While Mitt Romney’s oped today in the Washington Post is largely a politically-motivated effort to boost his far-right foreign policy bonafides, it does however demonstrate how dangerous and extreme the anti-Obama narrative has become. That Mitt Romney’s oped attacking the New START Treaty in the Washington Post is full of distortions and false claims is not surprising. But what is really jaw-dropping however is Romney’s assessment that the treaty is Obama’s “worst foreign policy mistake.”
The fact that Romney thinks that the worst foreign policy mistake of the Obama administration is a modest treaty that reduces limits on nuclear weapons and extends and updates the verification and monitoring measures that Ronald Reagan himself negotiated in the initial START treaty, says something about how far out of the mainstream the conservative right has moved.
But moreover this vividly shows that there is an emerging civil war within the Republican establishment. This treaty has unanimous support from the military and is supported by senior and respected Republican foreign policy officials from every Republican administration of the last 40 years, including Nixon and Ford administration officials (Henry Kissinger, James Schlesinger) Reagan administration officials (George Schultz, Frank Carlucci), Bush Sr. administration officials (Brent Scowcroft, James Baker) and George W. Bush administration officials (Stephen Hadley, Colin Powell, and Linton Brooks). Opposition to this treaty puts Mitt Romney and the far right fringe that has seemingly taken over the reigns of the Republican foreign policy to the extreme right of even Ronald Reagan.
The fact that there is overwhelming support for the treaty from serious thinkers, is not surprising given the weakness of the recycled arguments Romney puts forth.
Apparently when a Republican former (and perhaps current) presidential candidate lies in the Washington Post it’s okay. Mitt Romney claims that Obama “acceded to Russia’s No. 1 foreign policy objective, the abandonment of our Europe-based missile defense program, and obtained nothing whatsoever in return.” This is just false.
The Obama administration last September didn’t “abandon” missile defense. Instead it expanded and improved the European missile defense program to focus not just on the long range missiles that the Iranians didn’t have, but on short and medium range Iranian missiles that they actually have. Yet the new program still contained long range missile interceptors, which has severely irked the Russians and was one of the main sticking points of the START negotiations and the reason why talks dragged on past December 5th – the date when the original treaty expired. If Obama caved to the Russians in September of last year, what was there to fight about?
But what makes this claim even sillier is that Romney spends the rest of the oped saying START “jeopardizes our missile defense system.” But how could this be, since according to the first paragraph of Romney’s oped the Obama administration had already abandoned it? If you are going to claim that Obama has killed missile defense in Europe then how can you possibly claim that the New START treaty “jeopardizes” something that Obama already ‘abandoned.’
The rest of the oped is just as logically inept and is filled with recycled Heritage talking points that have been thoroughly debunked (for a point by point refutation of Romney’s claims see these posts on the bomber counter rule, on rail-mobile missiles, on limits on missile defense, on tactical nuclear weapons, and on rushing the treaty through the Senate).
But what is never expressed and is conveniently missing in the op-ed is the alternative vision to the START treaty that Romney is proposing. That vision is nuclear anarchy.
Rejecting START means eliminating the treaty that has ensured nuclear stability between the US and Russia in the post Cold War era. START’s collapse would also likely break the back of the brittle nuclear non-proliferation regime, which rests on a fragile bargain between nuclear and non-nuclear states. With the nuclear order in chaos, the world could quite easily slide past the nuclear tipping point, where – following the lead of others and with no disincentive (such as international sanctions) – a cascade of states like Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Turkey, Myanmar, Venezuela could all decide to become nuclear powers. Consequently, any effort to control nuclear materials and to stop nuclear terrorism would also cease and the threat of nuclear terrorism would grow.
Furthermore, relations between the US and Russia would descend into acrimony. With the loss of nuclear monitoring, suspicions and tension would grow. With our right wing vigorously advocating the US start a new Cold War with Russia, it wouldn’t be long before the right wing gets there way and we begin building and testing new nuclear weapons, such an effort would lead Russia and perhaps China to do the same and suddenly we are in the midst of a new multi-polar arms race. This is the vision that Romney is posing and it is immensely dangerous.