The Senate Kills International Relations.


President Obama with Russian Premier Dimitri Medvedev.

There was plenty of attention paid to -- and condemnation of -- Republican office-seeker Mitt Romney's op-ed on the New START Treaty, an arms-control agreement designed to reduce the number of nuclear warheads in Russia and the United States, lending credibility to the U.S. non-proliferation message, especially efforts to limit the Iranian nuclear program, and strengthening relations with Russia. Barron Youngsmith assessed Romney's position from 30,000 feet, and points out a startling fact:

If Obama cannot get this uncontroversial treaty ratified, it will indicate to world leaders that Obama is in serious trouble domestically—and, more broadly, that no post-impeachment era president has the power to get a major treaty through the Senate. After the death of the ABM Treaty, Kyoto, the test-ban treaty, and then START, it would be more evident than ever that a determined minority has the will and capacity to block a 67-vote decision to ratify, in perpetuity.

I suppose it ought to be obvious that if our broken Senate can scarcely manage to find 60 senators to agree on anything, finding 67 is a near impossibility, even on an issue that seems to have attracted as much centrist support as this one. This is doubly true if not just unelected posturers like Romney or Sarah Palin but also elected Republican leaders decide to politicize this issue.

A situation where it is impossible for the United States to enter into formally binding international agreements is one where the president has one hand tied behind his back anytime he seeks to engage with another country, friend or foe -- how can any president assert U.S. leadership abroad if world leaders realize that there is no way his political opponents at home will allow him or her to make a deal? While the president's unfettered authority to act destructively in foreign affairs merits a rethinking of the executive's legal authorities, the reverse situation -- the inability of the president to act constructively abroad -- is just as worrisome.

-- Tim Fernholz

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