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START of a New Silly Season

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Dan McGroarty - a George H.W. Bush administration alum, and regular RCW contributor - analyzes President Obama's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and the New START treaty signed just today with Moscow:

In fact, the single largest line item in the 2011 Obama budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration is $2 billion for warhead modernization. The president's hairsplitting on whether a new warhead on an old missile makes it a new weapon is sure to demoralize the disarmament wing of his Democratic base - even as it invites a spirited discussion with Senate Republicans who stand between New START and its ratification.

For the cynically inclined - a group that likely includes North Korea's Dear Leader and Iran's ruling mullahs - it all adds up to a kind of nuclear collusion between the old Cold War superpowers to reduce the carrying costs of so many warheads, while keeping options open to improve the warheads each retains, and reserving the right to add more under the strategic bomber loophole.

So is the new treaty counter-productive to the point that the U.S. Senate should refuse ratification? No. The Senate can sign off not because New START does so much so well, but because it attempts so little. For that very reason, don't expect the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to turn back the doomsday clock - and don't expect New START to shame the rogues of the world into abandoning their nuclear dreams.[emphasis my own - KS]

Please be sure to read all of Dan's piece, and cling to its sobriety and thoughtfulness like your childhood blanket, dear readers. His point is an important one: in truth, the ardent nonproliferationist has just as much to be irked about today as the nuclear weapons proponent - if not more. Nuclear status quo wins the day. But you wouldn't know that judging by recent commentary from otherwise thoughtful analysts such as Max Boot and Victor Davis Hanson, who have taken the NPR and New START as an opportunity to grab the weaker America meme and run with it; substance be damned.

In truth, the updated NPR changes little, and has virtually no impact on the United States' ability to reciprocate WMD with WMD if attacked. It's mostly business as usual for U.S. foreign policy.

But that doesn't sit well with a number of people, especially the president's political rivals. With it being a mid-cycle election year, the Republican Party must come up with a viable message at the state and district levels in order to strengthen its hand in Congress for the duration of Obama's term. Their dilemma, however, is that President Obama has indeed done very little to change substantive policy abroad, thus forcing them to concoct a variety of rows and crises in order to raise Obama's negatives. The criticisms have rarely borne out, but they needn't have to, so long as the GOP can come up with clever slogans and biting one-liners about American decline for its TV spots and direct mail packages.

As Michael Goldfarb - a gentleman who's certainly familiar with the rotating Washington door of politics, policy and media - put it just this week:

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?

Let the 2010 silly season begin.

(AP Photo)