Frank Gaffney

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected soon to vote on President Obama's New START. As usual, its majority is lining up to perform the role of rubber-stamp on whatever treaty an executive signs and wants ratified.

To ensure that outcome, the committee holds hearings where only proponents are allowed to testify. When it feels the need at least to acknowledge that there actually are opponents, the latter are typically outnumbered ten-to-one. The effect is as predictable as it is cynical: Most panel members know of no reason to disapprove ratification. That vote then becomes justification for other Senators to forego the kind of due diligence on the treaty they might otherwise feel compelled to perform.

The Founding Fathers had a very different role in mind for the Senate. Recognizing that treaties could effectively alter the Constitution and jeopardize national security, they entrusted to the Senate a unique and extraordinary power: No treaty could become binding on the United States without the Senate's "advice and consent."

In addition to giving the legislature's upper house this direct role in treaty-making, the Framers enshrined in the Constitution a high threshold for such consent: Not just a simple majority but fully two-thirds of the Senate must give their approval for any treaty to be ratified.

Clearly, our visionary forefathers' intention was to preclude the ratification of defective treaties. They did not count on Senators deciding that, instead of serving as serious quality-control agents on accords that would shape the sovereignty and security of the nation, they would function as little more than quaint parliamentary appendages, mere speed bumps enroute to the preordained approval of whatever the executive serves up.

Such an abdication of one of the Senate's most important functions might be tolerable, if reprehensible, provided the executive branch were doing its job - negotiating thoughtfully and forcefully on behalf of and toward ends that actually advance U.S. interests. Dereliction of Senate responsibilities is completely unacceptable, however, when a President is so set on getting an accord that he will agree to essentially whatever the other party dictates.

Unfortunately, the Senate's spotty record in recent decades of taking seriously its role in the treaty-making process has only served to encourage successive executives to settle for bad treaties - and trust that they would not be held accountable for the defects. The old saw "You want it bad, you'll get it bad" has a corollary: "If no one will keep you from settling for bad, you will settle for bad."


Frank Gaffney

Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
 
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