President Obama has set the stage for an acrimonious relationship with the newly elected Senators of the 112th Congress. As they come to Washington this week for freshman orientation, his welcome message amounts to: "I want to disenfranchise you."
This unwelcome applies especially to those occupying six new Republican seats in the Senate come January. And it bears most particularly on two issues that will affect U.S. security profoundly over the next six years of these newly minted Senators' terms in office and far beyond: the so-called "New START" Treaty and the repeal of a statute prohibiting homosexuals from serving in the armed forces.
New START is a seriously defective bilateral arms control agreement with the Russians, one that would make dramatic and ill-advised cuts in the number of U.S. strategic weapons and delivery systems. To be ratified, such a treaty needs the affirmative votes of 67 Senators. President Obama believes he may be able to secure those votes if he makes utterly incredible promises to yesterday's Senate, the one now running out the clock in a post-election "lame-duck" session.
Specifically, Mr. Obama is reportedly prepared to pledge to spend nearly $90 billion over the next ten years on long-overdue improvements to the nation's nuclear weapons industrial base. Even if he were committed to such a worthy investment, much of it would be made towards the end of what would be his second term (should he be reelected) or later - hardly a bankable proposition. That is all the more true since the President is determined to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Does anyone really think he will sink vast sums at a time of acute fiscal distress in an enterprise he wants to dismantle, not preserve?
Should Republicans currently in the Senate buy this pig-in-a-poke, they would be denying any opportunity to their newly elected colleagues to learn about, let alone seek improvements to a treaty that: will leave the United States with far fewer nuclear weapons than the Russians (and obsolescent ones, at that); imposes what amount to new constraints on missile defenses and prompt global strike weapons that are conventionally armed; and is, according to the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, outgoing Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, inadequately verifiable.Twelve former Senators, led by Rick Santorum and Jim Talent, last week wrote a powerful open letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, pointing out that the Senate has never before voted on a nuclear arms reduction treaty under the severe time-constraints of a lame-duck session. They urge that what has been called "the world's greatest deliberative body" not accede to the Obama administration's demands to break with past, and sensible, precedent - and in the process disenfranchise those new Senators on whose watch the repercussions of this deficient accord will be felt.
The President similarly hopes to jam through the Senate during the lame-duck session what amounts to a mortal threat to the Nation's all-volunteer force by eliminating the law that bars homosexuals from serving in the armed forces.
To this end, a Comprehensive Working Group (CRWG) in the Pentagon has prepared a report that has been selectively leaked, notably by an unnamed individual who told the Washington Post last week that he did so to prevent opponents of repeal from "mischaracterizing" the report's findings. In other words, Senators - and the rest of us - are being "spun": We are being encouraged to believe that the Defense Department has determined that there will be no adverse implications of the President's social experiment.
Yet, according to the Post, even the cynically manipulative leaks reveal that a survey by the CRWG of military personnel and families found that an unspecified number among the "more than 70%" of respondents to the survey said repeal would have "mixed results." Fully forty percent of Marines are "concerned about lifting the ban." And "a significant minority" in the other services reportedly oppose serving alongside openly gay troops.
Shamefully, the Pentagon allowed such leaks - and the false impression they were designed to promote - to go uncontested for days, until last Friday afternoon (the news equivalent of a black-hole) when the press spokesman issued a statement denouncing them. Secretary Gates, who strongly supports repeal, is "very concerned and extremely disappointed" (read, "shocked, shocked") to discover that some in his camp are trying, in his words, "to shape perceptions of the report prior to its release." Round up the usual suspects!
The United States Senate is being given the bum's rush on New START and the gays-in-the-military issue. If the newly elected Senators do not want their welcome to Washington to be disenfranchisement on such momentous matters, they better tell President Obama - and his allies among yesterday's Senators - to "fuggedaboutit."