This morning, the headline in the International Herald Tribune (IHT) was the announcement by Republican Senator Jon Kyl that he would block a vote on the New START treaty during the lame duck session this year. After extorting unneeded funding for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex for “weapon modernization”—a payoff of between $80-100 billion according to sources, which the administration has granted, with some $4 billion added within the last few weeks — Kyl has still said “no.”
Kyl clearly has other motives and they are not making a more secure America or helping global non-proliferation. In not giving the negotiating role to Senator Lugar but rather to his deputy Kyl, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has extended his “slash and burn” strategy to U.S. national security interests. There is not Obama initiative, no matter its value, that the Republicans will not oppose.
Given the outcome of the November 2 elections, ratification by the Senate is even more unlikely next year. The treaty is likely being held hostage for a wider bargaining on unrelated domestic issues like tax cuts for the rich. These include reductions in tax revenues that could help the country dig out of our economic downturn and result in even deeper cuts in programs for the poor and middle class—including health care.
That the Republicans would carry out such a destructive effort—one contrary to American security interests and despite support from a vast number of former Republican national security experts and officials, as well as the Chiefs of Staff— says a lot about the Republican’s narrow political goals. It indicates that compromise for the sake of the nation’s security interests is not on their agenda.
What should Obama and the Democrats do? First, recognize that the Administration cannot “trade” the core of its agenda and purpose – domestic or international – for a wholesale capitulation of all that it has achieved and stands for. Besides, “preemptive capitulation” begets more capitulation, which in turns begets disaster with the public and at the polls. Americans want nothing less than Obama to fight for what they elected him to do. He was not elected to surrender the nation to the right-wing Republican interests. It is also an unmitigated diplomatic disaster in dealing with other counties—both allies and adversaries.
Second, Congress could pass legislation this session which will advance its goals and deny blackmail tools to the right-wing Republicans in the next session. This includes passing—via an omnibus appropriations bill—funding for this fiscal year. If necessary, this should be done using the mechanism of reconciliation or at least voting on a continuing resolution (CR) that goes until the end of the fiscal year to prevent wholesale cuts by the Republicans of vital programs.
Congress should pass unemployment extension as proof it fights for its principles. Obama also should indicate that the U.S. will live up to the New START Treaty aims if the Russians indicate they will do so. In addition, America should try to get some kind of temporary inspection regime in place absent ratification. That will be hard, but working with the Russians in areas of mutual interest is a fundamental necessity to serving U.S. vital national security interests.
Finally, there are a host of domestic and international issues that the President can act on using his executive authority or as Commander in Chief, via his emergency powers. These bypasses around the Congressional deadlock should make our foreign policy of the next two years more productive and protect American interests abroad. For example, he can act via the EPA to put in place regulation on greenhouse gasses to mitigate global warming. With the stroke of a pen he can put in place regulations that favor clean, renewable energy.
The President can also help build, without the use of formal treaties, architecture for international security and arms control agreements to reverse the increasing problem of proliferation of WMD. The Europeans and many other nations would rejoice.