Nuclear Missiles Are the Newest Political Football

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Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images, Melissa Golden/Getty Images

The new START treaty between the United States and Russia, which would leave America with a mere 1,550 nuclear warheads, is supported by such GOP national-defense heavyweights as Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, George Shultz (Ronald Reagan's secretary of State), Frank Carlucci (Reagan's Defense secretary), Brent Scowcroft (Gerald Ford and Bush 41's national security adviser), James Baker (Bush 41's secretary of State), and various former senators. But only one current Republican senator — Indiana's Richard Lugar — has backed the treaty, which needs 67 votes for ratification. And Arizona's Jon Kyl is trying to prevent a vote from being held at all in the lame-duck session, a move that people like Lugar believe could imperil the entire treaty. So now, as with everything else, the START treaty has become another game of political brinkmanship.


Just two weeks after an election that left him struggling to find his way forward, President Obama has decided to confront Senate Republicans in a make-or-break battle over arms control that could be an early test of his mettle heading into the final two years of his term.

He is pushing for a vote on a signature issue despite long odds, daring Republicans to block an arms-control treaty at the risk of disrupting relations with Russia and the international coalition that opposes Iran’s nuclear program. If he succeeds, Mr. Obama will demonstrate strength following the midterm election debacle. If he fails, he will reinforce the perception at home and abroad that he is a weakened president.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already made himself clear on this one: Seeing Obama fail is the No. 1 priority of the Republican Party.

But the GOP also has a really good, non-political reason for the delay: to honor the will of the people.


Moreover, 10 newly elected Republican senators who will take office in January signed a letter objecting to a lame-duck vote. “Out of respect for our states’ voters, we believe it would be improper for the Senate to consider the New Start treaty or any other treaty in a lame-duck session,” said the letter, which was released by Senator-elect Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Right, because START was such a huge issue during the election. The voters swept these Republican senators into office on a tide of anti-START sentiment.

In reality, nobody voted based on START, and if they had, the message would have been "START is fantastic!": According to a CNN poll, 73 percent of Americans want the treaty ratified, including 59 percent of Republicans. Obama and the Republicans aren't going to see eye to eye on most things, but if they can't even work together on this issue, we should consider just canceling the Senate this year.

Obama Forces Showdown With G.O.P. on Arms Pact [NYT]