- Former seven-term congresswoman who chaired the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee
- Opposed funding for missile-defense system
- Advocated for America's unilateral nuclear disarmament
- Was nominated by President Obama as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
- Died on April 29, 2019
Born in Newark, New Jersey on November 15, 1951, Ellen Tauscher first became politically active when she worked as a Democratic Party fundraiser and chaired Dianne Feinstein‘s successful 1992 and 1994 Senate campaigns. In 1996 Tauscher herself was elected to represent California’s 10th congressional district; she was re-elected every two years thereafter, through 2008. During her tenure in Congress, she chaired the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee.
Opposed to the funding and development of a long-range missile-defense system, Rep. Tauscher cut hundreds of millions of dollars from that program on grounds that the technology had not been thoroughly tested. In 2004 she proposed diverting funds from missile defense, and using that money to help finance the enlargement of the U.S. Army overall.
Tauscher’s opposition to missile defense led her to trek to Europe in December 2008 to reassure Czech Deputy Prime Minister Aleandr Vondra that President Barack Obama would not deploy such a system until after having fulfilled conditions that would take years to implement — long after the time Iran was projected to have obtained a nuclear weapon.
Not only were missile-defense systems “untested” in Tauscher’s view, but they were unnecessary — because Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejiad and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden did not yet possess nuclear weapons. In March 2009 Tauscher excoriated advocates of missile defense for “running around with their hair on fire warning about a long-range threat from Iran that does not exist.” Similarly, Tauscher told the Progressive Policy Institute, “[W]e miscalculate if we confuse intent with capability. Al-Qaeda may want nuclear weapons but likely does not have them — at least not yet.”
Tauscher believed that in order to discourage aggressive dictators from developing nuclear weapons, the United States should disarm itself of its own nuclear stockpiles. In February 2009 she told the Munich Security Conference: “The U.S. would, without question, be more secure in a world free of nuclear weapons. The real question is whether pursuit of such a goal is in our security interests. I believe it is.”
As a congresswoman, Tauscher opposed efforts to create any new nuclear weapons and withheld funding from the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, which was designed to secure America’s aging nuclear stockpile and guard it against unauthorized launch. (The Obama administration killed RRW funding in early 2009.)
Instead, Tauscher called for the U.S. to “immediately” ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which she said “would do wonders for our security — if America would act.” The CTBT is the slow road to permanent, unilateral disarmament. Under its terms, old weapons that cannot be tested will be destroyed, while no new weapons will be developed.
But the CTBT did not discourage proliferation. China, a signatory that did not ratify the treaty, has a long history of sharing nuclear technology with rogue states — including Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran. Similarly, Russia, which both signed and ratified the CTBT, built a nuclear power plant at Bushehr, Iran and has consistently thwarted harsher international sanctions against Iran — all in contravention of CTBT restrictions.
Likewise, Tauscher advises “a multilateral push to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] … [which] will pay substantial dividends for global nuclear security.” But the IAEA has been a proven failure, watching passively as first Pakistan and India, then North Korea and possibly Iran developed the very weapons the international body was intended to deny.
Tauscher attributed these failures not to the IAEA’s ineptitude, but to the United States. Her position was that the existence of a U.S. nuclear arsenal proved that America was an imperialistic hypocrite that provoked foreign dictators to seek doomsday weapons out of imitation and for purposes of self-defense. Said Tauscher: “At a time when we are facing threats from nations such as North Korea and Iran, and attempting to convince others such as India and Pakistan to become responsible nuclear powers, it is vital that America reclaims the leadership we once had on arms control.”
Tauscher advised the Obama administration to express goodwill to Tehran and Pyongyang, until such time as the United States could regain its lost moral authority. “[T]he U.S. needs to engage in immediate and unconditional direct negotiations with North Korea and Iran,” she stated in 2009. “After eight long years [of the Bush administration], it should be abundantly clear that bellicose chest thumping doesn’t get results.”
