START Treaty Clears Test Vote


The START treaty has passed a vote to limit debate and proceed to ratification on Tuesday afternoon, moving it into position for passage on Wednesday.  The vote to limit debate was 67-28.

The new treaty has picked up the 10 Republican votes it needed to pass.  You can generally measure the poor quality of a bill by how silly its Republican supporters sound, and START is no exception.

Tennessee senator Lamar Alexander, for example, is quoted by Fox News as saying he is “convinced that the plan’s implementation will make giant steps toward modernization of those facilities so that we, and our allies and adversaries, can be assured that the weapons will work if needed…  This will make sure the United States is not left with a collection of wet matches.”

What?  We needed this treaty to know if our nuclear arsenal works?  The warheads might have been stuffed with wet matches instead of plutonium?  How does the START treaty save us from the apparent negligence of our nuclear weapons forces?  Are we importing Russian scientists to check the operational status of missiles we no longer understand well enough to maintain?

Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia explained his support for START with a touching soliloquy: “Only through setting the example, without giving in or capitulating a thing, do we give hope to the future that my grandchildren and yours can live in a world that will not be free of nukes but will be secure; that loose nukes are not in the hands of bad people; and we have transparency and accountability while still having the capability to secure ourselves both offensively and defensively to ensure the security of the people of the United States of America.”

Er… Senator, you just “gave in” and “capitulated” everything.  Unless you’re talking about the American negotiations with Russia, which involve us reducing our delivery systems while Russia increases hers, and accepting Russian definitions of nuclear technology that put our research into missile defense at risk.  That sounds like a bit of “capitulation” to me.  Oh, well, at least we’ve got written assurances from all sorts of Obama people that missile defense will hum right along.  Their judgment is perfectly sound, isn’t it?  And every Obama promise is a stone tablet, my friends.

What “transparency and accountability” is Isakson going on about?  Do we suspect our own nuclear forces are hiding something from us now, like the awful secret that our warheads are stuffed full of wet matches?  If he means “transparency and accountability” from Russia or anywhere else, he’s as foolish as everyone else who thinks treaties are magic spells that banish rogue-state nuclear ambitions. 

What makes him think reducing our arsenal “secures ourselves both offensively and defensively?”  This sounds like more of the same infantile nonsense that American power is the true threat to world stability, and if we just chill out and sign some treaties, everyone will stop thinking about pre-emptively nuking us before we unleash General Jack D. Ripper.  I would rather not place our defense in the hands of people who think “examples” bring “security.”

There is only one reason to push ahead with this treaty in the waning days of a disastrous Congress: the political advantage of a damaged President, whose media admirers are already writing heroic tales of how he mastered the lame-duck session and triumphed in the wake of the terrible midterm elections.  This may not be the worst treaty ever negotiated – I certainly hope not! – but I’d feel better if its Republican supporters didn’t descend into baby-talk while trying to explain away their votes.  I haven’t heard a single supporter of START who sounds like they understand it as well as harsh critics like John Bolton do.  Why does no one ever justify this treaty as the careful sacrifice of X to remove dangerous Russian capability Y?  How come it always sounds like we’re writing ourselves a speeding ticket, and the Russians are being gracious by not insisting we give up our driver’s license?

I hope some of these Republicans snap out of their stupor before the final vote is cast.  I especially hope they’re not naïve enough to think this vote will buy them lasting credibility with the media.  They’ll be savaged as soon as they vote against the President whose political future they’re working so hard to secure.  In a month, no one will remember anything Lamar Alexander, Johnny Isakson, or any other Republican said in support of START, that great diplomatic victory of President Barack Obama, the Comeback Kid.