Thursday, December 23, 2010

Is this any way to ratify a treaty? (In case you were wondering what it takes to get a 2/3 vote in today's Senate)


Speaking at a START-theme press conference Tuesday, AZ Sen. Jon Kyl earns a hearty smile from that much-loved though unfortunately now-deceased comic actor Henry Gibson. Oh wait, some sources are claiming that the smiler happy-go-lucky AL Sen. (and Henry Gibson look-alike) "Just Jeff" Sessions.

by Ken

This looks to me like one of those cases where the problem is the old newspaper one of a lazy and/or ax-grinding headline-writer rather than the reporting that follows.

On today reporter Mary Beth Sheridan (with credited contributions from the paper's Walter Pincus and Anne Kornblut -- some pretty high-powered helpers there!) has a piece headlined "Arms treaty approval a win for Obama, but GOP critics are gaining momentum." It just struck me as odd, and distinctly against the grain, to see reporting about "GOP critics gaining momentum" at a time when the media's traditionally horse-race-fixated vantage point (who gains? who loses?) is singing hymns of praise to the president. To what extent those hymns are deserved is an interesting but separate question. Isn't that what the Village media types are all saying? Oh, sure, the Village gadflies aren't giving up on the attack, so for example WaPo pundit Dana Milbank warns the president about getting too big for his britches. But generally the pundits are giving the prez Full Village Credit for his rip-roaring "comeback" of the last couple of weeks. That's the kind of performance that gets their attention and respect.

As far as I can tell, though, the Post headline-writer is just grinding his/her own ax with regard to those GOP critics and their momentum. What the piece turns out to be is a sort of behind-the-scenes look at What It Took to get the new START treaty ratified. And I'm sorry though not surprised to find that it wasn't pretty, and had less to do than one might have supposed with "principle." I'm thinking the making of legislative action distinctly recalls the old wisdom about the making of sausage: You don't want to know what goes into it, because if you find out, you may not be able to swallow the damned thing.

Here are the sorts of questions that are raised in the piece:

* Can Arizona GOP old-style hard-right Sen. John Kyl be bought? (A: Seriously do you have to ask?)

* How high a price would you have to pay for Senator Kyl's thumbs-up? (A: Pretty high, but apparently not unaffordable, and again maybe not the kind of price you might expect, ideologically speaking.)

* If you and Senator Kyl agree on terms for the purchase, you can trust that he'll deliver, right? (A: Ha ha!)

Now the piece does note that President Obama faced some challenge from foreign leaders regarding his status in the wake of the crushing midterm elections. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, that noted authority on American democracy, did take the opportunity of seeing our president in Yokohama after an economic summit to ask whether the election results were likely to jeopardize ratification of the new START. And the anonymous source -- the Post now being an acknowledged world leader in its use of anonymous sources -- tipped off the reporters that the Russian's concern "had an impression" on Obama.

As far as I know, though, President Medvedev doesn't qualify as a "GOP critic" of the president.

As for Senator Kyl, well, this you're going to enjoy, I think:
There had always been what another White House official called a "healthy skepticism" about whether Kyl, the second-ranking Republican, had been negotiating in good faith. A savvy conservative steeped in arms-control issues, Kyl had helped defeat the 1999 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, dealing a blow to the Clinton administration.

But Kyl's main concern this time hadn't seemed to be the treaty's central issues, such as the number of warheads allowed, but instead modernization of the remaining nuclear weapons.

While the president was in Asia, we've learned,
the administration had secretly sent a high-level team including Gen. Kevin Chilton, head of U.S. nuclear forces, to Arizona to tell Kyl the administration would commit an extra $4.1 billion for nuclear modernization, on top of an earlier pledge of $10 billion.

Kyl seemed happy with the offer, officials said.

But three days after Obama's meeting with Medvedev, White House aides were astonished to learn from a news release by Kyl that he believed there wasn't enough time to consider the treaty during the lame-duck session.

"That was one of the lowest moments of our time in government," said the senior official.

Officials believed that pushing the treaty into the next Congress would jeopardize its passage, since Republicans had picked up six seats in the midterm elections.

Now, the administration had to decide whether to proceed without Kyl.

The Kyl statement arrived as Biden was meeting with senior officials in the White House Situation Room to discuss Iraq. Talk turned immediately to New START. Later, senior aides huddled with Obama in the Oval Office.

"Both the president and vice president said to us, 'Look, this is too important to let die like this,' " Rhodes said.

The next day, Obama called Kyl to say he would push for New START.

The ensuing White House crusade for ratification stressed that the new START is a continuation of policies not only championed but in fact negotiated by previous Republican administrations. Still, I guess you never know what you're going to find when you start turning these rocks over. Retiring Ohio Sen. George Voinovich --
stunned the White House on Nov. 17 by declaring he couldn't support the treaty until he had assurances it wouldn't harm U.S. allies in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.

Within days, Obama used a NATO summit in Lisbon to highlight international support for the pact - including from a group of Eastern European and Baltic leaders who called for treaty passage at a news conference.

Voinovich's concerns were assuaged by the speeches, as well as by a vow by Obama to consider allowing Poles to travel visa-free to the United States.
Which is certainly good news for traveling Poles. And, apparently, a clinching reason for . . . um, for supporting a nuclear-arms-reduction treaty with Russia?

OK, sorry, I'm still not finding the part in the article about those GOP critics of the president gaining momentum. But I don't hold that against the reporter or her journalistic A-team helpers. She hasn't really gathered that much behind-the-scenes dirt, but what she has gathered makes for an interesting read. And while I try not to let those apprehensions about the stuff that goes into the making of sausage don't usually deter me from eating the end product, even this small glimpse into what it takes to ratify a treaty these days makes my gut kind of queasy.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home