The Bottom Line on START

The whole controversy surrounding the START focuses on entirely the wrong issue.  The mediated debate over its legitimacy has revolved around the question of whether GOP representatives should support the treaty.  However, primarily because there is insubstantial support for opposing the agreement, this issue is a moot point.  In addition, opponents probably know that this reasoning is inconsequential and are merely attempting to make a political stand.  When the Senate comes out of its closed Executive Session today, they will likely have the 67 votes needed to ratify the treaty, and the entire issue will become a thing of the past.

However, the largely uncovered aspect behind this facade is the method that Barack Obama has approached the the treaty’s ratification.  It is the same issue that characterizes the entire slate of lame-duck legislation.  While the protracted nature of Obama’s policy-making tactics has been well documented and deplored by conservatives nation-wide, the national security implications of these tactics with regard to START have seen scarce exposure.

Obama claims that START is a national security imperitive because it is necessary to immediately verify the capabilities of the Russian nuclear program.  Well, that idea might have been true in the 70s, but fifty years removed from the Cold War, the idea that verification is necessary to the survival of our nation is slightly outdated. It matters very little whether we gain inside intelligence into Russian nuclear capabilities today or 5 years from now, and more to the point, it is inconsequential as to whether Russia has enough weapons to blow up the world 2 times over or 3 times over.  We gain little in the way of security with that knowledge, and we probably already have a good idea of the extent of their arsenal from current intelligence estimates anyway.  The treaty is more important from the standpoint of keeping up appearances with a significant world power.  The arms reduction treaty is a political move aimed at continuing the positive trend in U.S./ Russia relations, which is a laudable goal, and it is also a goal that is in our country’s best interests.

But Obama ran into a roadblock pursuing this goal because of his legislative procrastination.  In one sense, Obama was right to claim that START is a national security imperative.  It is.  But, it wasn’t 7 months ago.  Or 5 months ago.  Or 3 months ago.  It’s a national security imperative not for the reasons professed by the administration but because a failure to act on the treaty at this time would strain an already tense international relationship and set back efforts to improve relations that have been in the works for years.  But if Obama actually told the truth here, the immediate question would become: why didn’t you take care of this 5 months ago?  And there is really no good answer to that question.

So, after midterm elections in which the American people mandated that the government take action to rectify a myriad of domestic issues and entering a lame-duck session in which Americans did not know what tax rate they would be facing come January, Obama promised Medvedev that he would make the foreign policy agreement a priority.  Astounding.  The conversation with Medvedev was very likely short and unpleasant, and it probably consisted of that feared question: why didn’t you take care of this 5 months ago?  With no answer to that question and facing the possibility of a very tense situation should he fail to act, Obama really had no choice but to make a highly contradictory promise.  Considering the enormous legislative agenda already on the table, it was a promise that had a much better chance of failure than achievement.

It appears that ratification will commence.  Virtually all opposition at this point is the product of hurt feelings over DADT, the DREAM Act, and the Omnibus Bill.  Therefore, Republican opposition is both insignificant and beside the point.  The real problem here is the hole that Obama dug for the U.S. by refusing to act on a historically bipartisan issue with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.  By pushing the decision for ratification until the very last possible moment, Obama transformed a bipartisan open-and-shut case into an object of contention that threatens peace.

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