Could Republican Cynicism Lead To An Iranian Nuke?

Dismantling the arguments against the START treaty on the NewsHour last night, Richard Burt, the Reagan administration’s chief U.S. negotiator for the original START treaty, noted that “there are only two governments in the world that wouldn’t like to see this treaty ratified, the government in Tehran and the government in North Korea.”

Burt also warned that, if the treaty fails, not only would “we miss the opportunity to improve relations with the Russians, who have supported us on Iran and U.N. sanctions and increasingly in Afghanistan,” but the U.S. would also “lose all credibility on the problem of stopping nuclear proliferation.”

Discussing the jockeying over the treaty on Rachel Maddow’s show last night, The Cable’s Josh Rogin made a similar point, noting that a failure to ratify New START “hurts Obama’s credibility to negotiate future treaties with any other countries around the world.”

But as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already — repeatedlyadmitted, the GOP’s main goal is making sure that President Obama is “a one term president.” Severely handicapping the President’s ability to credibly conduct American foreign policy — regardless of the actual consequences — is just one tactic in that larger effort.

Very much related, a fairly comprehensive new report on Iran from the Stimson Center and the U.S. Institute of Peace describes how Iranian political jockeying has impacted U.S.-Iran diplomacy over the years:

Iran’s domestic politics have repeatedly undercut US efforts to engage Tehran. In a country where the political system is based in part on an enduring hostility to US political, economic, and even cultural power, Iranian leaders are fearful of any wider solution to the nuclear program that points to rapprochement with Washington. Supreme Leader Khamanei is the most powerful representative of this intensely suspicious view of the US, and thus may resist a wider normalization of relations with the US.

The rise of a new generation of ultra-hardliners, whose most visible spokesman is President Ahmadinejad, poses a host of further challenges. Iran’s president and his allies view the quest for an independent nuclear fuel cycle as central to Iran’s efforts to forge a new alliance of middle-size powers that can challenge the “hegemony” of the capitalist Western countries. That is why their on-going efforts to quell the Green Movement and seize political control from more mainstream conservatives poses a real threat, not merely to many Iranians, but to the region as a whole.

Leaving aside the obvious point about the mutually reinforcing relationship between Iran’s ultra-hardline neoconservatives and the U.S.’s, just as it’s important to try and understand how Iranian domestic politics affects Iranian foreign policy and U.S. perceptions of Iranian aims (for example, how Iran’s inability to agree to the October 2009 TRR deal was treated by some simply as evidence of Iran’s irretrievably aggressive intent), we should also consider this in the other direction: How might Iranians might view the ability of a small group of Republican ultra-hardliners to scuttle as manifestly reasonable and bipartisan a nonproliferation treaty as START? What does it say to them about President Obama’s ability to ratify any future treaty with Iran, which would likely be far more controversial? Will a failure of START strengthen those Iranian voices — either inside the government or out — who oppose nuclear weaponization? Or will it strengthen the hardliners who see the international nonproliferation regime as a joke, and argue that a nuclear weapon is essential for Iranian power and prestige?

It would be great if conservatives could cease rubbing their hands together for a moment to consider some of these questions.