Over the next month we will learn if Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is a smart political operator with genuine ideological convictions or a fraud that is nothing more than a politically craven partisan hack. It really is either all one or the other.
Throughout the START ratification process, Kyl has gotten much of what he has wanted. He has slowed, if not stalled, the larger nuclear agenda and he has gotten a massive increase in the nuclear weapons budget. All this for a modest treaty that essentially maintains the status quo. And the worst thing is that Kyl hasn’t even had to say whether he will support the treaty or even permit his sheepish Republican colleagues to vote they way they want. So in one sense, this seems like a typical case of the Administration making a preemptive concession without ensuring that the Republicans will deliver.
But the Obama administration has just unveiled a very big stick. In the Financial Times, a senior Administration official confirms that if the New START treaty is not ratified, the nuclear weapons funding that Kyl has pursued so desperately will be scrapped. The FT writes:
His [the Obama] administration is now making clear the stockpile plans are also at stake… “There is a risk that not moving ahead with Congress could shatter the fragile consensus on modernising the nuclear complex,” said a senior administration official. “New Start puts nuclear modernisation in the right context for those who worry how it could send the wrong signal to the world and undermine our non-proliferation efforts.”
Oh snap! I have often written about how Kyl is holding a gun to the head of New START. Well, the Administration just took a hostage of its own and is now holding a gun to the head of Kyl’s nuclear funding. If Kyl shoots New START, the White House will shoot the nuclear funding. The Administration has suddenly made this a huge test of the authenticity of Jon Kyl, since it will be up to Kyl to put the gun down first.
While Kyl has relentlessly pursued more funding for nuclear weapons, he has never said anything all that negative about the START treaty. In fact, in an op-ed this summer Kyl even called the START treaty “benign.” A year ago, as START negotiations were proceeding Kyl gave a floor speech where he warned of the dangers if the treaty expired. His staffer, Tim Morrison, even went to the Heritage Foundation last December to deplore the expiration of verification and monitoring measures. Kyl, unlike Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and the Heritage Foundation, does not seem to view the treaty with any particular malice.
So if Kyl is willing to sacrifice the nuclear funding he so vigorously pursued to kill a “benign” treaty, then everything he has said up to this point has been totally disingenuous. If Kyl kills START, then it’s clear he actually doesn’t care at all about nuclear funding, only about scoring political hits. In short, he would be a total fraud.
The Administration in this hostage scenario isn’t just holding a gun to nuclear funding. They are also holding a gun to the credibility of Senator Jon Kyl.