The Start of a New Obama Narrative

05/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Days after scoring his biggest domestic policy win, President Obama secured his first major foreign policy victory. He's on a roll.

The new treaty with Russia, dubbed New START, makes the world a little safer. It verifiably reduces the threat posed by the only weapons that can destroy America. It shrinks, at least a little, the dangerously bloated U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles. But it does much more than that.

It helps reset the relationship with Russia, whose cooperation is necessary for progress on Iran, the Middle East, global warming, European security and many other issues. But it does more than that.

This treaty is the gate through which Obama had to pass to get to the rest of the new nuclear security agenda. Now, he can move forward aggressively on agreements to lock up nuclear materials from terrorists, to stop new nations from getting these weapons, and to begin planning for a new round of negotiations to go from thousands of nuclear weapons to hundreds.

As Peter Baker and Helene Cooper of the New York Times said, "The new treaty...marks the opening of a broader campaign to counter the emerging threats of the 21st century." The United States and Russia had to show they were committed to reducing their own arsenals to get other nations to take on new commitments of their own. If the U.S. and Russia had not agreed on this treaty, the rest of the agenda would have been in tatters.

But wait, there's more.

This is not just a win for an American president. It is a win for American leadership. The world wants America to lead, they just haven't liked the direction of the past decade. The achievement announced today goes a long way to restoring our global leadership role.

The administration knows this. That's why instead of just a press release, the President took the podium himself, flanked by the secretaries of state and defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. This was a major power play. It will help debunk the narrative fostered by the right wing of a weak, naïve, vainglorious president who gives speeches but cannot take action. This narrative had seeped into foreign perceptions of the President and of America. It was dangerously undermining our national security.

A new narrative is taking hold. One of a committed, tenacious, principled leader that not only stirs the souls of his audience but delivers the goods. This is a big plus for U.S. national security.

Next Steps

Presidents Obama and Medvedev will sign the treaty on April 8 in Prague. But ratification requires 67 votes in the Senate. On the security merits, this is a no brainer. The treaty makes only modest reductions in the current deployed force and restores or modernizes strict verification mechanisms that had lapsed with the expiration of the old START treaty. It is hard to imagine any credible testimony against the treaty being presented during the hearings this spring.

Only partisan politics could kill the treaty. We just don't know which wing of the Republican Party will show up--the sober national security Republicans or the Mad Hatter Tea Party. So far the soundings are favorable.

George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Bill Perry, and Sam Nunn said today, "We strongly endorse the goals of this Treaty, and we hope that after careful and expeditious review that both the United States Senate and the Russian Federal Assembly will be able to ratify the Treaty.

Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a long-time leader on nuclear reductions with Russia, said he looked forward to working "quickly to achieve ratification of the new treaty."

And Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supports the treaty for "the trust it engenders, the cuts it requires, and the flexibility it preserves this treaty enhances our ability to do that which we have been charged to do: protect and defend the citizens of the United States." He concluded, "I am as confident in its success as I am in its safeguards."

Nuclear issues will loom large over the next month. Most of it will be demonstrated by the broad, nonpartisan and global support for reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons. As President Obama leads these efforts, it could prove one of the defining moments of his presidency.

If this results in the rapid ratification the New START treaty, we will not just have a new narrative, we will have a new, transformed U.S. national security agenda.

Cue the Vice President. This will be a big deal.