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Dick Lugar hasn't changed, the GOP has

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN)
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN)
Department of Defense

Both the New York Times and Politico front pages lead with stories about how isolated Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) is over his support for the ratification of the START Treaty.

"Charting His Own Course Against Prevailing Winds," reads the New York Times headline. "START puts Lugar on the spot," wrote Politico. "Lugar has unapologetically backed Obama in support of START," the article continues.

But Lugar has stayed the same while many GOP Senators -- especially Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the Republicans' de facto negotiator -- are just eager to deny President Obama a foreign policy victory when he needs 67 Senators to pass a treaty.

The case for the treaty is clear: The United States and Russia have 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, and as such, we should take steps to reduce them. The reductions, in, fact, are quite modest, but the verification measures for the treaty build confidence between two countries that were long enemies and still have probably one of the most globally important relationships in the world.

Not to mention the treaty has very possible side benefits in getting Russian cooperation vis-a-vis Iran sanctions, Afghanistan supply lines, and other crucial issues. Without a treaty, these issues are only likely to become more problematic.

Some Senators have voiced objections over a reduced verification regime and linkage to missile defense. The first has slight merit, while the second is totally false. Yes, the verification regime is smaller than in START I, but the older regime was negotiated just after the Soviet Union broke up and it was very weak. The missile defense language is only in the preamble -- that is to say, not legally enforceable -- and was negotiated out of the body of the treaty by President Obama. By extension, both criticisms also wrongly assume that no treaty is better than a very good treaty.

Old GOP foreign policy stalwarts support the treaty, including, Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker III, Brent Snowcroft, and William Cohen. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that nuclear proliferation is the greatest security threat facing the country, and the verification measures in this treaty helps with that problem.

START I passed the Senate 93-6 in 1992. The few Republican Senators still in the Senate who voted yes -- Kit Bond, Chuck Grassley, John McCain, Mitch McConnell -- all either oppose the treaty or have not said how they will vote. That's how the GOP has changed on an issue that shouldn't be controversial. If the treaty either is delayed or does not pass, then it raises the cost of doing diplomacy with the U.S. -- will other countries stick their neck out if they know that the treaty they negotiated will flounder in the U.S. Senate?


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