GOP Senators Swing Back to Military, Boost New START Prospects

Forced to choose between the recommendations of the U.S. military and the extreme views of Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), enough Republican senators are going military to win Senate approval of the New START treaty this week.

The treaty makes modest reductions in the deployed long-range nuclear weapons of the United States and Russia, restores critical inspections and opens the way for greater global action on the key threats of Iran, North Korea and nuclear terrorism. It leaves both the U.S. and Russia with "more than enough" weapons, in the words of Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen. That would be 1550 hydrogen bombs each, or enough to destroy the world several times over.

But the opponents of the treaty claim it is unilateral disarmament and a "sell out" to the Russians. Their speeches are heavy with hyperbole, but short of credible military or expert support. As Sen. Kyl's arguments have gotten more extreme, key senators have quietly dropped their former deference to his leadership.

New START is backed by the entire US military leadership, including the heads of the Strategic Command and the Missile Defense Agency. Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, said Friday, "The New START treaty ought be ratified and it ought to be ratified right away -- this week." He explained:

I think it's extraordinarily important that the two nations that posses the largest number of nuclear weapons in the world have a continuous, constant and substantive dialogue on issues related to nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons policy issues such as safety, security, command and control.

Trash Talking the Military

Opponents discount this support as just the brass "saluting" and following orders. Leaving aside that insult to the integrity of America's military commanders, how do they account for the near-unanimous support of former military leaders and cabinet officials?

All the former commanders of the Strategic Command support the treaty and seven of the eight signed a joint letter to the Senate urging its rapid approval. All living former secretaries of state back the pact, as does every former secretary of defense and national security advisor who has expressed an opinion. The majority of these former cabinet members are Republicans. The whole group represents the combined national security wisdom of seven presidential administrations going back to Richard Nixon's.

When asked Saturday on C-SPAN why all these conservatives support the treaty he opposes, Frank Gaffney, a former acting assistant secretary of defense, said cabinet officials were too busy to really understand the treaty. Leaving aside (again) that insult, there are scores of senior officials who also support the treaty. Almost all have had far more career experience with nuclear weapons than any of the key opponents. Lt. General Dirk Jameson, for example, is a leader of the new Consensus for American Security. He writes:

After more than 20 hearings and testimony from military and diplomatic officials that has seen more than 900 questions asked and answered, a strong bipartisan consensus has emerged on a simple point about the New START treaty: it makes America more safe.

I served in the nuclear arena of our national defense during and following the Cold War; I was the Deputy Commander in Chief and Chief of Staff of U.S. Strategic Command before retiring from the U.S. Air Force. Prior to this I commanded the 14,500 men and women of the U.S. 20th Air Force, and was responsible for all U.S. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, seven major subordinate units, operational training, testing, security and readiness. I know about our nuclear security. It is out of this concern for the safety and security of the country that the Senate should promptly ratify New START.

And the Dead Shall Rise

With so few experts on their side, Senate opponents have reached into the grave. Senator Kyl quoted former diplomat and architect of containment George Kennan in his debate remarks on Friday on "the cultivation of these utopian schemes [that] took place at the expense of our feeling for reality." It backfired. Keenan biographer, Nicolas Thompson, rebuts Kly in a New Yorker article now on the top of the magazine's website:

Kennan, however, wasn't talking about nuclear arms. He was talking, generally, about disarmament pacts from the nineteen-twenties and nineteen-thirties, and most specifically about the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, which outlawed war. (It didn't work.)

As a general principle, Kennan... was deeply mistrustful of international agreements, which he considered to be largely unenforceable. But he generally made an exception for arms control.

In fact, if Kyl wanted to be fair to Kennan's lifetime body of work, he would have been better off citing the diplomat's 1981 acceptance speech for the Einstein Peace Prize:

We have gone on piling weapon upon weapon, missile upon missile, new levels of destructiveness upon old ones. We have done this helplessly, almost involuntarily: like the victims of some sort of hypnotism, like men in a dream, like lemmings heading for the sea, like the children of Hamelin marching blindly along behind their Pied Piper.

Even the dead rebut the wild charges of the New START opponents. Fortunately, enough Republicans recognize this attempt to revive Cold War rivalry and strategy for what it is -- a threat to American security. They are moving to side with Republican Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and the U.S. military. They are listening to our European allies, whose 27 foreign ministers jointly wrote this week that the treaty would have a positive global impact "far beyond the relations between the US and Russia," and urged its swift ratification.

Republican votes will be needed this week just as Republican votes were critical on Saturday to the repeal of the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. These senators sided with Admiral Mullen, who tweeted (yes, the JCS Chairman tweets), " Repeal of #DADT the right thing for our military & our country. Pleased to hear of this historic vote." This, too, was a national security vote. As Mullen added in his posted statement:

No longer will able men and women who want to serve and sacrifice for their country have to sacrifice their integrity to do so. We will be a better military as a result.

START End Game

At the close of debate on Saturday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) graciously thanked President Obama for a letter assuring the Senate that the treaty does not constrain US missile defense programs. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), whose amendment was defeated that day, had reportedly requested the letter and also seemed mollified by its delivery. Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) said the letter reassured him and that he would now vote for the treaty. Sen. Jonny Isackson (R-GA) voted for the treaty in committee and seems ready to do so again.

Corker also thanked JCS Vice Chairman General "Hoss" Cartwright for meeting with him on Friday and for his assurances on the treaty. This meeting is likely one of many military-to-senator exchanges going on behind the scenes to tell each member in private what Cartwright said publicly last Friday: "We need START and we need it badly."

With this growing GOP support, the treaty appears headed for solid approval. Where this leaves the hard-line and increasingly anti-military opponents is much less clear.