It took a furious exchange of communiques to sort it out. The answer: Telek was not a code. Telek was Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's dog.
The cable had landed at the Pentagon by mistake. It was supposed to go London where Ike had left Telek. The supreme commander wanted to know if his puppy was housebroken yet.
Today as then, words matter -- especially where war and national security are concerned. Misunderstandings can mean disaster. Everyone on the same side should at least know what they are talking about. President Obama and his White House national security staff have yet to learn this lesson.
The Obama White House plays fast and loose with words where national security is concerned.
Consider the evidence. We've discovered that a "deadline" doesn't mean what most of us think it does.
Obama has repeatedly trumpeted foreign policy deadlines for closing Gitmo and leaving Afghanistan. Turns out that, for the White House, deadline means "something to tell the progressive base to make it happy."
Now the White House is blaring a new promise to "modernize" U.S. nuclear forces. Oddly enough, it's a limited-time offer only. If the Senate fails to approve the New START nuclear deal with Russia "fast, fast, fast" (i.e., before the lame duck session of Congress closes), the White House won't ask for modernization money. In the lexicon of this White House, then, "modernize" means "bribe" or "buy off."
In reality, the White House plans for modernizing our nuclear arsenal have little to do with modernization. Unless, of course, you feel that when you take your car in for an oil change, you've modernized the family's transportation fleet.
The president's nuclear "modernization" plan calls for spending $85 billion over the next decade -- barely enough to sustain our current nuclear infrastructure -- and that includes pensions for lab workers, as well as brick-and-mortar items like testing facilities. He proposes not one thin dime for new systems or new warheads.
Obama has, in fact, made nil commitments to modernization. His Nuclear Posture Review flat out states that the United States will not conduct underground nuclear testing, will not "develop new nuclear warheads" to meet new mission requirements, and will "only" study options for ensuring the safety, security, and effectiveness of nuclear warheads on a case-by-case basis.
Furthermore, presidential promises regarding future spending (or non-spending) ring hollow. The president can't guarantee long-term expenditures because, at the end of the day, it is the Congress, not the chief executive, that writes the final budget.
Nor can Obama just stop spending appropriated funds. Beyond the illegality of such action, it would be completely irresponsible to halt nuclear modernization. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated in his October 2008 speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:
"To be blunt, there is absolutely no way we can maintain a credible deterrent and reduce the number of weapons in our stockpile without either resorting to testing our stockpile or pursuing a modernization program."
The New START treaty and nuclear modernization are separate issues. They should be considered separately by the Senate. Heaven help us if our senators are such chumps as to vote for a bad treaty because of empty promises/threats concerning nuclear modernization.
James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Examiner