Congress vs. the World

Today the US Senate will approve a cooperative agreement to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons. This agreement is called the START treaty -- and was originally championed by Ronald Reagan. Despite its conservative origins and its importance for US credibility, most Republicans have tried to slow-walk it to nowhere.

By now, we're used to their anti-Obama strategy of Delay, Deny, Distort and Defeat. But with nuclear weapons at stake? This gasp-worthy revelation is important: now we know that even vital interests like nuclear security can't interrupt the right wing's political stagecraft. While we should be happy that this treaty will succeed, we should be equally appalled and worried at the irrational and unaccountable tactics used to kill it. But get ready for more. Starting in January, both sides of Capitol Hill will join the cabaret.

American and allied troops and civilians are risking their lives in Afghanistan, in part to prevent the region from becoming a nuclear tinderbox. The conservative disdain for the START treaty fails to recognize this link because their mindset on security is obsolete. It is stuck somewhere between Napoleon Bonaparte and Nikita Khrushchev: when mass and metal got results and the world obeyed old white guys drinking scotch and issuing rules from occupied castles. In today's world, the usefulness of military hardware is limited. Rules are changing. People with relationship skills are more important than ever because credibility is the key to influencing these new rules. We can't keep saying one thing and doing something else. From having two cars in the driveway to possessing nuclear weapons, our example creates a sense of entitlement, not compliance, in the rest of the world.

Look at it this way, keeping track of Russia's nuclear weapons is complicated and difficult, but its still the easy part. Tracking dangerous nuclear materials -- including scientific know how -- is harder and requires a different set of policy tools and personnel. For the most part, it is international police work, not military work.

National Security Truck Pull on Pennsylvania Ave.

White House, start your engines. You need to buff up your public communication muscle on national security because the competition to dominate the narrative is going to get fierce. President Obama has consistently put forward a new vision of America in the world -- one based on cooperative strength. The START treaty victory puts some legs underneath his 2009 speeches. The new leadership in Congress is not going to promote these values, however. They will be too busy trying to stuff 430 colleagues into the backward flying time-machine.

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) and the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) are the anchors of Congressional activity on national security. Come January, both will be led by fans of the last century. Representative Buck McKeon (CA) will head the HASC and will most likely promote a narrowly military view of security. This is a shame because the military itself urgently recommends a nonmilitary strategy for Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the HFAC is about to become a monster truck with Israeli-flag mudflaps and a Cuba Libre bumper sticker. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL) will become Chair. This Cuban is fearsome. During Thanksgiving week, Ros Lehtinen forced Israeli President Netanyahu to apologize for some mildly favorable remarks about Fidel Castro. Jennifer Gray may have beat Bristol Palin that week on Dancing with the Stars, but in foreign policy, nobody puts Bibi in the corner. Except Ileana. Wow.

Ros-Lehtinen offers perhaps the most opposite worldview to the president. She claims that the White House penchant for diplomacy projects weakness. In fact, that loud sound near the river is the State Department digging a moat to protect itself from what looks to be an 18 month onslaught. It's a pity, because State just issued its first ever strategic review (called the QDDR). If implemented, it would update and improve our entire policy apparatus. The Senate's START treaty detractors will soon have a counterpart in the HFAC. Ros-Lehtinen considers the defeat of Democratic legislation paramount. Last week, child brides got run over by the monster truck when Ros-Lehtinen led a House effort against a bipartisan bill designed to protect them.

Maybe some of the Tea Party upstarts will change this, but McKeon and Ros-Lehtinen, Senators McConnell and Kyl... they don't get it. Nobody is suggesting that the United States disarm. Here's the problem: Our presence in the world is too aggressive and out of touch. We must change this stance and modernize our relationships in order to prosper.

Say I'm the United States and you're a far away country. I am much better prepared to kill you than to talk to you. This way of being does not end well in any aspect of life.

Who in Congress understands that global security depends on changing this equation? That's the real leadership question.