Friday, November 19, 2010

While the Cards Are Still on the Table

[Updated below]

The end of a good Matt Yglesias post on New START suggests one of the problems with analyzing events in progress:
Meanwhile, foreigners will wonder wtf has happened with US foreign policy and would-be proliferators will find their efforts somewhat boosted by the collapsing credibility of the disarmament process. And all for what? A cheap political talking point on a fourth-tier issue? A bit of extra pork?
Well, here's the thing: those last two things are very different.  If Republicans are doing the former ("cheap talking point on a fourth-tier issue") then they're horrible partisans: they're willing to hurt the national security of the United States for, basically, a tiny, tiny, political gain.  On the other hand, if they're just using the occasion of a treaty ratification to squeeze out some pork, well, that's the normal functioning (for better or worse) of the American political system.

The thing is, if what they're up to is the former, they'll block the treaty; if it's the latter, they'll cut their best deal and move on.  We don't know that yet; from their point of view, they should be playing it the same way so far either way.  One of the challenges for reporters or bloggers writing about this stuff as it happens is to keep in mind that, often, we don't know the players' real goals while the game is still in motion.

[Update: Commenter ResumeMan points out that I misread Ygleisias's post.  Oops.  Regardless, my point is the same here, but Yglesias wasn't talking about the possibility of Kyl and others bargaining their votes in exchange for more defense spending; he was just talking about reasons for them voting down the treaty.]


  1. Jonathan, I think you might be misinterpreting that last statement. I think what he is referring to is this statement he made earlier in his post:

    "Extra nukes over and beyond what’s needed to deter credibly don’t do anything for the country—they don’t add inches to our national penis or anything—it’s just an income stream for certain firms and bureaucrats who deal with the nukes."

    I think what MY means is that the defeat of the treaty will, itself, result in more pork to some Republican-leaning constituencies. He doesn't talk about the possibility of the Republicans dealing away START opposition for goodies anywhere else.

    Or hey, maybe I'm wrong. But that is how I read it.

  2. I think we do know the Republicans' real goal in this case: it's simply to destroy Obama, to undermine his foreign policy, to make him look weak so that they can then crow at every rebuff he gets from abroad. The tactics are the same as in the healthcare process: negotiate in bad faith, delay delay delay, claim they're being rushed, and do everything they can to block.

  3. Well it worked for them in the midterms. Why would they even consider not trying to block him and make him look weak. The 1st 2nd and 3rd priority for the GOP is to get Obama out of the White House. If they can figure out a way to sink the economy or maybe blow a nuclear reactor without getting caught then they might go for that too.

  4. Two things:

    One is that I don't agree that rejectionism worked for the GOP in the midterms. I think it's likely they gained little or nothing from most of their opposition -- blocking judges, or exec branch appointments, or low-level legislation. I do think they may have helped themselves by opposing some of the economic stuff, and I think it's a sensible strategy (although not necessarily correct) on major items, on health care and energy/climate.

    Second, for all that, there are lots of things where Republicans *didn't* just plain oppose, but did use potential or temporary opposition as a bargaining position.


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