Yesterday's Washington Post contained a column by ardently neoconner Charles Krauthammer on "The Irrelevance of START" (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which follows similar columns by the main editorial writer (usually Fred Hiatt) and Jacskon Diehl. Krauthammer whined that Obama should be focusing on tax and jobs policies rather than the long-negotiated renewal of the START, which expired last December and was first put in place under George H.W. Bush in the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union, even though he does not support any of Obama's proposals on taxes or jobs, along with nearly all Republicans in the lame duck Congress.
He and WaPo and Diehl effectively support the opposition by Senator Kyl (AZ-R) who wants more funding for nuclear weapons in the face of pressure for cutting deficits, with Obama offering $84 billion, but this was not enough for him, and if it does not pass in the lame duck, it will almost surely not pass in the next Congress. This treaty is supported by virtually all of the military, including 7 of the last 8 commanders of US Strategic Nuclear Forces and nearly all past Republican Secretaries of State, Defense, and National Security Advisers, including such figures as Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, with none of these figures expressing any public opposition. Most say that this is a no-brainer that should be beyond partisan politics, with the absence of US observers in Russian nuclear facilities since the old treaty expired last December supposedly making it so (and certainly making it look so to me).
Besides the economy, Krauthammer says we should focus on Iran and North Korea instead, not on such an irrelevant place as Russia. Of course, official US intel reports say Iran is not actively pursuing nuclear weapons, although presumably Krauthammer would like the US to do the bidding of Israel and bomb a few nuclear facilities in Iran, just to keep them in line. North Korea certainly has some nukes and is acting very dangerously right now, with it leading to those 3 AM phone calls for Obama. But it is unclear that anything the lame duck Congress could do would do anything to help about that situation, which got out of hand back when GW Bush was in and dumped the older agreement on pressure from Cheney and Rumsfeld early in his administration, leading the North Koreans to withdraw from the NNPT and to restart their plutonium bomb production plants that had been shut in 1994, leading to the production and testing of actual nuclear weapons now in their possession.
Quite aside from all that, there are at least three other reasons why Obama is right to push START ratification and why it is massively irresponsible of all these commentators and politicians to play politics and make stupid comments about this.
1) If one is really worried about Iran and North Korea, Russia is an important player in dealing with both of them, and having cooperation from Russia will help, which ratifying START will help in getting (and rejecting ratification will damage).
2) Unmentioned by all these supposedly sage commentators is that the greatest nuclear danger to the US is none of the above, but rather terrorists getting their hands on loose nukes. The major possible source of those is the still huge stockpile in Russia. Having US inspectors on the ground there should help in the securing of those stockpiles against terrorists or rogue Russian generals messing with them. Saying that Russia is not going to attack is silly in light of the real threat from these weapons.
3) And beyond that,leadership in Russia might change or a rogue general might get at them, and even these glb commentators realize that the only really serious danger from a nuclear confrontation in terms of major world destruction would be an exchange betweeen the US and Russia, which could happen even by accident with no ill intentions. So, reducing those stockpiles somewhat further from their ridiculously overly large levels would improve world security against the damage that might arise from a US-Russian nuclear exchange, however unlikely that may seem.
Ratifying this treaty really is a no-brainer and Obama is completely correct to make it a top priority for passage by the lame duck Congress, far ahead of pretty much anything else. The decline of intelligent public discourse on such matters is one of the most disturbing trends I can think of going on right now.