed nations beyond just the U.S. and Russia.
This might have been just cautionary rhetoric because the chances of getting Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea -- and, maybe one day, Iran -- around one table to talk arms reduction have to be close to nil.
Obama promised the crowd at the Brandenburg Gate that he would work with NATO allies to achieve "bold reductions" in European-based tactical nuclear weapons.
The German government would happily see the U.S. remove its remaining tactical nukes from German soil, but other NATO countries might object, seeing the presence of even a limited number of weapons as insurance against Russia's far-larger arsenal.
If the Russians don't appear to be terribly cooperative, Obama still has congressional Republicans to deal with. Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, accused the president of appeasement and seeking the approval of nations that only want to see the United States weakened.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that any agreement with the Russians should be in the form of a treaty, meaning the Senate would get to vote on it, and that the president should first modernize the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal. (In a fact sheet accompanying his speech, the president promised to update the nation's nukes.) Obama posited a secure world "without nuclear weapons, no matter how distant that dream may be." Frankly, that dream is more distant than ever.