The Transies and the Treaty
Transnational progressives would rather be congenial than be right.


Andrew C. McCarthy

Here is what you need to understand about the Republican party’s transnational progressives, folks like Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, Richard Lugar, and Lindsey Graham: They proceed from the premise that it serves our national interests to be willing residents of a Potemkin and reliably anti-American village called the “international community.” That’s why it’s no surprise to find them endorsing the ratification of New START.

We might call the spell they are under Beltway Syndrome. It’s the same spell that tells them it’s better to be bipartisan than right. Beltway Syndrome, reinforced by media hypnosis, convinces those in its thrall that a hapless public is just dying for them to “get things done.” In reality, the public is horrified by most things done in the Beltway and simply wants Washington to stop. This, indeed, was the loud and clear message of last month’s election, which swept lots of small-government conservatives into power: Don’t do anything it is not absolutely necessary to do — it just costs us money, complicates our lives, and degrades our national security.

Unfortunately, the cavalry does not ride into Washington for another couple of weeks. There is still time to make mischief, one example of which is New START, President Obama’s New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia.

The Republican transies are lining up behind New START, hoping to ram it through in the lame-duck session of a discredited Congress. Sure, it may be a bad deal for the United States, but it’s so international. If you’ve got Beltway Syndrome, that makes it an occasion for bipartisan cooperation — a Washington “compromise” in which the post-sovereign Left gets its way, American self-determinism takes a hit, and the legacy press doles out the love to those worldly GOP moderates who make it all possible.

In truth, New START is worse than a bad deal. It does nothing to reduce Russia’s huge advantage in tactical nuclear weapons. Instead, President Obama proposes to tie only America’s hands. The reductions and caps apply to strategic nukes, the category in which the United States holds an advantage that Russia, a declining power, cannot hope to dent absent our self-defeating complicity.

But that’s not the half of it. The word “deal” implies a contract, a meeting of the minds. On New START, we already know there is no such thing. Going in, before we ever get to ratification, the Russians have already proclaimed the treaty an ironclad lock against expanded American missile defense. They’ve got the treaty language to prove it, and they are insistent that future U.S. moves to promote our security would scotch the whole arrangement.

The Obama administration claims that this interpretation is wrong. Yet, keeping with standard Obama operating procedure, the White House is refusing to disclose the negotiating record. On a certain level, this is understandable. What’s binding in a treaty — or, for that matter, any agreement or statute — is the formal language the parties adopt, not the sausage-making it took to get there. Nevertheless, where there is ambiguity, as there obviously is in New START, the underlying record clues us in on what the parties understood those ambiguous terms to mean, mutual understanding being the essence of a contract.

More significantly, the Senate’s duty to advise on a treaty before deciding whether to consent to it is a constitutional obligation. And just as important, the Constitution has a bias against treaties: The Framers prescribed the need for international agreements to achieve super-majority approval — two-thirds of senators assenting — because they were appropriately wary of international entanglements. The treaty clause is designed to ensure that the nation signs on only to sensible agreements.

Quite apart from the Constitution and black-letter contract-law principles, one would think the senators’ gigantic sense of amour propre would move them to energetic investigation. After all, during the Bush years, the mere fact that internal executive-branch memoranda existed was enough for Democrats to demand disclosure — and on all manner of things less consequential than a nuclear-arms compact. But that was then, and that was Democrats, whom the Beltway hypnotists hold to a different standard of bipartisanship.

So the GOP transies have a different plan, which Rice — President Bush’s secretary of state — has taken to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages to urge. The Senate, she says, should consent to New START, but with caveats to clarify our disagreements with the Russian interpretation of the treaty.

Ah, yes, caveats. This is diplo-speak for papering over the uncongenial fact that an agreement lacks agreement. Caveats, a staple of treaty-making, go a long way toward explaining why the international community is no community at all. The players do not operate under the same laws, values, or culture. To convey the illusion of community — as in “unity” — nations make ever more treaties; betraying the reality that it’s all smoke and mirrors, they then festoon the ratification process with qualifications that dissent from this or that term. These caveats do not actually become part of the agreement. They are, instead, a salve for a senator who’d rather not do his job and vote nay.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review