On Tuesday House Republican Whip Eric Cantor gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation castigating the Obama administration for allegedly weakening U.S. national security. The New START treaty was the subject of particular derision. Said Cantor:
The administration hails the renewal of the START treaty as a major accomplishment. But what does it really accomplish?…A Republican Congress will turn back harmful treaties like START.
Cantor’s comments on the treaty look especially pitiful in the wake of former Secretary of Defense Jim Schlesinger’s testimony last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. According to Schlesinger, who as Travis noted is viewed by Republicans as a kind of Yoda on nuclear issues,
it is obligatory for the United States to ratify. And any treaty is going to have limitations, questionable areas. There are some in this treaty. We need to watch them for the future, but that does not mean that the treaty should be rejected.[emphasis mine.]
Schlesinger, is not the only key validator to come out in support of New START…
Head over to the mothership for a list of U.S. military leaders and influential moderates and Republicans who strongly support the treaty. We put together a similar list re: the NPR, missile defense, and funding for the nuclear weapons complex, which can be found here. The strong support conveyed by the likes of Gates, Cartwright, Mullen, and Chilton is especially important, since they all assumed their current positions during the administration of George W. Bush. This is a fact that bears repeating: These are Bush’s generals, and they all strongly support the treaty.
I think New START poses a real dilemma for conservatives. On one side is the Limbaugh/Palin/Bolton/Cantor/tea party wing of the party, which more or less wants every Obama administration policy initiative to fail. On the other side are more traditional conservatives, which includes the likes of Kissinger, Schultz, Schlesinger, Gates, and Lugar. Under their leadership, arms control has been a remarkably bipartisan endeavor.
Many Republicans in the Senate seem to grasp this dilemma, which in my view helps explain why no Republican Senator with the exception of Jim Inhofe has come out in opposition to New START – despite a lot of huffing and puffing about issues that have nothing to do with the treaty. Schlesinger’s testimony in support of the agreement last week has further heightened this dilemma; it raises the political costs of opposition. The narrative of tea party loons vs. Bush’s generals is not one that benefits Republicans.
That said, none of this guarantees Senate advice and consent. While I think the prospects for Senate approval are strong, I still worry about what Republicans will try to demand along the way, and how such efforts could work to delay and further politicize the treaty’s consideration. I especially worry about how such demands could undermine the administration’s larger nuclear security agenda.
The outlines of what Republicans may be considering have already been laid out: uninterrupted funding for the nuclear weapons complex, full access to the New START negotiating record, no limits on missile defense (like, forever), no future limits on Prompt Global Strike, protecting the nuclear triad, limits on future adjustments to U.S. declaratory policy, guidelines for future reductions (with Russia or with others), and perhaps even a commitment to design a new warhead.
A tough fight could be on the horizon.