It would be heartening to believe that the overwhelming vote to ratify the New START treaty in the Senate also signifies a new start between President Obama and the incoming, divided Congress. Unfortunately, this is likely not the case, but the ratification of the arms control treaty is a critical victory, not just for Obama, but for anyone who signs a holiday card urging "Peace on Earth."
The treaty, which limits the number of strategic warheads, bombers, and ballistic missiles Russia and the United States can deploy in the next seven years, is an important step toward a safer, and ultimately nuclear weapon-free, world. Perhaps more importantly, ratification sends a signal to the rest of the world that the United States is serious about arms control and willing to engage in bilateral and multilateral agreements. Failure to approve the treaty would have made it far more difficult to win Russia’s cooperation on other matters of grave global security, such as stemming Iran’s nuclear program. It also would have made Obama look weak abroad, sacrificing U.S. national interests for petty domestic politics. [Read the U.S. News debate: Should the United States ratify the New START treaty?]
As much as the Tea Party crowd delights in embarrassing Obama and discrediting his presidency, the stakes are far too high when it comes to national security and the threat of nuclear war. Special praise should go to Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who was supported by the Tea Party movement in his special election bid, but who voted to ratify the treaty, saying it was important not to let politics interfere with national security. This is not a case of a conservative senator trying to curry favor in a still very blue state; people don’t vote someone out of office because of an arms treaty, important as it is. Brown may alienate conservatives by his vote while not picking up any electoral support from those who agree with the treaty. Brown’s vote was, impressively, about policy alone. [See editorial cartoons on the Tea Party.]
The question voters should be asking is why it took so long to get a vote on something that was approved 71-26. The threat of a filibuster has held up numerous nominations and legislation that would pass--often easily--if they were just allowed a vote. It’s fortunate that something as critical as arms control was not held hostage any longer by the Senate minority. Let’s hope other measures will be given the same consideration in the next Congress.