A party in need of a New START

A PARTY IN NEED OF A NEW START…. David Broder’s column yesterday covered familiar ground — the Washington Post columnist is still disappointed with both parties — but there was one point in particular that stood out. (thanks to N.B. for the tip)

The Post reported earlier this week that, as Senate Republicans delay consideration of a new strategic arms treaty with Russia, the previous framework has lapsed. As a result, “for the first time in 15 years, U.S. officials have lost their ability to inspect Russian long-range nuclear bases.” Broder notes the political context.

The inspections were guaranteed by the old START agreement, which expired in December. The successor treaty was negotiated in April, but the Senate has not taken it up because several Republican senators have raised questions about its possible effect on plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear fleet.

Republican Richard Lugar, probably the Senate’s leading authority on nuclear disarmament, told reporter Mary Beth Sheridan that the delay “is very serious and impacts our national security.”

But Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the deputy Republican leader and one of the main voices challenging the urgency of action, told Sheridan he had assumed the inspections were continuing. What a price to pay for ignorance.

Indeed, Republicans holding up the new nuclear treaty have largely ignored the lapsed nuclear checks. Kyl, who’s helped lead the way in obstructing progress, was asked about the inspection cutoff. “I thought we were just going to continue doing business as usual” as the replacement treaty was debated, he said.

It’s a reminder that GOP obstructionism is not only abusive of institutional and national interests, it’s also often based on Republican ignorance about issues of global importance.

While we’re on the subject, it’s also worth noting that Kyl and his cohorts are blocking the pending New START measure, despite their support for a similar measure when Bush was president.

“This treaty is a masterstroke…. It is shorn of the tortured bench marks, sub-limits, arcane definitions and monitoring provisions that weighed down past arms control treaties,” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). “It assumes a degree of trust between nations that are no longer on the precipice of war.”

Those were words from Kyl’s floor speech on March 6, 2003, in support of ratification of the Moscow Treaty, signed nine months earlier by President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The resolution for ratification passed that day without opposition, 95 to 0 with five senators absent, including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), today’s minority leader. Twenty-four Republicans who voted for that treaty seven years ago are in the Senate today, but not one, save possibly Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), has indicated he or she will vote for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), negotiated by President Obama’s team. New START has sub-limits, definitions and monitoring provisions.

In fact, Kyl and many of the 23 other senators are critical of elements of New START that they readily accepted or ignored in the agreement they embraced seven years ago.

By all appearances, the problem is that far too many Republicans aren’t just unaware of substantive details, they also govern through knee-jerk instincts — if Obama negotiated a strong nuclear arms treaty, it must be bad, even if it’s good, because Obama supports it.

Nuclear proliferation is simply too important for such petty, childish nonsense.