During the Bush years, Democrats and leftists came to loathe the stinging charge that their foreign policy views posed a threat to national security, and now that one of their own is the commander-in-chief, it’s payback time. At the Daily Beast, former Assistant Secretary of State Leslie Gelb accuses congressional Republicans of being willing to endanger the United States by opposing the White House’s latest nuclear treaty with Russia, simply to score political points against President Barack Obama.
Gelb declares that the GOP’s arguments “are totally without merit,” and you know he means business here because he says so: “That’s a charge I hardly ever level because it’s so serious.” Seriously.
As Obama said on Thursday, passage of the treaty this year is a “national-security imperative.” That’s not idle presidential chatter. His words are backed by the most senior and experienced Americans, Republicans and Democrats, who have worked in the most important positions for presidents of the United States for decades. This star-studded list includes: James A. Baker, Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Bill Cohen, William Perry, and on and on. With all due respect, Senator Kyl, your knowledge of national security does not compare well to this roster. Virtually every former top security official, with the exception of Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, back this treaty. That alone should tell you something, everything, about what Kyl is really up to.
Ah, one of my favorite arguments: all these really smart people side with me! Because really, when has the conventional wisdom among foreign policy elites ever been wrong?
With the swooning over celebrity policy wonks out of the way, Gelb moves on to describe what the treaty does…
It sets modest limits on the long-range nuclear arsenals of both sides. Neither side can have more than 1,550 warheads on no more than 800 launchers (land-based and sea-based intercontinental missiles and long-range bombers). Several U.S. presidents urged those ceilings because they fit existing U.S. force plans, though the limits actually exceed existing Russian forces. The other major provision permits both sides to resume on-site inspections, which neither has been allowed to do for years. This is quite important for Washington’s ability to verify what’s going on with Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
… and why opposition to it doesn’t hold water:
Sen. Kyl and others contend that the treaty somehow diminishes America’s will to ensure that the existing U.S. nuclear stockpile is secure and workable—i.e., that the warheads will explode when and how they are supposed to. Most nuclear experts don’t believe this is a serious problem to begin with. But to reassure Kyl and his cohort, Obama is committing more than $85 billion in coming years to check the reliability of the nukes and to modernize them. That sum includes a very recent addition of $4.1 billion, which the White House hoped would seal their bribe.
That commitment isn’t as golden as Gelb suggests—as Frank Gaffney explains, “much of these funds will only be made available in the ‘out-years,’” some after the end of his first term and others after the end of his potential second one, making it more of a big maybe than a promise. It also runs counter to anti-nuke Obama’s stated wish to “rid the world of nuclear weapons,” which has been Obama’s rationale for not upgrading these systems in the past. And the White House is suggesting that the money is contingent upon ratifying the treaty during the lame-duck session, which would be a bad idea considering that lame-duck periods are hardly conducive to the kind of deliberation such an allegedly vital treaty would demand and that the administration won’t let the Senate see the negotiating record to better understand why DC has a different understanding of what the treaty will do than the Kremlin does.