Daniel W. Drezner

I’m STARTing to be optimistic

Spencer Ackerman doesn’t think the Senate will ratify the START treaty because the GOP wants revenge on health care:  It would be a mistake to view the outcome of this vote as a function of the treaty’s merits. Look at it from the GOP’s political vantage. It’s an opportunity to deal Obama’s hippie aspiration for ...

Spencer Ackerman doesn’t think the Senate will ratify the START treaty because the GOP wants revenge on health care: 

It would be a mistake to view the outcome of this vote as a function of the treaty’s merits. Look at it from the GOP’s political vantage. It’s an opportunity to deal Obama’s hippie aspiration for a nuke-free world an embarrassing setback, right after suffering a humiliating defeat on health care, the issue that fight most to their voters. Every Republican interest inclines them against voting for the bill, and the constitutional math of treaty ratification gives them the chance to give Obama a bloody nose in front of the world. If the Obama team starts arguing the merits of the bill as opposed to outlining a raw-politics strategy for passage, then the treaty is fucked. (emphasis added)

I agree that treaty ratification is not going to be easy — but Ackerman’s political acumen seems off, and his timetable is way off.  As Peter Baker and Ellen Barry reported for the New York Times, START won’t be going up for a vote anytime soon

The two sides have begun preparing for a signing ceremony in Prague on April 8, timing it to mark the anniversary of Mr. Obama’s speech in the Czech capital outlining his vision for eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons….

Mr. Obama met at the White House on Wednesday with Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the senior Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to brief them on the negotiations. Mr. Kerry later said he would hold hearings between Easter and Memorial Day on the history of arms control and promised action by year’s end. “I assured the president that we strongly support his efforts and that if the final negotiations and all that follows go smoothly, we will work to ensure that the Senate can act on the treaty this year,” Mr. Kerry said.

Lugar told FP’s Josh Rogin that "he intends to support the agreement and hearings could begin in May."

So, we know two things.   First, by the time hearings and votes on START are taken, health care will have faded from view.  Second, at least one prominent Republican senator intends to vote in favor of the treaty. 

Does this mean START will sail through?  Hardly.  But it’s also not going to fail because GOP Senators decided en masse to "give Obama a bloody nose in front of the world" because of health care.  

Put me down as "cautiously optimistic" that START will be ratified.  If the press reports are accurate, then opponents will have to argue that non-binding preamble language will somehow bind future U.S. presidents.  Maybe hardcore ideologues can spin that kind of tale, but this is not health care — fewer activists are going to care about an arms control treaty with a fading great power.  Furthermore, if Obama’s popularity has rebounded by the time the treaty comes up for a vote, some individual GOP senators will see a decided advantage to bipartisanship on foreign policy. 

UPDATE:  see Josh Rogin for more on this question — though he’s leaning more towards the Ackerman position.  Laura Rozen, on the other hand, thinks Lugar’s endorsement will carry some weight. 

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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