11/22/2010 11:20 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Blackmail Versus Self-Interest

Occasions for the United States to make a diplomatic breakthrough that is in its self-interest, that makes the world safer, and that benefits future generations are rare. When they do occur they almost always have to do with reducing nuclear arsenals. Such is the pending New START treaty.

That being the case, why should the president have to pay blackmail to get Republican votes for ratification? For it is blackmail, pure and simple, that is being demanded in exchange for votes for ratification. And even when the president agrees to pay it, the Republicans turn him down.

Consider this: your daughter has been kidnapped and you need your neighbor's help to rescue her. He agrees to help if you pay him a million dollars. You pay him the million. Then he changes his mind. Not quite the same, but close.

As the price for voting for a treaty virtually every serious person in both political parties favors, the Republicans demanded $85 billion (at a time of huge deficits and demands for "smaller government") to "modernize" our nuclear arsenal over coming years. Bin Laden seems not to care if we have nuclear weapons and no one is able to say against whom they might be used.

President Obama took the bait and promised the money. The Republicans quickly backed out of an agreement and announced opposition to a treaty manifestly in our self-interest. In better times this would cost the Republican party dearly. But these are not better times. They are times when few pay attention, even to an issue as vital to their children's security as fewer Russian nuclear weapons and renewed inspection of nuclear sites. The Republican leaders fears no citizen reprisal for its mendacity. They know that too few people take the trouble to study their own self-interest and to hold accountable those who violate it.

If Washington is broken, as the current political rhetoric suggests, it will stay broken until voters connect their votes with the ridiculous behavior of those they vote for.

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