Kyl’s START Op-ed Demonstrates Weakness of Treaty Critics

kyl_175x258shklNot to be outdone by the flurry of opeds on START this week, Jon Kyl – the leader of the extreme right on nuclear issues in the Senate – got into the act with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today. Kyl’s op-ed is incredibly tame by comparison and in fact demonstrates that the substantive case against the treaty is incredibly weak — as Kyl himself barely even touches on any of the standard conservative criticisms and spends the majority of the op-ed talking about issues that have little to nothing to do with the treaty at hand.

A few points became clear from Kyl’s oped:

First, Kyl rejects the ridiculous faux-alarmism of Romney and the Heritage foundation. Notably, Kyl doesn’t advocate rejecting the START treaty, instead he actually calls the treaty “benign.” This is a pretty strong implicit rebuke to Mitt Romney and the Heritage foundation, especially since Kyl’s op-ed comes right on the heels of Mitt Romney’s op-ed and Heritage’s new action campaign to demonize START. Just contrast the titles – Kyl’s op-ed is called “time for a careful look,” while Romney’s was titled “Obama’s worst foreign policy mistake.” The right is clearly not on the same page.

Second, to Kyl, START ratification isn’t about START, it’s about Obama. While Kyl refuses to endorse the treaty, he does make it clear that his problem isn’t with the treaty, but with the President’s broader nuclear agenda. Kyl is a fierce advocate for building more nuclear weapons and advocates renewing explosive nuclear testing in Nevada, which makes him a stalwart opponent of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and of the Obama-Kissinger-Shultz-Nunn-Perry global zero vision. But on the START treaty itself, Kyl seems to know that it’s a modest treaty that really just maintains the status quo put in place by Reagan. Hence, the majority of the op-ed is devoted to misleadingly complaining about funding for the nuclear weapons infrastructure – which the Bush administration underfunded for a decade, and which George W. Bush’s own nuclear administrator said he would have “killed” for Obama’s nuclear budget – as well as complaining about global zero. Kyl only leaves himself two short paragraphs at the end of the op-ed to put forth the tired discredited talking points about missile defense.

Third, Kyl’s tactic is to obstruct and delay. He says so almost explicitly. Demands for negotiating records – something presidents since George Washington have rejected handing over to Congress – and the notable statement that a vote on START shouldn’t happen until after the submission of the 2012 budget – which would mean next spring – is an indication that Kyl wants to delay the vote until the Senate numbers perhaps work better in his favor. This is also the same tactic Republicans in the Senate have used on almost every issue. Accusations that the treaty is being rushed through are totally false. The Senate now have all relevant documents, they have been reviewing the treaty for two months and have held more than 10 hearings. Calls for more time and more deliberation are just typical efforts by Republican Senators to obstruct.

Yet while Kyl now seems to no longer believe that there is any urgency to ratify the treaty, the fact is that ratifying START is incredibly urgent. Last fall, Kyl was singing a much different tune when he vigorously warned of the dangers of allowing the original START treaty to expire on December 5th. Kyl said on the Senate floor:

I urge my colleagues to consider what will happen on December 6, the day after the expiration of that agreement. For the first time in 15 years, an extensive set of verification, notification, elimination and other confidence building measures will expire. The U.S. will lose a significant source of information that has allowed it to have confidence in its ability to understand Russian strategic nuclear forces.

Yet now Kyl, seems content to trust the Russians for a whole additional year. In the meantime, our military is losing insight into the Russian nuclear forces and is clamoring for the treaty to be ratified.