Reid's Choice, Kyl's Folly

11/24/2010 01:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The New START nukes treaty is at a critical make it or break it moment. The administration and Majority Leader Reid are determined to ratify this important disarmament agreement. Senator Reid is going to make the vote happen. Will the right number of Senators acknowledge their responsibilities to keep this country safer and vote for the treaty?

Senator Kyl (R-Ariz.) stated last Tuesday that he didn't think there was enough time for the Senate to consider New START in the post-election session. Many people reacted by concluding that this was the end of the road for New START. As the logic goes, Senator Kyl is key to unlocking the right number of Republican votes to make the treaty happen. But this gives too much credit to Senator Kyl and fails to recognize that many other Republicans have yet to state their views on the treaty. It presumes that Republican Senators are willing to vote against national security in order to follow the Party's lead.

Senator Kyl's statement has triggered the biggest foreign policy battle between the administration and the Republican Party yet. It's not clear that Senator Kyl knew what he was getting into when he irked the administration by turning up his nose at months of negotiations around higher funding levels modernization efforts. The administration went to great lengths -- a total of 29 meetings and phone calls -- to make Senator Kyl an offer of billions more. Pushing back against Senator Kyl, the administration is publicly committed to moving full speed ahead on getting New START ratified. President Obama has made multiple public statements insisting that the treaty will be wrapped up before the end of the year. Vice President Biden convened a formidable group of the most respected foreign policy experts from both sides of the aisle to bring the issue greater profile.

The international profile of the issue has risen dramatically. Several EU foreign ministers have voluntarily taken on the issue, with one minister remarking,

"I'm also the chairman of the Conservative Party in Denmark, which is the sister party of the Republican Party," she said. "So nobody will ever accuse me of being soft on security."

This is all above and beyond the support of the U.S. military leadership and the 20 hearings and hundreds of statements, letters, editorials, and articles outlining how ratifying New START is critical to U.S. national security.

That this outreach to Senator Kyl fell short proves one thing: He's more concerned about obstructing an Obama victory than protecting U.S. national security interests. There is a low likelihood that next year's Congress will say yes to both the treaty and the funds for the nuclear weapons complex and modernization. New START's biggest Republican supporter, Senator Lugar (R-IN), reacted loudly against his own party, by saying that "We're unlikely to have the treaty or modernization unless we get real." Getting real is voting for the treaty before the year's end.

Senator Kyl has misjudged the gravity of not passing the treaty out of the Senate this year. It is the cornerstone of the "reset" with Russia that the administration is pursuing. The symbolic importance of the treaty can't be underestimated, and the political implications of New START in Russia are huge.

President Medvedev has already paid some internal political costs for cooperating with the U.S. on urging Iran to scale back its nuclear weapons ambitions. He's been Russia's champion of this treaty, and rejecting it will make it harder to operate the war in Afghanistan, which requires a high degree of Russian cooperation. Most importantly, failing to ratify the treaty will make U.S. dealings with the Iranian nuclear situation increasingly difficult and dangerous. Damage to either of these important foreign policy areas is not desirable for either party.

Traditionally the two parties converge around issues that are essential to our national security. When a critical mass of national security advisers from both parties say to do something, Congress should embrace it and make it happen. But emboldened Republicans like Senator Kyl are willing to say that national security can wait. He is willing to buck the opinion of the U.S. military leadership, leaving a gap that has never really existed before between Republicans and military leaders. Senator Kyl and others are in effect holding national security hostage to political games that follow rules laid out by Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY), whose main stated goal over the next two years is to prevent President Obama re-election by striking blows to his key initiatives.

Majority Leader Reid must now continue on the path to ratification. Let those who vote against our nation's and the world's security pay the consequences. The hearings have been held. Policy experts have weighed in. The time to vote is now.