Every so often, we get a reminder about what’s really important. We get nudged as to what we should be thinking about--and worried about. That is, not just what we find interesting, or what we’re getting paid to work on, but what’s vital, not only to ourselves and our family and friends--but to our whole country. Newt Gingrich delivered such a message Tuesday morning. The topic was America’s survival as a free country, and we all should pay attention.

Specifically, we should pay attention to what President Obama is doing on arms control and nuclear security, because issues of war and peace--and life and death--trump taxes, deficits, and debt.

But on Wednesday morning, the headlines in the MSM were almost giddy, in the wake of Obama’s “Nuclear Security Summit” in Washington, D.C: “46 nations join U.S. in nuclear pact,” blared The Washington Post. “Obama Vows Fresh Proliferation Push as Summit Ends,” bannered The New York Times. And The Post added a glowing sidebar story, headlined, “On world stage, Obama at ease as seminar leader.” Indeed, it all sounds great, that all those nations are committing to eliminate loose nuclear material--until one reads the fine print. Even The Post conceded, “The commitments are voluntary… reaching the goal will be difficult.”

Or maybe impossible. Speaking in Washington D.C., at a press breakfast co-hosted by The American Spectator and Americans for Tax Reform, just a few blocks away from the “Nuclear Security Summit,” Gingrich said that the White House was conducting “a fantasy foreign policy,” in which Obama was signing disarmament deals and shaking hands with leaders we probably shouldn’t trust. And this is supposed to make us safer?

No, said Gingrich. It’s fine to seek to corral nuclear material wherever possible, to thwart proliferation and keep bombs out of the hands of terrorists, but it’s dangerous to extend treaty-making to unverifiable arms control, to say nothing of arms elimination. That would put America at grave risk. So when Obama and his aides talk about eliminating nuclear weapons altogether, they are practicing “self-delusion,” declared the former Speaker of the House. The Obamans are acting, Gingrich continued, as if they believe that treaties can take the place of strong defense, that words can replace reality. But in fact, the administration is engaged in an “absurd charade,” putting America at risk. As the Georgia Republican reminded us, nearly eight decades ago, in 1933, the world’s diplomats were meeting in Geneva, working on arms control, even as Adolf Hitler was taking power in Germany. It was a “fantasy,” Gingrich declared, that someone such as Hitler would abide by any sort of arms control treaty.

And yet as Gingrich, displaying a mastery of history rarely seen in practicing politicians, added, the futile negotiations in Geneva from 1932 to 1934 were part of an overall skein of arms-control treaties in the 20s and 30s. Nations, exhausted by World War I, were eager to lull themselves into the belief that diplomacy could replace military necessity. It was through such over-optimistic fecklessness that the world plunged into an even greater war, World War II.

As Gingrich reminded us, the most pie-in-the-sky of all the treaties of that era was signed in 1928, when the leading powers of the world came together to ink the Kellogg-Briand http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kellogg–Brian_dPact treaty, which outlawed war. Yup, the world came together to sign a treaty declaring that war was a no-no. The US and 54 other countries were signatories; the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty 85:1. And yet, strangely enough, war was not ended. Indeed, the Kellogg-Briand treaty has never been repealed; Uncle Sam, along with just about every other country in the world, has simply ignored the treaty in innumerable conflicts since. The point here is not to mock good intentions, but rather to remind all of us that common sense matters more than lofty sentiments. If Hitler is on the loose, other countries need military defense, not scraps of paper.

So none of these treaties accomplished anything, except perhaps to give the democracies of that era, including the U.S., a false sense of security. Very false. As Gingrich reminded us, not only did Hitler come to power in the early 30s, but during that same period Imperial Japan was trying to conquer China, and Fascist Italy was preparing to invade Ethiopia. And, we might add, Soviet Russia was exterminating ten milion or so people in the brutal process of agricultural collectivization; the unprovoked Soviet attacks on its unlucky neighbors--Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Romania--would come a few years later.

And yet the Germans, the Soviets, the Japanese, and all the other aggressor nations had perfectly happy to come to meetings and sign treaties ofr peace and arms control, including the Kellogg-Briand pact, illegalizing war.

So we might ask: If that’s what we got then, what will we get now--in the era of nuclear weapons? As Gingrich observed, if just one country cheats on a hypothetical nuclear-arms elimination treaty, that country will be the de facto ruler of the world; it will have a terrible nuclear power relative to every other country that disarmed. So we’re making deals with dubious “partners”--who mostly seem to think of us as a rival, or even an enemy--while ignoring the real enemies.

As Gingrich also reminded us, even more dangerous countries, such as North Korea and Iran--rogue states that even the Obamans don’t think we can trust--were not a part of the negotiations. And neither, of course, was Al Qaeda. So even in the best possible scenario, if every country at the Nuclear Security Summit decided to follow the Golden Rule, the worst nations, and the worst terrorists, would be all the more tempted to acquire nukes, because then the pariahs would become the great powers.

We’ve been warned in all these particulars by a man who knows history; indeed, Gingrich has a Ph. D. in history and taught history at the college level. In contrast, Obama seems to have knowledge of a much different kind. He seems to “know” that even the worst actors can be brought around by personal appeal and made to behave by their signature on a treaty.

Just last week, Obama signed a different deal, in Prague, agreeing with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to limit the two countries’ nuclear weapons. That’s nice in theory, but does anybody seriously think that the Russians will abide by the terms of any nuclear deal? Indeed, even as Obama was smiling it up with Medvedev, pro-Russian forces were overthrowing a pro-American government in Kyrgyzstan. What-stan? Kyrgyzstan is a former piece of the Soviet empire in Central Asia, which means that it is strategically located near not only Russia, but also China, India, and Iran. Moreover, America has a military base there, used to supply our troops in Afghanistan. Yet now there’s a good chance that the Russians, having reasserted much of their old Soviet power in Kyrgyzstan, will seek to expel the U.S., just as they did a few years ago in nearby Uzbekistan. A different American president might have thought that Kyrgyzstan was important, and suggested that, at minimum, things would not be right between the U.S. and Russia until the situation was resolved.

But instead, Obama signed that arms control treaty with those same Russians that Sen. Joe Lieberman, independent Democrat of Connecticut, described on “Fox News Sunday” as too dangerous to ratify as currently written.

Yes, it’s a dangerous world, full of evil dictators and clever terrorists, as well as countries that just don’t like us. Unfortunately, as Gingrich observed, citing the history of poor American predictions about nuclear programs in Pakistan and India, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies “are as likely to be wrong as they are likely to be right.” So a prudent president must look to common sense, guided by historical perspective, even more than to briefing books and rosy scenarios. Because while it’s bad that other nations are trying to trick us, it’s far worse when we trick ourselves.

For his part, Gingrich strongly supports a beefed up defense capacity, including a serious plan for missile defense to protect America and its allies. Once again, the contrast with the Obama administration could not be sharper; this administration has pared back missile defense, breaking a promise America made to Poland and the Czech Republic to site defensive missiles on their soil.

So it’s not just America’s fate that is at stake. If the current president seems to prefer pleasant illusion over stark reality, we are all at risk, everywhere. That’s a prospect worth paying attention to, even at the price of a little upset. Better worry now than mourn later.

There are some things that are interesting, other things that are important--and yet other things that are a matter of life and death and national survival.

James P. Pinkerton is a Fox News contributor and the founder/editor of the Serious Medicine Strategy blog.

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James P. Pinkerton is a Fox News contributor. He is a former White House domestic policy adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.