Romney's Worst Foreign Policy Mistake

Mitt Romney this week ignored our top military leaders, deepened the split in GOP ranks, made profound factual blunders rivaling Michael Steele's and turned his back on Ronald Reagan's legacy. So why don't you know about this?
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Mitt Romney this week ignored our top military leaders, deepened the split in GOP ranks, made profound factual blunders rivaling Michael Steele's and turned his back on Ronald Reagan's legacy. So why don't you know about this?

This story lit up the blogosphere, but so far the major papers and networks have largely ignored Romney's error-filled screed against a modest treaty to cut US and Russian nuclear weapons -- now being debated in the US Senate. His Washington Post op-ed of July 6 was met with a barrage of withering criticism.

Fred Kaplan of Slate said, "In 35 years of following debates over arms control I have never seen anything quite as shabby, misleading, and -- let's not mince words -- as thoroughly ignorant." Daniel Larison of The American Conservative called Romney's claims "dishonest and misleading." Joe Klein of Time characterized Romney's piece as "an aggressively chuckleheaded attack on the New START Treaty." Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic said Romney's op-ed signals he would "take American foreign policy in a radical old direction." Max Bergmann of ThinkProgress called Romney's vision of nuclear anarchy "immensely dangerous." Baron YoungSmith of The New Republic said, "The degree of his hyperbole is astounding, as is the degree of his opportunism." And Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee delivered the knockout blow with his own Washington Post op-ed: Romney simply "ignored the facts."

Romney is the only major GOP politician to oppose the treaty. His article infuriated other Republicans and exposed a three-way split in the party.

Romney embraced the position so far held by only the extreme right wing, what YoungSmith calls the "superhawks," such as John Bolton, Liz Cheney and the Heritage Foundation. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) felt compelled to rush to print a Wall Street Journal op-ed to reassert his control over the process. He expressly does not oppose the treaty -- calling it "relatively benign" -- but seeks to delay it to deny President Obama a pre-November victory and force the President to add $3 billion more to his already generous 10-year nuclear weapons budget of $180 billion. Kyl represents the more traditional right wing that now dominates party politics but is both courting and fending off the Mad Hatter Tea Party.

The most devastating critique came from Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN). He is the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, strongly supports the treaty, and represents what YoungSmith terms "the responsible Republican foreign policy establishment," all of whom support the treaty. Lugar wrote on July 8:

Governor Mitt Romney's hyperbolic attack on the New START Treaty...repeats discredited objections and appears unaware of arms control history and context. In advancing these arguments, he rejects the Treaty's unequivocal endorsement by the Defense Department led by Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He also distances himself from prominent Republican national security leaders, including Jim Schlesinger, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, and Brent Scowcroft, who have backed the Treaty after thoughtful analysis.

New START would strengthen our non-proliferation diplomacy worldwide, limit potential arms competition, and help us focus our defense resources effectively. It offers concrete national security benefits that will make the American people safer, and it should be ratified.

Not Even Close to Accurate

Here is just one of the more than twenty fallacious or factually wrong statements Romney presents in his piece. And it is a whopper. It has not received the attention that Michael Steele garnered with his erroneous claim that Afghanistan is a war of Obama's choosing. Most political commentators knew Steele's charge was obviously wrong; few know enough about nuclear weapons to realize how wildly wrong Romney is.

Romney said:

Russia will retain more than 10,000 nuclear warheads that are categorized as tactical because they are mounted on missiles that cannot reach the United States. But surely they can reach our allies, nations that depend on us for a nuclear umbrella.

This sounds terrifying. And it would be -- if it were true. But Russia does not have 10,000 tactical nuclear missiles that can reach our allies. They don't have even 1,000. At most, Russia has a few hundred sea-based, nuclear-armed, cruise missiles. We are not even sure if these are operational. They may be rusting in Russian storage sites.

Why doesn't Russia have more missiles that can hit our allies? Because Ronald Reagan eliminated them in a negotiated treaty with the Soviet Union in 1987. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty verifiably destroyed a whole class of missiles (those between about 300 and 3400 miles in range) that once threatened nuclear war in Europe. The Soviet Union destroyed approximately 1750 missiles, and the U.S. destroyed 846.

Then, in 1991, President George H. W. Bush unilaterally withdrew all U.S. ground-launched tactical nuclear missiles and tactical weapons on surface ships. Gorbachev responded in kind a week later by announcing a 60 percent reduction in the Soviet tactical arsenal.

Today, even if you throw in all of Russia's 540 long-range missiles, and its possible 856 air-launched cruise missiles (all limited by the new treaty), Russia still does not have more than 1700 offensive missiles in its entire inventory.

In short, there is nothing close to the 10,000-missile threat Romney imagines.

Where is the Media?

Romney's willful misunderstanding of the strategic nuclear situation confronting the United States and its allies should be major news. Journalists have an obligation to explain to the public when a presidential hopeful commits such egregious errors on national security. But, so far, these judgments have been confined to the blogs. No print columnist or major media reporter has examined the issue. They should.

A good place to start is any or all of the following expert analyses:

  • Steven Pifer and Strobe Talbott's "New START is No Mistake" in The Washington Post [link]
  • Pavel Podvig's "Republicans Question the New START Treaty" in the Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces blog [link]
  • Fred Kaplan's "Wrong-Headed Romney" in Slate [link]
  • Daniel Larison's "Misrepresenting The Prague START" in The American Conservative [link]
  • Max Bergmann's "Mitt Romney Embraces the Far Right's Dangerous Nuclear Extremism in Opposing START" in Think Progress' The Wonk Room [link]
  • Page Van Der Linden's "Mitt Romney: Dazed and Confused on New START" in The Plutonium Café blog [link]

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