Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Conservatives and START

I think I'm going to defend conservative Republicans against the charge that their opposition to New Start is nothing but raw partisan politics.  See for example Adam Serwer's claim that treaty opponents are "manufacturing controversy over Democrats adopting policies Republicans once embraced," which Patrick Appell over at the Dish summarizes as "Anything Obama Supports = Bad."  This is generally followed by citing the GOP Secretaries of State who support the treaty, as Max Bergmann does here.

There may indeed be some of that disingenuous opposition going on, but really: do these people ever listen to conservatives?  It seems to me that what we're mainly hearing here is the wing of the party that considered Henry Kissinger (and Richard Nixon) near-traitors, that considered Ronald Reagan a sell-out when he shifted from giving speeches about the Evil Empire, and that spent eight years of the George W. Bush administration trashing every treaty from ABM to Geneva, of all things.  Is it really a surprise that they aren't convinced by Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, and George Shultz?  Nor is it news that this wing of the GOP has considerable support in the Senate; hasn't that always been the case? 

(That's the real lesson of Jonathan Chait's gotcha on Richard Perle: that wing of the GOP didn't roll over for Reagan, either).

Now, it's of course possible that a Republican president would find it somewhat easier going in finding Republican votes, although as I write this it looks as if Barack Obama is going to have the votes, after all..  And it's surely interesting to see the current support level of the Perle-Bolton wing in the Senate.  Moreover, I do think it's likely that some Senate Republicans did deliberately draw out the debate in hopes that it would crowd other items off the Senate agenda -- which is, as far as I'm concerned, a perfectly legitimate tactic. 

But that's about it.  I see no reason to attribute conservative opposition to New START to anything other than conservative opposition to all treaties.


  1. A valid point. This is on the agenda now because Obama and Reid pushed for it, but they did so in an environment in which GOP gains in the Senate were obvious (starting in, oh, around mayeb August if we're generous, October if we're moderate, and November if we're conservative). So, it's tough to separate out them pushing it because of concerns over legitimate opposition coming in, or because they saw obstructionism coming.

    However, it's not really going too far out on a limb to see demons behind the motivations of the GOP. They don't exactly have the track record of the angels.

  2. Good point, but in the past would the Perle and Bolton types have captured the leadership and the mainstream of the party? Three quarters of Republicans are going to vote no, including, apparently, Lindsey Graham and McCain. Hasn't the center of gravity shifted that much further toward the lunatic fringe?

  3. p.s. to prior: Jonathan, Larison has a must-read response to this post http://bit.ly/gcoLww

  4. Larison's post is very good. I really don't know, without more looking, about the exact history of this stuff in the Senate. I was thinking about SALT II and about Panama when I wrote the post, and if I recall correctly -- and I may not! -- the situation then, in the 1970s, wasn't all that much different than it is now. But it's certainly possible that it's somewhat different (or more) now.

    Hmmm...did any of the GOP presidential candidates in 1980 support Panama?

  5. Voting no on this treaty is the equivalent of voting yes on at least three to four months of no on-the-ground U.s. inspectors whose SOLE job it is to prevent rogue nukes from falling into terrorist hands.

    That said, Mr. Bernstein, your defense of the indefensible is impressive. If for no other reason, it's casual nature is worthy of praise for your obvious cojones.

  6. Howard Baker was for the Panama Canal Treaty. His Democratic opponent tried to use it against him in his 1978 re-election campaign.

  7. SALT passed in 1972 with 88 votes. START I passed the Senate with 87 votes, START II with 93. The Moscow Treaty passed in 2007 with 95 votes.

    At best, it appears that the New START treaty will only get about 70.

    For much of the last half-century, partisan politics always stopped at the water's edge when it came to issues of basic national security. As a result, major treaties almost always had broad bipartisan support in the Senate.

    That is why I have to respectfully disagree with your analysis here, Mr. Bernstein. The fact that Republicans attempted to thwart this treaty as part of their obstructionist agenda is really unprecedented.

    After all, did Lindsey Graham essentially said he is voting against the treaty simply because it was brought to a vote during the lame duck session? And isn't the major reason why Mitch McConnell is opposed to it because the Democrats are supposedly ramming it through without time to properly debate it? I guess 21 committee hearings and almost nine months isn't enough time.

    Although you are correct to note that many on the rightward fringe--the John Birch Society comes to mind--are openly hostile to treaties, they have never had many allies in the Senate.

    The irony, of course, is that because of the Republicans attempted obstruction here, they have turned ratification, which would have otherwise been a routine procedural affair, into a major political victory for Obama.

    Ryan Dawkins,


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