In a burst of fear-mongering that is surprising even by its own diminished standards, the Heritage Foundation -- through its offshoot Heritage Action for America -- has been distributing misleading propaganda to constituents of key Republican Senators whose support is needed for ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia (New START). As Josh Rogin has reported in The Cable, the Heritage literature has gone to potential voters in Maine, Tennessee, Utah, Montana, Georgia, Arizona, and Massachusetts as a way to influence their Senators to oppose New START.
The version of the flyer used to target Tennessee Republican Bob Corker -- who supported New START when it was voted on in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September -- is particularly egregious. The front page is marked "URGENT: Who Will Defend Us? . . . Our National Security Is at Stake -- WILL YOU ACT?" The visuals include a picture of President Obama shaking hands with Vladimir Putin (oh my heavens!), along with head shots of Obama, Putin, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad all in a row. It only gets better on the inside, where Heritage asks, "Why did Senator Bob Corker vote in committee to put Russia's military interests ahead of our own?" After lobbing its perpetual (and inaccurate) charge that New START will limit U.S. missile defenses, the flyer goes on to claim that "START . . . will only lead to more nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue states like Iran and North Korea?" Huh?
This last charge gives away the game. Heritage is clearly not interested in educating the public or raising substantive issues at this point -- they just want to kill the treaty. Rather than trying to twist one's mind around the question of how Heritage can make the leap from mutual U.S. and Russian nuclear arms reductions to nukes for Iran and North Korea, it's probably easier -- and more productive -- to remind ourselves what New START entails.
The agreement would cut U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals by about one-third, from 2,200 strategic warheads now to 1,550. It would involve a multi-layered verification system that would allow each side to monitor the other's nuclear activities, using everything from satellite reconnaissance to document exchange to 18 annual on-site inspections. It would leave either side free to pursue missile defense development as it sees fit. And it would make it easier to persuade other countries to reduce their own nuclear arsenals, and to cooperate on crucial tasks such as protecting weapons and bomb-making materials so that they don't fall into the hands of terrorists. It would also make it easier to build coalitions with Russia and other key states to curb Iran's nuclear program and roll back North Korea's (the exact opposite of the claim made by Heritage in its propaganda piece).
One of the most amazing things about the Heritage stance is that it flies in the face of the stances taken by virtually every relevant military leader, past and present, from the Secretary of Defense and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to seven former commanders of U.S. nuclear forces. All of these authorities assert that we will be stronger and safer under New START. If they're right, that would mean that Heritage is promoting a course of action that would make us both weaker and less safe. What are they thinking?
It seems to boil down to a case of ideology trumping rationality. The Heritage crowd is so reflexively against anything to do with genuine arms control that they can't evaluate New START on the merits. The fear you hear emanating from Heritage Action for America is not fear of a foreign adversary -- it is fear that New START will be ratified.