Obama’s support of START II represents a failure to recognize the complexities of a changing global environment. It represents a commitment to outdated norms and idealistic tendencies that were effective in a past global political structure. The issues facing international relations today are vastly different from those that past administrations were forced to deal handle.
What do I mean by “outdated norms?” The President who initiated START was a man name Ronald Reagan. Not coincidentally, the President who first advocated a settlement freeze in Israel was Ronald Reagan. Obama appears affixed on these two unnecessary objectives. Is it a coincidence that Barack Obama is attempting to mirror Reagan’s strategy with regard to U.S./Russia and U.S./Israel foreign policy?
I think not. A piece from the Washington Post today perfectly analyzes Obama’s thinking in regard to foreign policy:
For help understanding the foreign policy headlines of the past week, let’s return, briefly, to the spring of 1983, when Barack Obama was a student at Columbia University. What were the burning international issues of that time?
Well, first was the “nuclear freeze” movement, which was prompting mass demonstrations around the world by people worried about the standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States. Obama published an article about it in a campus magazine in which he invoked the vision of “a nuclear free world.”
The Middle East, meanwhile, was still reeling from the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon– which was the apotheosis of the Zionist right’s dream of creating a “greater Israel” including all of the Palestinian West Bank.
Obama has also displayed his outdated thinking in his many references to Reagan’s past policy:
He repeatedly invoked the name of Republican icon Ronald Reagan as he sought to build his case for ratification of the pact. He told a news conference, “Ronald Reagan said trust, but verify. We can’t verify right now.” Mr. Obama also mentioned his predecessor three times in his weekly broadcast and Internet address. The president accused his opponents of abandoning the famous Reagan nuclear diplomacy doctrine on trust and verification.
A “nuclear free world” is a great ideal. On its face, it is not an idea that anyone should oppose. However, it is important to acknowledge that Russia is no longer the priority in terms of nuclear disarmament. We are no longer embroiled in a Cold War struggle of superpowers. There is no threat of war with Russia. Given this fact, is it truly a national security imperative to confirm arms reductions in Russia? What about Iran, Pakistan, India, and North Korea? Are these nations not more appropriate targets of disarmament than Russia?
The idea is that a bilateral decrease in nuclear weapons will promote stronger ties with Russia and indirectly promote disarmament among more dangerous states. That logic is flawed at best. What guarantee do we have that a bilateral agreement will incite Russia to advocate arms decreases in rouge nuclear state? None. And what logic supports the argument that if the U.S. agrees to reduce its nuclear weapons stock, it will gain leverage to negotiate with North Korea and Iran? None. Both assumptions are flawed, and both assumptions are inappropriate considerations for today’s world.
The second flawed argument in support of the treaty is that it is a national security imperative to gain insight into the capabilities of the Russian nuclear program. This argument is equally as flawed as the previous assumptions for some of the same reasons. What do we actually gain from knowledge of Russian nuclear capabilities? Nothing. Just as we gain insight into the Russian nuclear program, the Russians gain insight into our own nuclear capabilities. So, we are no safer with details of the Russian arsenal than before.
START was a responsible and significant treaty in Reagan’s time, but it is not necessarily vital in today’s day and age. START is a relic of a time when Soviet/U.S. relations were of paramount importance to world affairs. This relationship is no longer as significant. We need strong relations with Russia so that we can work together to establish sanctions against Iran. However, especially in today’s troubling times, it would be far more beneficial to our country and the world if we strengthened ties with Russia through cooperation that promoted economic growth.
Not only is the international situation far removed from 1984, but our domestic concerns are far removed from considerations with Russian nuclear weapons. Obama has made START an imperative for the federal government during a lame-duck session at a time when Americans are uncertain as to what their taxes will be in January. Americans don’t care how many nukes Russia has and knowing how many nukes Russia has doesn’t help this country overcome the difficulties it faces at home. Obama’s priorities are largely misplaced.
In terms of the settlement freeze, most people admit that the settlements are counter-productive. However, those people who disapprove of this policy exist in large numbers within Israel as well as around the world. There is a small minority of hard line Israeli powerbrokers who support settlement expansion. This admission is important because it shows that the idea of a “greater Israel” is dead even within Israel itself. Yet, Obama feels the need to offer $3 billion in the form of military stealth planes as a bribe for a 90 day settlement freeze. Israeli settlements were an issue when the idea of a “greater Israel” was in its infancy. This idea has since been crushed. Settlement creation is no longer a tactic for acquiring territory from Palestine but a way for Netanyahu to appease his own hard line political base.
The issue of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is about to become a thing of the past. Palestine will be granted its own state on the West Bank sooner rather than later, and this treaty will not come about as the result of any meddling from the United States. So, what role should the U.S. play in the affair? The real issue in this conflict affecting the interests of our state is concern over Iranian expansionism. It is the same concern that we fear in Iraq where Iran holds significant influence over the state’s weak parliamentary government, and it is the same concern feared in Afghanistan where Ahmadinejad delivers “bags of money” to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. American involvement should consist of stymieing Iranian weapons deals with Hezbollah and Hamas and ensuring that the new Palestinian state has an incentive to operate independently of Iranian influence.
Obama is living in a distant past, and the world is a much different place than it once was. Changes in climate necessitate changes in strategy, and this reality is one that our President does not seem to grasp.