As Republicans ponder the administration’s unprecedented rush to pass a nuclear-arms treaty during a lame-duck session of Congress, some observers suggest that President Barack Obama may be trying to justify the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded just nine months into his presidency.
Obama’s plans to abolish nuclear weapons were mentioned prominently when the Nobel committee anointed him the “world’s leading spokesman” for a new style of international diplomacy.
In fact, the committee’s announcement of the award in October 2009 declared: “The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”
A failure by Obama to get START passed “would undermine the Nobel committee’s faith in Mr. Obama’s skills on the world stage,” The New York Times’
The Caucus Blog stated Monday.
The president’s critics are slamming his determination to push a major treaty through the Senate during a lame duck session of the Senate – especially given that Russia and the United States are already at odds over what the treaty promises.
The treaty would limit each side to 1,550 delivery vehicles, a level that barely affects Russia at all because many of its launchers are virtually obsolete, arms experts say. But the two sides disagree over whether the terms of the treaty would restrict U.S. plans to develop and deploy a missile shield to protect the U.S. homeland and Europe from a rogue nuclear attack.
The Obama administration insists that language in the treaty’s prelude, which links offensive and defensive missiles, is nonbinding. Yet Democrats rejected an amendment by Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain that would drop that reference from the treaty, because they said it would open the entire treaty to renegotiation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has declared that the missile defense restrictions are “clearly spelled out in the treaty” and are “legally binding.” If so, the treaty would alter the longstanding U.S. tenet that offensive weapons limitations should not affect development of defensive missiles.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has warned that the United States should permit no such diplomatic linkage in the treaty.
On Monday, Lavrov interjected himself again, proclaiming that the treaty “completely meets the national interests of both Russia and the United States.”
Reflecting the apparent Russian insistence that the START preamble is binding, Lavrov also warned that the treaty must not be amended.
“It cannot be reopened, becoming the subject of new negotiations,” he said.
Failure to ratify the treaty will spur Russia to embark on a new nuclear arms race, Russian leader Vladimir Putin recently said on CNN’s Larry King program.
Heritage Foundation national security expert James Carafano said he believes that President Obama wants an arms treaty with Russia even if the terms do not favor the United States.
“For a treaty that gives you nothing and buys you all kinds of problems, and to tout that as a success because you have a treaty, makes no sense,” he tells Newsmax. “The argument of reasoning with the Russians is ridiculous. This is a group of leaders who are destroying democracy in their own country.”
Russian leaders' recent threats show they are “flatly just sort of pushing America around, and the administration is pretending like, ‘This is a good outcome,’” Carafano says.
Not a single major treaty has been ratified by a lame-duck session of Congress since the modern lame-duck process was created in the 1933 with the ratification of the 20th Amendment, according to a Heritage Foundation review. The amendment was designed to shorten the time between the election of a new Congress and its taking office.
GOP senators are basically asking: Why the rush to enact a treaty when the parties don’t appear to agree on what it means?
Author, columnist, and national security expert Andrew McCarthy tells Newsmax that Obama should proceed with a treaty “on the basis of his own merits and what it might do for our security, rather than fixing his place in history.”
He added: “It’s ironic that he now might think the Nobel credential he has could be burnished by a START treaty, when he and the Russians can’t even agree on what it actually says.
“It seems to me he’s in a position of burnishing one empty gesture with another one. Neither of these events does anything to promote American national security, which is what treaties are supposed to be about. So it is an unfortunate exercise, all in all,” McCarthy tells Newsmax.
Analysts expect Democrats to get the 60 votes they need for a cloture vote to end debate.
But Democrats need 67 votes to ratify the treaty. Politico reports that five GOP senators are leaning toward approving it. But that would still put Democrats four votes shy of the number needed for ratification. The vote on ratification is expected to take place on Wednesday.
Democrats say a failure to ratify the treaty would damage U.S. security.
"I think what damages our national security is to sign a treaty where the parties have a different view of what you mean," GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Sunday on "Face the Nation." "The Russian foreign minister said if we build up our strategic missile defense systems in quality or in numbers, that they will consider that a breach of the treaty.
“I'm going to write a letter to the Russians and ask them specifically, does the preamble language that Senator McCain tried to remove, do you consider that a limitation on the United States' ability to develop four stages of strategic missile defense — because we're threatened by Iran, we're threatened by North Korea,” he said.
Graham warned that signing a treaty that is already in dispute would sow chaos and actually hurt U.S. security, if Russia withdrawals from the treaty because of the disputed provisions.
"Maybe next year we can straighten things out and have a chance to do it,” Graham said.
Republicans have asked the administration to release the record of negotiations on the treaty, which could help explain the source of any misunderstanding. So far the administration has refused the request, however.
“I’ve decided that I cannot support the treaty. I think the verification provisions are inadequate and I do worry about the missile defense implications of it,” Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell told CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday.
McConnell criticized the administration for trying to rush the treaty through.
“I know the administration actually sent a letter up yesterday, indicating they’re committed to missile defense,” McConnell said. “But an equally important question is: How do the Russians view missile defense, and how do our European allies view missile defense? And I’m concerned about it. I think if they’d taken more time with this. Rushing it right before Christmas, it strikes me as trying to jam us.”
Among the conservative critics of the treaty: former Reagan aides Richard Perle and Frank Gaffney, as well as former Bush U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
In addition to the lack of clarity over missile defense, critics say START fails to address Russia's 10-to-1 advantage over the United States in tactical nuclear weapons – the devices considered most likely to be used in an actual battle.
Newsmax columnist and Fox News contributor Dick Morris tells Newsmax he believes Obama is more interested in bolstering his standing with his party’s left wing than in proving he deserved a Nobel Peace Prize.
“I think he is just desperate to pass something to appease the left so that he can declare victory and have a bill signing,” Morris tells Newsmax. “He has taken such a battering over the tax cut extension that he needs a liberal achievement to hang on the wall. [Secretary of State] Hillary [Clinton] does too.”
The Times’ blog commented Monday: “Mr. Obama is likely to know by week’s end whether his two years of negotiations and speeches will have accomplished what the [Nobel] committee believed it could.”
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