START and Reagan: My response to Tripp Baird of the Heritage Foundation



This is incorrect — as I stated in my column, in response to concerns, the treaty supporters have added to START a significant modernization to American nuclear forces.



In fact, treaty supporters, in response to those concerns, have not only offered this nuclear modernization, they have increased it in size and scope. This is what I asserted. This is factually correct. To suggest that I did not offer examples of how Republican concerns were addressed is simply not correct.



Second, I did assert that it is my personal opinion that were he with us today, President Reagan would support START. I also stated that this cannot be proven, but that it’s clear is that the treaty is supported by very senior advisors to Republican Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, and George W. Bush. I asserted this, and it is true.



Let me add that at the time that President Reagan was first trying to reset relations with the Soviet Union during the Brezhnev years (witness the letter Reagan wrote to the general secretary of the Communist Party after the attempt on his life) and during the time that Reagan was meeting with Gorbachev, I was working for House Democratic leaders and was "present at the creation" of those events.

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Next: I asserted, and it is true, that the treaty is supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by American commanders in all branches of our military services, by the civilian and military command of NATO, and by American allies around the world, including their civilian leaders and military commanders. This, too, is true.



Mr. Baird has his right to his opinion, but the fact is that my view is in accord, and his view is not, with a long list of advisers to every Republican president since Nixon, to NATO leaders and commanders, and leaders and commanders of our allies around the world. They agree with me, and disagree with Mr. Baird. This does not make either of us right or wrong, but senators might consider this in their evaluation of the treaty.



Next, in my column I emphasized very strongly that President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Gates, Democratic Sen. and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry, and Republican Sen. and the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee Dick Lugar, and the Senate Majority Leader have all maintained, and continue to maintain to this day, an open-door policy of being receptive to additional ways of addressing any Republican concerns.



I know that discussions continue as I write these words, and hope that these discussions are fruitful and lead to ratification in 2010. When I correctly stated that the nuclear modernization was a significant effort to address concerns, there may well be other efforts that emerge from discussions being conducted today.



I would add, though, that there will be major damage to American security interests and major demoralization of America's allies in the world if ratification does not occur in 2010.


There is genuine alarm among military commanders and civilian leaders in the United States, NATO and from our democratic allies throughout the world at the negative consequences of a failure to ratify. The overwhelming weight of political and military judgment throughout the democratic world on this matter agrees with me, and disagrees with Mr. Baird. Again, this does not make either of us right or wrong, but senators might give great weight to their support for START, and their genuine alarm about the negative consequences of a failure to ratify.



There is no question of the magnitude of alarm from military and civilian leaders throughout the democratic world if the verification procedures that would return with new START are lost, if bilateral and multilateral cooperation regarding policy towards Iran and Afghanistan is set back, if nuclear proliferation and counter-terrorism cooperation is damaged, and if the world comes to view that political partisanship in America is so extreme that we cannot operate in a dangerous world the way great powers must operate.



Two final points.



First, I join many American and allied military and civilian leaders in their concern that obsessive partisan politics could infect the core of our national security debate. Across the landscape of issues there is a political, personal and partisan warfare being waged against the president no matter how hard he, and other treaty supporters, try to accommodate concerns.



I find it regrettable but revealing that the Republican leader in the Senate stated that his first priority was not creating jobs, or making the nation secure, but defeating President Obama in 2012.



For now I would hope and pray that senior Republicans resist the temptation to turn the START debate into another weapon of partisan political warfare that does great damage to our security, our military and our democratic alliance. This is not merely my concern, it is a deeply held concern by military commanders and civilian leaders throughout the democratic alliance world-wide.



Finally, having worked for Democratic leaders during the period that President Reagan was achieving his great objectives to make the world safe from nuclear extermination, and having written in the National Review Online that Reagan achieved historic greatness for these achievement, I would note for the record that there were conservatives and Republicans who attacked Reagan while he was achieving his greatest deeds.



Most Republicans did indeed support Reagan's great efforts at the time, but it is fair to note that a number of the most conservative Republicans, who lionize Reagan today, ridiculed and demeaned him for achieving his greatest deeds, at the very moment he achieved them. This does not mean that I am right, or Mr. Baird is right, but it is true and worth noting that Reagan had to overcome some of the same kinds of arguments and critics in his day that START must overcome today, in ours.