Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy’s the Cable has two recent stories doubting the ability of the President to get a new START deal through the Senate. The Rogin stories points to the real political fight that confronts a new START treaty — something that I pointed to before and something that the White House and treaty advocates have been slow to realize. In that sense, Rogin’s articles should serve as a real wake-up call, especially his latest piece on START that points out the potential process problems that could delay START in the Senate.
Rogin presents these process challenges as purely technical procedural problems inherent in Senate protocol that seem to guarantee that START ratification will be drawn out for months upon months.
The huge demand for time it would take for the Senate to scrutinize and then ratify the agreement makes a ratification on the U.S. side unlikely in 2010.
Now there maybe some technical aspects of the Senate ratification process that take up some time. But these are challenges that a functioning legislative body should be able to handle. After all, this is one of the top foreign policy priorities of the White House and it is not as if this is an entirely new treaty, as the basic tenets of any new START treaty will not differ dramatically from the previous START treaty that has enjoyed nearly two decades of bipartisan support. With a functioning Senate, this treaty gets done, and relatively rapidly. Of course, we know that the Senate is not really functioning all that well right now. But that is not a technical process issue, as Rogin presents. That is a political issue.
Rogin’s piece in fact just tips the hand of those seeking to defeat START. Opponents will seek to make the START process dysfunctional. Rogin revealed as much when he speculated that, “It’s not clear whether leading GOP senators like Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, will complicate the timeline further by moving to stall the new treaty or jam it up altogether.” In other words, the same obstruction techniques and complaints that have been used over health care — the endless filibusters, the claims the bill is too long, that things are moving too fast, that more time is needed, or the latest talking point, that the Administration should just start over — will allow be used against a new START treaty.
These process complaints may be used to try to mask opposition. For instance, Kyl may now try to avoid outwardly opposing START, using instead Senate processes to covertly gum up ratification. Kyl knows that delaying START by even a year would be a significant setback to the entire arms-control agenda. Delaying may not ultimately defeat START, but it would effectively kill all the momentum behind Obama’s global zero vision, something that Kyl is very much opposed to.
Fortunately, Rogin’s other claim that the treaty maybe “dead on arrival,” with Democratic Senators shirking from the fight, does not appear accurate. Rogin quoted Carl Levin, saying ratifying the treaty is “going to be hard.” Indeed, it will be and if the White House and pro-treaty Senators don’t tool up it certainly will be dead on arrival. But fortunately there are significant signs of life. Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) this week gave a powerful floor speech in support of START, the Vice President has preempted conservative claims on a deteriorating nuclear stockpile, and other Senators like Dick Durbin (D-IL), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and notably Richard Lugar (R-IN) all look like key advocates in for ratification.
Make no mistake, ratifying START will take considerable effort on behalf of the White House, pro-treaty Senators, and the advocacy community. But the notion that ratification is just doomed is the sort of nonsense that Senators like Jon Kyl want everyone to believe.