New START, Old Stratagem

Posted: Dec 02, 2010 12:01 AM
New START, Old Stratagem

Here we go again. President Obama is trying once again to ram a legislative initiative through Congress knowing full well that, by so doing, he is maximizing the chances that his project's defects will not become widely understood until it is too late to do much about them. Call it the pig-in-a-poke stratagem.

This time around, however, Mr. Obama is not simply trying to socialize the economy, destroy the world's finest health care system or assault the Constitution. No, at the moment he has the national security in his crosshairs - and the negative implications could make those associated with his other, domestic policy campaigns pale by comparison.

Specifically, the President is determined to with "rid the world of nuclear weapons" - and he is intent on securing the U.S. Senate's imprimatur for this truly hare-brained idea. That is the real impetus behind his insistence that senators rubber-stamp during the lame-duck session the so-called "New START" arms control treaty that Mr. Obama signed with his Russian counterpart last April.

You see, the treaty was accompanied by - and is intended to put what amounts to an international seal of approval on - an administration-generated document known as the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The NPR commits the United States to continue on a course that would, all other things being equal, assure the continued atrophying of the American deterrent. For example, it forswears the design and manufacture of any new nuclear weapons; precludes realistic, underground testing of the obsolescing arms in the U.S. arsenal; and pledges to "devalue" the nuclear deterrence mission of those responsible for maintaining and safeguarding the forces designed to perform it.

Now, most senators - like most Americans - have the good sense to think it advisable for the United States to maintain a viable deterrent. As a result, these sorts of proposals would be unlikely to command majority support, let alone the super-majority the Constitution requires to ratify New START.

So, Team Obama is coming up with just about any other rationale to justify its insistence that the Senate vote on the treaty before Christmas. These include claims that the accord will help dissuade would-be proliferators to abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions and the assertion that U.S. international leadership is on the line.

The administration's flacks are particularly insistent that the urgency derives from the fact that, without New START's monitoring arrangements, we won't know what the Russians are up to. They warn darkly that, while bilateral relations with the Kremlin have been productively "reset," the sky will fall if ratification is not forthcoming over the next three weeks.

Like so much of the Obama administration's handiwork, none of these propositions stands up to close scrutiny. As an innovative new video by the Center for Security Policy makes clear, our enemies are emboldened by what they perceive as U.S. weakness, not induced to emulate it. Our leadership is far more likely to be taken seriously if we are seen as providing a credible deterrent than if we are cutting it so deeply as, for instance, to invite China to become a peer superpower. And the Kremlin's denizens cannot be both reliable partners for peace and disposed, as ever, to cheat on treaties and pursue their interests without regard to ours.

The administration's hope for pulling off this bait-and-switch seems likely to come down to one hackneyed gambit: The say-so of an array of prominent endorsers whose past titles, celebrity, self-importance, etc. is intended to dissuade senators from doing their own due diligence. Former Presidents Bush 41 and 43 are currently being importuned to join assorted past and present cabinet and senior military officers in playing this unseemly role.

The gambit only works, however, if legislators are willing to vote on the basis of such political cover - rather than, say, doing their homework. Opting for the former would require them to ignore the strong recommendation of their colleague, Sen. Kit Bond, who has done his job as Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and concluded that the treaty is unverifiable.

Will they also disregard Senate Majority Whip Jon Kyl? He is rightly worried that the Obama administration's fixation with denuclearizing the United States will render hollow the commitments Team Obama is currently dangling with respect to funding certain modernization measures that are utterly at odds with that agenda, all in the hope of securing Sen. Kyl's highly influential vote.

If the handful of swing senators who will decide whether the Senate will indeed rubber-stamp New START are going to take counsel from anyone, they would be well-advised to heed not only these two distinguished colleagues in the 111th Congress, but also the views of past colleagues and future ones: A bipartisan group of fifteen former senators recently wrote Majority Leader Harry Reid stating that it would be unprecedented and ill-advised to consider an arms control treaty during a necessarily truncated lame-duck session. And, eleven newly elected senators led by Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri added in their own joint letter that taking up this treaty during the lame-duck would mean that "yesterday's Senate" would decide its adequacy - not tomorrow's, on whose watch it would largely be implemented.

There will be plenty of time next year for the U.S. Senate to review, debate and make necessary improvements to the New START Treaty. And that is precisely what Barack Obama wants to preclude with his all-too-familiar pig-in-a-poke stratagem. The Senate must not fall for it again.