Opposition in Search of a Rationale

By Ryan McNeely

Last April, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which provides for mutual reductions in redundant strategic nuclear arms. It’s a major accomplishment, and while Cold War-era nuclear concerns have lost the sexiness they once had, this treaty smartly goes right to the heart of the issue of terrorists potentially obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The problem is that even though the treaty is not a significant departure from the old START (which President Reagan negotiated, George H.W. Bush signed, and the Senate ratified with a vote of 93-6), and even though it’s unanimously supported by military and security experts, some conservatives are casting about for any reason to oppose ratification simply to hand a defeat to the Obama administration. It’s politics of the worst sort.

I wanted to draw attention to comments made by former Sen. Tom Daschle at CAP, who rightly argues that this line — the line of legitimate issue-based opposition vs. simple partisan posturing — is a line that “conservatives in elected office are close to crossing in an institutionalized fashion in their desire to retake power.” He also explained that those who claim to be most “hawkish” on Iran continue to take steps that actually increase the likelihood of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon:

The administration also won sanctions from the U.N. Security Council against Iran directed at halting that country’s nuclear weapons program. Daschle and Cirincione agreed that ratifying New START was critical to maintaining international pressure on Tehran. Failure to ratify to the treaty would, they argued, lead to doubts among our allies about our commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation and strengthen Iran’s position.

“American credibility on nuclear issues would evaporate,” Daschle said, adding that problems might not be limited to Iran in the long term. “Countries belonging to the NPT would ask a very simple question: ‘If the U.S. is unwilling to live up to its commitments, why should we live up to ours?’

I happen to think Mitt Romney’s amateur, uninformed op-ed in the Washington Post – see Fred Kaplan’s takedown here and Sen. Lugar’s comments here – ought to seriously cripple his presidential chances. But, he’s clearly concluded that Republican primary voters may actually reward the attempt to hand President Obama a defeat at literally any cost.