Fits and STARTs

Fox News reports the President has delayed his Christmas vacation to push for ratification of the START treaty his Administration has negotiated with Russia.  Such treaties have never been ratified in a lame duck session of Congress before.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has now stated he will not vote for the treaty, a powerful signal to other Senate Republicans that they should maintain their opposition.  The Democrats are thought to need at least nine or ten more Republican votes for ratification.

Every argument in favor of hasty lame-duck ratification sounds to me like an excellent reason to vote against it.  For example, John Kerry has been whining that the new Congress won’t “understand” the treaty as well as the shambling remnants of the previous session.  The American people clearly don’t trust the judgment of the 111th Congress, and they have very good reasons for feeling that way.  Are we supposed to believe the incompetent and mendacious politicians who tried to ram through a trillion-dollar budget none of them had read, after two years of failing to perform their duty, were using all that time to bone up on nuclear weapons policy?

Harry Reid has worked to shoot down all Republican amendments to the treaty because altering it would invalidate it, and force negotiations to start over from scratch.  Does anyone really trust this Administration to have negotiated the best possible deal with the Russians?  This is the President whose weakness has made him a global laughingstock, as he stumbles out of Olympic committees, FIFA hearings, and trade negotiations empty-handed.  His philosophy is very consistent with the world-view that the United States is the world’s most serious security problem, and he has missed no opportunity to express this philosophy on every international stage he mounts.  At the very least, it would seem prudent to subject any treaty he signs to extensive review by hostile critics.

We’re supposed to pass this treaty in a big hurry because failure to do so might annoy the Russians.  So what?  What are they going to do, race out in a fit of pique and go broke pumping out more nuclear bombs just to spite us?  Refuse to negotiate any future treaty because we insisted on allowing our newly elected legislature to review this one?  If they want this deal badly enough to flip out because we won’t sign it right this instant… well, that’s a good reason not to sign it.  Arms-control treaties should not be purchased like used cars.

Some proponents of the treaty say it’s such a minor adjustment that there’s no reason to make a big deal about it.  That’s an argument in favor of taking our time and being prudent.  No one can honestly believe the world is less safe because the United States hangs on to 450 extra warheads for a few more months, nor will security be enhanced by rushing to allow Russia to increase its delivery systems, which the START treaty allows.

A snotty editorial in the Economist accuses “neocon” START critics of indulging in “magical thinking” about a “complicated world beyond American shores – a world filled with nations we cannot simply manipulate and control for our own ends.”  You know what else we can’t do with those nations?  Make them obey arms-control treaties.  The idea that one more piece of paper will have the slightest impact on Pyongyang or Teheran is the “magical thinking.”  For that matter, the Russians have a very spotty history of compliance with these agreements.  The notion that nuke-crazed dictatorships will shut down their uranium facilities because our dashing President agreed to decommission a few hundred more American warheads is delusional to the point of outright stupidity. 

The Economist even accuses those chauvinistic neocons of being interested “only in us.”  The nerve of those guys!  Let me be clear in response: I don’t want nuclear weapons treaties to be negotiated by people who are thinking of anyone but us.  I don’t think this treaty was negotiated that way.  I don’t trust Barack Obama or his Party to approach any treaty from that perspective.  At best, we’re talking about hastily ratifying a largely symbolic treaty for the political benefit of a damaged President.  I can’t think of a logical reason the Republican Party would want to do that, and if that’s the best case scenario, this is a treaty America doesn’t need right now.