Don’t Set The Doomsday Clock Ahead Quite Yet
As a general rule, congressional bipartisanship is the political equivalent of the Crips and the Bloods banding together to rob the rest of the neighborhood. (If only we had antitrust laws applicable to our political parties!) Moreover, I’m a great fan of gridlock. If I can’t have as little government as I would like, and I obviously can’t, then I’m grudgingly willing to settle for as ineffective government as I can get.
Not so when it comes to arms control treaties, however. There is no significant Republican versus Democratic policy regarding the sum total of nuclear weapons the U.S. and Russia have aimed or ready to aim at each other. There isn’t even a conservative versus liberal policy difference worth speaking of. Not, at least, when it comes to the political realities of all hundred senators each of whom represents a state with significant economic interests in the military industrial complex. So I’m all for some version of a new arms treaty both to resume mutual inspections and to reduce our respective nuclear arsenals.
That said, how urgent is the treaty? Would the White House seriously have us believe that the Russians are oblivious to the American political system and therefore somehow caught off guard at failure to ratify the treaty in the coming weeks? When Vice President Biden says “Failure to pass the New Start treaty this year would endanger our national security,” how seriously should he be taken? (I leave for another occasion how seriously Biden should ever be taken.) Russia isn’t poised to attack the U.S., nor will our relations sour significantly by a further delay measured in months. It needs to be borne in mind that both the United States and Russia are pursuing this new treaty out of self-interest. None of the conditions driving that mutual interest will have changed in 2011.
That isn’t to say that Sen, Jon Kyl, the Republican’s front man in inter-party negotiations on the treaty isn’t urging the delay for largely partisan political reasons. While I am of course not privy to the particulars of those negotiations, at the end of the day it matters to both parties whether the ratified treaty is seen as a purely Democratic accomplishment or a, well, a bipartisan effort. These are paltry concerns compared to overriding matters of national security and improved international relations, but only a naif could believe elected officials wouldn’t put paltry political concerns ahead of the greater good.
Elections, as our president once told us, have consequences. I therefore don’t particularly begrudge the Republicans’ desire to milk their recent victories for all the political mileage they can. Failure to ratify a new arms treaty in 2011, however, would be a dangerous political victory at best and, politics aside, a defeat for everyone’s safety and security.