Merry Christmas to the whole human race from the United States Senate, which ratified the new START treaty with Russia yesterday. Under the terms of the treaty, the total number of operationally ready strategic nuclear weapons in the American and Russian arsenals, already hugely diminished since their 1980s peak, will be reduced to their lowest levels since the mid-1950s. More crucially, the number of launch platforms will be reduced further still – to a maximum of 700 per side. This is far too many, of course, but since those two countries possess over 95% of all nuclear weapons in the world, the significance of the treaty cannot be understated. By the end of the decade, the total number of operationally deployed nuclear weapons in the world will have been reduced to under a tenth of what it was at its peak in 1986, when the United States and the Soviet Union had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons on a high alert. The new START is a straightforward and very good treaty – almost noncontroversial, in fact. It makes the United States and indeed the whole world a safer place. It is Obama’s first major foreign policy achievement, and goes some way to adding some post-facto credibility to his ridiculous win of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Which is precisely why twenty-six Republican Senators voted against it, why Senator Kyl of Arizona fought a desperate, almost hysterical rear-guard action to delay its ratification until the next session of Congress, when a somewhat different Senate with more Republicans might have derailed it. For anyone who has been following the debate closely, no other possible conclusion can be reached about what motivated those twenty-six Republicans. Their goal was to hand Obama a political defeat, regardless of the implications for American national security. The red flags they sent up were all false flags. Senator DeMint of South Carolina actually dismissed the treaty as part of “a continuing pattern of appeasement.” Appeasement! The favourite boogeyman word Republicans use describe whatever Democrats happen to be doing at the moment on the international stage, even if they’re waging war in Korea, Vietnam, Kosovo, Somalia, or Afghanistan and Iraq. (And need the Senator really be told that, historically, it was his party that enthusiastically endorsed isolationism even after the Second World War began in Europe?) “Appeasement!” Obama’s last defense budget – a staggering $700 billion – was the biggest in American history in absolute terms and the biggest, adjusted for inflation, since 1946. Bigger than any defense budget at the peak of the Cold War. Bigger than any during Vietnam or Korea. “Appeasement!” And who are these liberal “appeasers” who supported this treaty? Well, in addition to the Democrats, of course, there were such famous bleeding hearts as former President George H.W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice and every other living former Republican Secretary of State, the admirals and generals of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military head of the Strategic Command (the branch of the armed forces that actually controls America’s strategic nuclear arsenal) and seven of his predecessors, and, notably thirteen Republican Senators, including Senator Corker of Tennessee, who as much as called the treaty a no-brainer. “This is not one of those votes where you wonder,” he said. “This is not even a close call.”
There are, of course, real grounds for concern about the manner in which this administration has conducted itself in terms of foreign and domestic policy. But that’s true of every presidential administration. The exigencies of holding high office in such an immensely powerful but also profoundly internally divided country as the United States probably fatally compromises the ethics of even of the most sincere office holder.
This morning, of course, the Tea Party blogs and websites exploded with predictable rage. Their whole conspiracy-driven worldview has received powerful reinforcement. This is yet another sign of what they already know to be true. The President is a Muslim and a communist and a foreigner and this is all part of his master plan to weaken America. Measure of Doubt does not play the race card lightly. But let us be clear about something. There are those on the Tea Party right who say that Obama would not be President if he weren’t black. Perhaps. But there wouldn’t be a Tea Party if he weren’t black, either. They have made that abundantly clear. So if you prefer to read what rational people have to say, there has been excellent analysis of this treaty on the venerable The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. If you prefer your political coverage with a dose of gun-shootin’, Bible thumpin’, Good-Ole’ Boy twang, well, you hardly need pointers from me about where to look.
There is, however, one foreign policy expert who opposed the deal, and whose views might give us a moment of pause, because they carry such immense weight, having been informed by years of dedication to understanding geopolitics. The former partial-term governor of Alaska, who obtained a U.S. passport nearly five years ago and who has been taking occasional trips outside of North America for almost four years now, Sarah Palin, called on the Senate to defeat the treaty.