- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 29, 2016

President Obama burnished his legacy as the president who went to Hiroshima, but critics on the left and right say the historic visit probably won’t make a bit of difference for his dream of a world without nuclear weapons.

“In terms of his avowed goal of nuclear disarmament, no,” said Dean Cheng, a specialist on Asia and national security at the Heritage Foundation. “The Chinese aren’t going to give up nuclear weapons, the Russians aren’t going to give up nuclear weapons.”

Peace groups praised the president’s visit Friday to the site of the first nuclear bomb attack, where Mr. Obama called for a “moral revolution” to rid the world of nukes. But they said Mr. Obama’s lofty rhetoric doesn’t match his record in office.

“His administration has proposed the largest increase in spending on nuclear weapons and their delivery systems in recent history — $1 trillion over 30 years,” said Paul Kawika Martin, senior director for policy and political affairs of Peace Action, the nation’s largest grass-roots peace organization. “During his term, the reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons has been the least since post-Cold War. President Obama has six months to solidify his nuclear legacy and ensure that his early Nobel Prize [in 2009] was deserved.”

As he promised, the president did not apologize for the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, which killed an estimated 215,000 people. He laid a wreath at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima and embraced a 91-year-old survivor of the nuclear attack.

“We may not eliminate mankind’s capacity to do evil,” Mr. Obama said. “But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.”

He didn’t directly mention the nuclear belligerence of North Korea, a problem that Mr. Obama inherited and has grown more threatening on his watch.

Even without apologizing formally, Mr. Cheng said, the president “created the optics of an apology” that will complicate the U.S. alliance with Japan.

“This now puts Japanese in a difficult set of situations,” he said. “The first problem is, do the Japanese now owe the United States an apology for Pearl Harbor? And the second problem it raises is, how will other countries in the region react to Japan? Will they expect Japan to go on an apology tour? One can foresee the Chinese expecting the Japanese minister to go to Nanjing [where Japanese troops committed mass murders and rapes in 1937-38].”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last week that he has no plans to visit Pearl Harbor in December for the 75th anniversary of Japan’s sneak attack that killed more than 2.400 U.S. service members and brought the U.S. into the war.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was critical of Mr. Obama’s move.

“Does President Obama ever discuss the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor while he’s in Japan? Thousands of American lives lost,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter.

Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and a prominent Trump supporter, said the visit was part of Mr. Obama’s “apology lap” and that he was “dissing our vets.”

Referring to the atomic bombings forcing Japan to surrender, conservative commentator Ann Coulter said on Twitter, “Hiroshima ended a war we didn’t start & saved a million lives. We need to make sure EVERY TIME there’s a sneak attack, this happens.”

Richard Bush, director of the Center for East Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, said Mr. Obama’s actions were worthwhile in Hiroshima.

“President Truman was right to order the use of atomic weapons against Japan and so shorten the war,” Mr. Bush said in an email. “Still, it was appropriate for President Obama to show remorse that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered so grievously as a result. After all, they had absolutely no say in Japan’s decisions to go to war, to conduct operations with such brutality, and to continue the fighting long after the ultimate outcome was clear. The horror of their deaths may be one reason that atomic or nuclear weapons have fortunately not been used since.”

The Japanese people had mixed reactions to Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima. Eiji Hattori, 73, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing, said he thought Mr. Obama’s speech was an apology.

“I feel different now,” Mr. Hattori said. “I didn’t think he’d go that far and say so much. I feel I’ve been saved somewhat. For me, it was more than enough.”

Another survivor, Miki Tsukishita, 75, said of the president’s visit, “I’m afraid I did not hear anything concrete about how he [Mr. Obama] plans to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons. Atomic-bomb survivors, including me, are getting older. Just cheering his visit is not enough. As a serving U.S. president I wish he had been more specific and concrete.”

Kimie Miyamoto, 89, also a bomb survivor, expressed skepticism that Mr. Obama’s visit would make a difference long term.

“The world paid attention to what happened here, even if just for a while, because someone as important as (Obama) came to Hiroshima,” she said. “But you never know if it will really make a difference, because so much depends on what other countries are thinking as well.”

Asked if Mr. Obama’s visit could inspire those countries to abandon nuclear weapons, she shook her head. “I don’t think so,” she said, “because there are so many (bombs) in the world.”

White House aides say Mr. Obama’s disarmament credentials are substantial, pointing to his launching of an international nuclear security summit every two years and the Iranian nuclear deal. It’s not clear whether the nuclear security gatherings will continue beyond Mr. Obama’s presidency, and critics say the agreement with Iran won’t prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons.

Mr. Martin, of Peace Action, said Mr. Obama needs to take concrete steps to back up his rhetoric, noting that he could “reduce strategic or reserve warheads, remove warheads from high alert, cut plans to escalate the U.S. nuclear weapons program like the new nuclear cruise missile and adopt a ‘no first use’ nuclear weapons policy as a way to put actions behind his thoughtful words in Hiroshima,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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