However, it was precisely the Bush administration’s least productive policies that Tauscher supported. In June 2008 she called North Korea’s incomplete declaration of its nuclear program “a good-faith step toward peace and cooperation,” which “paves the way for taking North Korea off the state-sponsor-of-terror list, giving some of the world’s most isolated and impoverished people the humanitarian aid they desperately need.”
Yet Tauscher would give no such latitude to India, which has had no history of facilitating nuclear proliferation in other nations. After a decade-long economic boom, India desperately needed nuclear power to keep pace with its energy demands. Recognizing this, the Bush administration brokered a deal for the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to furnish India’s civilian nuclear reactors with nuclear material. Tauscher called the agreement “a dark day for global efforts to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction.” She further charged:
“By rewarding a friendly country and pushing this deal through the NSG, the Bush administration has made it far harder to curb the South Asian nuclear arms race, undermined efforts to address North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs, and limited our ability to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at the 2010 Review Conference. It’s a dangerous precedent that would be impossible to erase, and I will work to block its passage through Congress.”
Tauscher believed that North Korean and Iranian nuclear provocations could be best rewarded with diplomatic talks, while recommending that India and Israel be subjected to tighter strictures.
In September 2002 Tauscher prodded President George W. Bush, in tortured syntax, “to put specifically the Security Council members — Russia, China and France — _their _feet to the fire and ask them how they can honestly expect us one year after this terrible tragedy as they continue to appease and continue to allow Saddam Hussein to do clearly what everyone recognizes that he does.” She then voted in favor of an armed response to Iraq’s provocations.
By July 2003 — barely three months into the Iraq War — Tauscher became the first Democrat of national repute to charge that President Bush had led the U.S. to war based on a series of lies. Tauscher told a crowd at the University of California at Berkeley:
“I believe that this administration cooked the books on the intelligence that caused us to believe that Iraq was an imminent threat…. This administration took part fact and part supposition — subjective information delivered to them by the intelligence community — and they shaped it to reach a preconceived conclusion for the use of force, something that they had determined to do sometime well before March of this year.”
Adding that she was “deeply disturbed that I didn’t know at the time that the aluminum tubes could possibly be used in gas centrifuges, but also in vacuum cleaners,” Tauscher called for a congressional investigation into her charges against Bush.
In the same July 2003 speech, Tauscher told her Berkeley audience that the Bush administration had exaggerated the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear program as well. “I hear the drumbeat and the rhetoric coming from the administration about Iran and their nuclear program. And it all sounds vaguely familiar,” she said. “I am not going to sit idly by and be duped.”
As the Iraq War progressed, Tauscher opposed a measure commending U.S. troops for having removed Saddam Hussein from power. In December 2005 she urged President Bush to immediately withdraw American forces from the Iraqi theater of war. She later voted for a withdrawal of all U.S. troops within 90 days, and for a measure rejecting Bush’s so-called “surge” which dispatched an additional 21,000 troops to quell the insurgent violence in Iraq. She went on to support the idea that the President should be impeached for “lying” to the American people.
The American Conservative Union gave Tauscher’s 2007 voting record a rating of zero out of 100. The left-leaning Americans for Democratic Action gave her 95 points.
At other points in her career, Tauscher supported the use of warrantless wiretaps against foreign jihadist terrorists; she called for the extension of habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo Bay detainees; she backed Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s failed bid to establish a Department of Peace and Nonviolence; she voted against putting an end to arms sales to Beijing; she opposed a bill to withhold some portion of America’s United Nations dues until the international body cleaned up its corruption; and she boasted a 78 percent voting record from SANE (now the Peace Action Network).
In May 2009 President Obama nominated Tauscher to serve his new administration as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.
Tauscher died on April 29, 2019 in Palo Alto, California.
This profile is adapted from the article “Undersecretary of Naivete,” written by Ben Johnson and published by FrontPageMag.com on June 1, 2009.