WE NEED A STRONG POLITICAL SYSTEM…. Following up on an earlier item, Matt Cooper’s report on Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-Ariz.) betrayal on the new arms control treaty with Russia, New START, included a tidbit that’s worth emphasizing.

Coming after a disappointing Asian trip for the president, the debacle can’t help Obama’s standing abroad. For instance, part of the reason he failed to secure a trade deal with South Korea on his recent trip was Seoul’s concern about ratification prospects in the Senate. This kind of blow can only heighten those concerns in South Korea and in other nations that have treaties pending with the U.S.

After South Korea pulled back from its trade deal with the U.S. last week, there was plenty of talk about how President Obama couldn’t “close the deal.” What was largely overlooked is the fact that South Korea officials are well aware of the political circumstances in Washington, and they weren’t prepared to trust our legislative branch of government to do the right thing.

After all, if Republican lawmakers are prepared to kill a strong nuclear arms treaty that advances America’s national security interests, why would South Korea, or any other country, expect those same Republican lawmakers to be responsible when it comes to issues like trade?

I tend to dismiss talk about “American decline” and phrases like “once-great superpower,” because I have genuine confidence in the strength of the country. I have no doubt that it’s within our power to make wise decisions and remain the global leader. But the talk of decline seems harder to just casually disregard when we see the way our legislative branch ceases to function and the extent to which one of our major political party descends into madness.

The United States still has the most dynamic economy, the strongest military, the best universities, and the most creative entrepreneurs, but our future depends in part on the health of our political system. And right now, Republicans are taking a sledgehammer to this component of the American foundation — and they do so without embarrassment, in part because they’re overwhelmed by a misguided ideology, and in part because they loathe our elected president.

This debate over New START drives the point home nicely. Top officials from the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Obama administrations have pleaded with Republicans to be grown-ups about this, and do right by American national security. At this point, GOP officials refuse — and can’t explain why. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) announced today he’ll oppose the treaty because he fears the “Soviet” threat. Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), an alleged moderate, said today he’s inclined to kill the treaty out of a fear that it “diminishes the national security of our friends and allies throughout Europe” — apparently unaware that our friends and allies throughout Europe support ratification of the treaty Voinovich is prepared to destroy.

South Korean leaders see this and resist trade deals. Russian leaders see this and it emboldens their hard-liners. Countries around the world watch our deliberations, shake their heads, and wonder why the U.S. would choose to allow such political dysfunction to continue.

And best of all, this will get considerably worse in just a couple of months, thanks to the midterm elections.

We really have to do better than this.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.