In recent weeks, WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of classified documents, giving Taliban fighters a virtual death list of Afghan “collaborators.” At the same time, critics of the New START pact with Russia argued that the Senate should give the arms control treaty more deliberate, careful scrutiny before voting on it.
Guess who the Left criticized more.
Leaving friends exposed to brutal retribution from sworn enemies is one thing. But in the eyes of the Left, New Start critics were guilty of something far more heinous: undermining presidential leadership. “A delayed ratification with a close vote would be a blow to U.S. leadership around the world,” Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a foundation that advocates a nuclear weapons-free world, told the Associated Press, “People would doubt the president’s ability to negotiate other agreements.”
This argument is, of course, nonsensical. If it is bad treaty, supporting the president for being a bad negotiator won’t strengthen his hand in international affairs. It will just encourage other nations to take advantage of the patsy.
Conservative critics were also accused of opposing all arms control efforts—an equally nonsensical argument. As my colleague at the Heritage Foundation, Kim Holmes, wrote:
Critics of New START do not oppose all arms-control pacts. But they worry that this treaty can lead to more instability in the world, not less. They think there is a better way to achieve arms control. And they are disappointed that the Obama administration negotiated a treaty pegged to yesterday’s problems.
Last time I checked no one was more conservative than Ronald Reagan. Yet Reagan was arguably the most successful arms control negotiator of all times.
But rest assured, Reagan would never have signed onto Obama’s New START strategy of weakening America’s defenses. Indeed, his vision for “rendering nuclear weapons obsolete” started with ensuring robust defenses, then reducing the nuclear stockpile appropriately. Obama has turned that approach on its head, taking a ‘reduce first, beef up defense later (if ever)’ approach.
Predictably, the Left also accused conservative skeptics of playing partisan politics. Seeing into the dark heart of the Right, liberals charged opponents with being motivated by the desire to deny President Obama a “victory” before November.
Thus Political Scientist Stephen J. Cimbala predicts, “New START could fall victim to the toxicity of the political climate regardless of its contents with respect to limitations on nuclear warheads and delivery systems.” It is not clear what science supports Cimbala’s conclusion. Certainly there is no political logic behind it. This treaty isn’t even front-and-center with the Senate, let alone the electorate. It is laughable to argue that any politician thinks he’ll win over a lot of swing votes on this issue.
If Republicans really wanted to make political hay out of their opposition to New START, they would be a lot less constrained in their criticism and a good deal more forthright in their opposition. Instead, all they have done is register some concerns and suggest that the Senate be deliberative than just rubber-stamp the treaty.
Finally, it’s flat untrue that opposition to the treaty is exclusively Republican. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), is hardly a card-carrying member of the GOP, yet he has voiced strong reservations about this pact.
Fans of the treaty have also smeared opponents by charging that they want to delay ratification to extort money for the labs working on nuclear issues. Apparently some Senators are willing to trade their votes for spending commitments.
Such opposition is both unprincipled and unproductive. It’s virtually impossible to reach any kind of binding deal on spending. After all, every year brings a new budget. Clinton cut a similar deal on missile defense in the 1990s, but the following year he zeroed out funding for the space-based missile defense program he had promised to support.
Thankfully, trading votes for dollars is not an element of Conservative opposition to New START. The large yet simple truth is that opponents don’t see any point in supporting a treaty that has many evident flaws yet so few plusses that even proponents like Brent Snowcroft wind up admitting it doesn’t “move the ball very far.”
And those flaws are troubling. Former officials and arms control experts have raised a number of troubling issues about New START. For starters, New START has questionable verification procedures. It cuts less weapons than the old Moscow Treaty and START. It gives the Russians a veto over building comprehensive missile defense. And it does nothing in terms of stipulating a bilateral commitment to address the dangers of proliferation and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.
Instead of addressing the legitimate concerns identified by New START critics, the Left has concentrated on questioning their motives. Treaty proponents would do much better to mount an affirmative defense of the treaty rather than impugn the integrity of those who dare disagree with them.