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  • New START Debate—Chance to Rediscover America’s Role in the World

    An assistant shows the block with a red button marked "reset" in English and "overload" in Russian that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting on March 6, 2009 in Geneva.

    Obama’s “reset button” with Russia has been an integral part of America’s new innocuous and ineffective diplomatic approach, and has culminated in the nuclear arms reduction treaty, New START.

    But the current disconnect between the negotiations surrounding this treaty and Russia’s human rights record is troubling. Boris Nemtsov, former Russian deputy prime minister and founder of the pro-democracy Solidarity movement in Russia, has stated that “Russians do not know what Obama thinks about human rights and democracy.” In the debate over ratification, we must realize that America’s traditional role as a champion of political freedom is in jeopardy.

    At the recent Foreign Policy Initiative Forum, held just a stone’s throw away from Foggy Bottom, State Department officials were unsurprisingly quick to defend Obama’s record of standing for human rights during the past two years. But the simple reality is that the Obama administration has placed human rights and America’s political principles in general on the back burner in favor of benevolent multilateralism. The current debate surrounding the ratification of the New START treaty with Russia is an important opportunity to reconnect the disparate strands of American statecraft and revive America’s unique and indispensible role in the world.

    Historically, American diplomacy has not been merely a means of negotiating America’s interests. It has also been a tool for advancing liberty and human rights. This understanding began with the Founders, who believed that America’s principles must be reflected in its relations with other nations. Even when the United States was young and militarily weak, its leaders refused to disconnect America’s commitment to political, economic, and religious freedom from the practical concerns of international relations. For example, the American government provided moral and diplomatic support to the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, which sought to found a state based on the principle of self-government. The United States did not declare war, but it did use diplomacy to stand for freedom. Despite its limited military strength, the U.S. did not hesitate to risk a confrontation with the Austrian and Russian empires.

    Today, human rights groups at home and abroad are beginning to realize that America’s voice in defense of its basic political principles has been greatly diminished in the past two years. Michele Dunne, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has offered an explanation of the White House’s foreign policy priorities:  The Obama administration’s foreign policy team started out with the idea that “if Bush did it, it must be wrong. So we won’t do it.” According to Dunne, this set the Obama administration back “behind zero in coming up with a policy on democracy and human rights”. This floundering approach has caused the Obama administration to deconstruct the historically intertwined elements of American foreign policy, in which America’s fundamental political principles were an integral part of its interests and foreign policy priorities.

    The ratification debate over New START does not take place in a vacuum; rather it involves US-Russian relations as well as US relations with Central and Eastern European countries, all of which should be understood in light of America’s traditional stand for political freedom. Nevertheless, there is ongoing ambiguity over how New START will affect these priorities. Last Wednesday, Senator Voinovich expressed concern about the perceived disconnect between the security concerns of New START and human rights in Russia and among Russia’s neighbors : “I cannot in good conscience determine my support for the Treaty until the Administration assures me our ‘Reset Policy’ with Russia is a policy that enhances rather than diminishes the national security of our friends and allies throughout Europe.”

    Within the broader context of American security and reasserting America’s political principles in its diplomatic relations with Russia, there are practical and prudential considerations that advise against ratifying New START this year. Senator Jon Kyl has said he will not support a vote this year, because the Senate should have more time to debate and thereby fully exercise their constitutional “advice and consent” power in respect to this important treaty. But even as support is dwindling among current senators, the White House remains frantically determined to ratify New START before the new session of Congress. And there is likely to be even less support among recently elected senators; ten senators-elect have sent a letter demanding the opportunity to debate New START next session.

    The White House has opted to “up the ante” in its push for Senate ratification during the lame duck session. With this unpromising gamble, the White House has chosen to replace prudence with a partisan power play. It is the United States’ principled tradition of diplomacy and the cause of liberty that suffer from this refusal to understand and maintain America’s indispensible role in the world.

    The Obama administration needs to rediscover the traditional American nexus between political principles and foreign diplomacy. This connection has been the essential and unique characteristic of American statecraft – it is American exceptionalism translated into U.S. foreign policy, and according to a new Brookings Institution report, a majority of Americans think the U.S. does indeed have a unique—even providential—role to play in the world.

    Of course, prudence determines to what extent America can act, but the United States cannot have a foreign policy that fails to reflect the political truths that define it. America stands for the principles of liberty and its interests are to a significant degree defined and shaped by those principles. The debate over New START is no exception.

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    4 Responses to New START Debate—Chance to Rediscover America’s Role in the World

    1. Roger Baxter. Batavi says:

      I find it difficult to believe that an organization as smart as Heritage cannot find the reasons for Obama's disregard of the historical linkage between our interests and the need to tie them to our beliefs in the Founding Principles.

      He does not believe – at all – in the founding principles. Witness 20 years in Wright's church – extending the hatred of America learned at the knee of his father and step-father.

      This president wants to weaken and diminish America, and will do anything it takes to do so, including handing the nuclear keys to Russia.

    2. Clark Jensen says:

      good comments. The Original Start didn't work, why would we think it will be any better the second time around. Check out http://drclarkjensen.com/2010/11/stop-start/

    3. Leon Lundquist, Dura says:

      I got a real kick out of Hillary's comments, how the whole globe is going to be hurt with the Wikileaks. On her watch the 'improvements' have produced unprecedented State Dept. leaks. She thinks New Start is such a great idea while the Russian Bear puts on his dinner napkin and has already started salivating! "Let's see? American gets absolutely nothing from Russia?" Explain me how it serves American Interests?

      New Start clarifies the official Obama Doctrine, it means America rolls over for anybody. We officially have no Principles, can't keep secrets and official Policy is to let the Russians catch up! (As well as the Sponsors of International Terrorism). Every time the American Government does something abysmally stupid it undermines our faith and trust in our government. I think this is the true Obama Doctrine, break our hearts. American foreign policy is man caused disaster, watch as Hillary takes advantage of another convenient train wreck.

      "Oh dear! Oh dear! We are losing Verification on loose nukes!" Did you hear that? That's a reason to give up our Strategic Defense Initiative? Like what? Nothing in New Start about building reactors for the number one sponsor of international terrorism! No sanctions on Iran? North Korea? Tell me Madam Secretary how American Interests should be put aside for the likes of these guys! Hillary Clinton serves the Foreign Interest just like Obama. "But doesn't she look Presidential?"

    4. Jamie, DC says:

      "Within the broader context of American security and reasserting America’s political principles in its diplomatic relations with Russia, there are practical and prudential considerations that advise against ratifying New START this year."

      False. The only people who benefit from not ratifying this treaty are Iran, North Korea, Putin, and those "Americans" who are willing to sacrifice anything, even America's safety, to obstruct every single thing the Obama administration attempts – down to the most unobjectionable and vital acts – in order to bolster their chances in 2012.

      Don't take it from me, listen to your fellow conservatives:

      "As [Robert] Kagan wrote in a column for The Washington Post, defeat of the treaty will "strengthen Vladimir Putin," who would use its demise "to stir more anti-Western nationalism, further weakening an already weak (President Dmitry) Medvedev and anyone else who stands for a more pro-Western approach."

      And The Financial Times, hardly a left-wing newspaper, noted that Kyl's core arguments against the treaty are "so weak as to call into question Mr. Kyl's good faith." "

      http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/79457/patriot

      Even REAGAN'S OWN START NEGOTIATOR supports this treaty for crying out loud. I'm sorry that guy's not dead too so you can't start waving him around like a puppet that says whatever is convenient for you today.

      http://thinkprogress.org/2010/11/18/reagan-iran-n

      The future of this country is more than a political game. Please grow up and act like it.

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