Commentary: The nuke threat isn't a partisan issue for us
The recently leaked diplomatic cables reveal both Arab and Israeli horror at a nuclear Iran. Last year, Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, evidently told the American ambassador that the world had 18 months or less to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, warning "any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage." Bahrain's King Hamad sent a cable saying, "That program must be stopped," and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed said, "Ahmadinejad is Hitler."
With Russia key to slowing Iran's nuclear program, U.S. leaders want the Senate to pass the new arms control treaty without haste. But Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl and several fellow Republicans have apparently decided there's never a reason, including national security, to not humiliate President Obama. And so they've chosen to hold up the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
The treaty aims to cut U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons by 30 percent. Importantly, it would give us the ability to verify Russia's strategic nuclear arms, something we haven't been able to do for a year. And very importantly, it would advance international efforts to bar the terrifying prospect of Iran and North Korea becoming significant nuclear powers.
So quick approval of this treaty goes beyond questions of national security. It's about national survival. The terrorist attacks nine years ago were unspeakable, but America could withstand more Sept. 11's. It can't survive one major nuclear attack.
Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, all but blew up at this jaw-dropping act of political opportunism. So high are the stakes that he went public, putting video of his shocked response on his official YouTube page: www.youtube.com/senatorlugar.
"There are 13,300 nuclear weapons aimed at us," Lugar says in a rattled voice, "our cities, our military installations everything we have -- 13,300." He goes on to note that "any one of those warheads could obliterate the city of Indianapolis."
Only the most pathological partisanship would turn rapid passage of New START into an unacceptable victory for a president from an opposing party. The treaty's backers include three former secretaries of state under four Republican presidents. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who took up his post under George W. Bush, joined four former secretaries of defense, three former national security advisers, seven former commanders of the U.S. Strategic Command and the entire U.S. military leadership in supporting the treaty as it was meticulously negotiated.
But as Kyl put it, "given the combination of other work the Senate must do" and the "unresolved issues" of modernizing America's nuclear forces, he didn't think the treaty could be passed in the lame-duck session of Congress.
You wonder what work is more pressing than protecting the United States from nuclear holocaust. You ask why neo-conservatives are hailing Obama's commitment to spend nearly $10 billion in fiscal 2011 alone on improving America's nuclear defenses if modernization is a concern.
As Kyl and others treated this arms control treaty as a political toy -- a ball of yarn to be kicked into the next Congess for the kittens to play with -- the former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory said he was "stunned" by the sophistication of a North Korean nuclear plant he had just visited. And the maniacal North Korean government attacked a South Korean island, creating a monstrous diplomatic crisis for the United States. This is no time to sap the president's prestige on the world stage.
A harsh question: Is it a betrayal of one's country to jeopardize its security -- not because you intend to do it harm, but to weaken a president you don't like? On matters of national security, for certain, the answer is yes.
Froma Harrop's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.