Friday, November 19, 2010

An Interesting Time to "Man Up"

Lots of folks have advising Obama to start confronting the Republicans more directly.  In many cases, these folks do not understand how limited the power of the American President is.  But now, Obama is forcing, apparently, a showdown over the START agreement.
  “It’s really high stakes,” said Geoffrey Kemp, a former national security aide to President Ronald Reagan and a scholar at the Nixon Center, a research group in Washington. “I would say it’s the biggest gamble he’s taken so far, certainly on foreign policy.”
It makes some sense to me, as in the old days, enough of one party would put partisanship aside and support an agreement when it is backed by almost the entire foreign policy establishment, the military, and much of the country.  The guys who used to be Republican Senators are in favor of this agreement.  Only with the Republicans moving so far to the right and wanting to be the party of NO does this treaty really face trouble.

The article suggests that if Obama loses, he will appear weak. Perhaps, but I think this is win-win.  Either it passes, busting a hole in Republican unity.  Or it fails, in which case the Republicans appear to be obstructionist to the point of undermining national security.  This is, indeed, a game of chicken, and it looks like Obama is not going to swerve.  Precisely because this is risky, it increases the credibility of the threat.  Staking his reputation on the issue is a classic way to try to win a chicken game.  Obama is tying his hands to the wheel (or his foot to the pedal--see below).  It is up to the Republicans to swerve and avoid disaster.
“It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New Start treaty this year,” said Mr. Obama, flanked by Henry A. Kissinger, James A. Baker III and Brent Scowcroft, all of whom served Republican presidents. “There is no higher national security priority for the lame-duck session of Congress.”
Of course, today's Republicans might disrespect Kissinger, Baker and Scowcroft, but they have to remember both the lesson of Gingrich and the implications for 2012.  Gingrich overreached with shutting down government precisely because it made the GOP look like it valued partisan politics over the interests of the country.  And anyone wanting to run for President in 2012 or wanting the Republicans to win that election will have to consider whether they want to be seen as focused more on settling some scores with the President or acting for the national interest.  They need nine reasonable Republicans to vote with the Democrats.  Let's see if nine such folks exist.


1 comment:

Chris C. said...

"Or it fails, in which case the Republicans appear to be obstructionist to the point of undermining national security."

To whom would it appear to be undermining national security? Probably the very same people who still support Obama now. It's extremely difficult to convince low-information voters that getting rid of nuclear weapons/being nice with Russia can a good thing. Thus, if you're looking for pure political gain, this seems a fine issue to oppose Obama on with little risk that people will be able to acquire enough info to change their opinion.

It's probably a harmless but overall good idea, for what it's worth, but is this really something Obama wants to pick a fight over?