The looming fight over President Obama's so-called New START disarmament treaty with Russia seems to be coming down to one fundamental question: Would Ronald Reagan approve? On the answer may ride nothing less than the re-election prospects of a handful of senators who will decide the fate of this accord if Team Obama succeeds in forcing it to a vote in the last days of the current lame-duck session.
Consequently, Mr. Obama's administration has been moving heaven and earth to demonstrate that his treaty is right out of his predecessor's playbook. Toward that end, he has enlisted a number of people who held prominent positions during the Reagan presidency. These include darlings of the establishment such as George P. Shultz, James A. Baker III, Colin L. Powell and George H.W. Bush. They oblige by selectively hearkening back to negotiations Mr. Reagan held with the Soviet Union, some of which resulted late in his presidency in arms-reduction treaties.
In recent days, however, the real Reaganauts on national security - the ones who supported the president in developing and executing his strategy for destroying the Soviet Union and who still practice his philosophy of "peace through strength" - have entered the fray. For example, in an important op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 2, two of Reagan's most influential advisers, former counselor to the president and Attorney General Edwin Meese III and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard N. Perle, explained why their boss would not have endorsed New START:
"There are many reasons why this treaty falls short of those negotiated by President Reagan. For one thing, its verification regime is inadequate. For another, it gives the Kremlin an unwarranted influence over the structure of our nuclear deterrent. Most important, it will almost certainly reduce our freedom to deploy vital defenses against ballistic missiles."
Then, on Monday, a Capitol Hill news conference was the vehicle for the release of a powerful joint letter opposing the New START. It was sent to the Senate leadership by Reagan's former national security adviser, William P. Clark, Mr. Meese and about 30 officials from the Reagan and subsequent presidencies.
The signatories warned that in addition to the aforementioned problems, New START would leave the United States with far fewer nuclear weapons than the Russians would have, given the latter's immense arsenal of "tactical" nuclear arms. This disparity can only exacerbate New START's negative strategic repercussions at a time when the Kremlin is trying to intimidate U.S. allies by moving such weapons closer to their nations.
Such a dynamic is all the more worrying at a moment when President Obama is relentlessly pursuing global denuclearization by disarming the one country he can - ours. That is the absolutely predictable effect of his refusal to take all the steps necessary to preserve America's nuclear arsenal. While some insist that this agenda is vintage Reagan, the late president's advisers observed that Mr. Obama's program sets the stage for "the continued obsolescence and atrophying of our arsenal. No other nuclear power is engaged in such behavior. And, given our global security responsibilities and the growing dangers from various quarters, neither should we."
Statements from Reaganesque leaders serving today in the Senate and House underscored deep concerns on both sides of Capitol Hill about the decidedly un-Reagan-like idea of acting on so important, to say nothing of so problematic, an international agreement in a truncated, lame-duck session. Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, and Sen. James. M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, joined Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, the incoming chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee and Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks of the House Armed Services Committee, in opposing such a step.
Senior members of that committee, led by its next chairman, Republican Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon of California, have decried the fact that they are being denied the information and time to perform due diligence associated with implementation of a ratified accord.
The news conference also featured inputs from three men reported to be considering presidential bids: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum and former U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton. Their strong opposition to the New START is mirrored by other prospective candidates polled recently by National Review. As Mr. Gingrich put it in a letter to senators:
"I ... urge all Senators to oppose the New START treaty until the House has been able to hold the deliberations that incoming Chairman McKeon has called for, until the Senate is granted full access to the treaty's negotiating history, until New START codifies America's right to develop our missile defense systems without limitation within the treaty text itself, and until the Senate has been able to consider and vote on all other serious and substantive amendments that are offered. ... Doing so will send a much-needed message of strength and resolve to both friends and adversaries."
Those who believe the United States must practice the authentic Reagan philosophy of "peace through strength" will accept no substitutes. Pretending to follow in his footsteps while voting to weaken America and embolden our enemies in a lame-duck session will be remembered and punished at the polls by constituents who expect senators to do their constitutional duties by rigorously vetting treaties and providing for the common defense.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy, a columnist for The Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program "Secure Freedom Radio," heard in Washington weeknights at 9 p.m. on WRC 1260 AM.
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