“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President [Barack] Obama to be a one-term president,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced after the midterm elections. Perhaps you were under the impression McConnell’s statement was just hyperbole; his vindictive sentiment, mere posturing for the benefit of the GOP’s reanimated right wing. If so, this business with Republicans screwing around with the START treaty should put that thought right out of your mind.
From the moment the president signed the nuclear arms reduction pact with the Russians, Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), have “kept moving the goal posts…”
Max Bergmann briefly laid out the history of Kyl’s delay tactics within his Nov. 16 Wonk Room post.
…Last summer, Kyl was whining immensely that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) was rushing the process and that a committee vote should not happen until after the August recess. After the SFRC delayed, Kyl spoke to Reuters who paraphrased Kyl:
It could be difficult to satisfy his [Kyl's] demands before November and thus the vote on New START might need to take place during the lame duck session if the Senate wants to vote on the treaty this year…
The vote was delayed, and Kyl’s demands were met, but…
In September, after the SFRC did hold its vote, Kyl and Senate Republicans argued that having a vote before the election was impossible because it would politicize the process and that a vote should happen after the election…
Predictably, now that the election has passed, Kyl and Republicans say there isn’t enough time in the Senate calendar.
Of course, for Kyl and the Republicans, that was the plan all along, as it has been with every White House initiative since Obama took office. Playing this game with foreign policy commitments, however, has broader implications than it has with domestic legislation.
The consequences are already presenting themselves. Steve Benen, author of Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog, has been on this all week. Regarding the risks Republicans are running, Benen wrote (11/17), “They expect this to hurt the foreign policy power of the United States, but they’re fine with that since there’s a Democratic president…” (emphasis added)
When it comes to Russia, inspection of the country’s long-range nuclear bases will remain suspended indefinitely; the country’s hard-liners will be emboldened; and Russia’s willingness to cooperate with U.S. on Iran or on Afghanistan will likely disappear.
But in the bigger picture, countries around the globe will see this as a reminder that negotiating with the United States is pointless, since the country is burdened with a Republican Party that puts partisan hatred above the country’s interests. It hurts American credibility in ways that are hard to even gauge.
Indeed, and as Matt Cooper noted in his Nov. 16 National Journal post, another bilateral agreement – a trade pact with South Korea – failed, in part, because “Seoul’s concern about ratification prospects in the Senate.”
Fortunately, there still a chance that Senate Democrats will force a vote on START before the next Congress. If they do, it will be interesting to see whether or not the Republicans blink. Only one elected Republican, Indiana Senator Dick Lugar, has called on his party to put national security before politics on this one, and numerous other non-elected officials from both sides have done the same.
I’d like to think Sen. Lugar isn’t the lone Republican voice of reason in the Senate. Optimism, however, is difficult to muster when there are others, like Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), who seems to relish the opportunity to poke the Russians with a stick.
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