A friendly reality check for exuberant Democrats on the first day of the Nuclear-Zero Pax Obama -- this treaty is almost certainly dead on arrival. I hedge only because the Democrats might try to jam it through using reconciliation. (Is it legal? The parliamentarian will decide!) Yes, Republican criticism has been relatively muted. The treaty is a give-away to Moscow, but it isn’t a total capitulation -- the cuts are marginal and the effect will largely be to continue the status quo, i.e. a decaying U.S. nuclear deterrent and rampant proliferation. We already knew that reversing those trends isn’t a top priority for the Obama administration (excepting Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who seems to have put up a real fight on this one).
Still, it’s an election year. How eager will Senate Republicans be to deliver their votes for a treaty that the administration will then turn around and hype as its signature (sole) foreign policy achievement? And after the announcement of a Nuclear Posture Review that makes a sharp break with six-plus decades of effective deterrence, why would Republicans give Obama’s nuclear policy their seal of approval? (And about the NPR and Obama’s decision to “lead by example,” it seems worth noting we haven’t built a new nuclear weapon in more than 20 years and no one has followed our example.)
No Democratic president has signed a major arms control treaty and seen that treaty ratified in the Senate, and for good reason -- it takes a lot of Republican votes to get these things done. Leaving aside the fact that this START treaty is no major accomplishment from an anti-nuclear point of view -- it does not require warheads to be destroyed, imposes small cuts relative to those Bush pushed through, and it leaves all kinds of wiggle room (for example, strategic bombers can carry multiple nuclear missiles and bombs that only count as one warhead under the terms of the treaty) -- this isn’t a Nixon goes to China moment. This is a lefty, anti-nuclear president's take-any-deal-he-can-get-out-of-the-Russians moment. This is Nixon goes to Taiwan. Or Obama goes to Cairo.
Jon Kyl and other leading Republicans may be holding their fire until the details of the deal are disclosed to Congress, but they’ve made it perfectly clear that they view the concessions this administration made to the Russians on missile defense as unacceptable. Meanwhile, if this treaty is a priority for the administration, it won’t be for a Congress that has a whole lot of legislation to funnel through over the next few months -- including a potential Supreme Court confirmation fight over the summer and appropriations legislation in the fall -- before leaving town early to go home and campaign to save their seats.
The chances Democrats can move this through the Senate and pick up seven Republican votes are slim to none. And next year they may need twice as many Republicans to get it done. But hey, Obama got what he really wanted -- a signing ceremony.