Negotiating with Evil

By Feffer, John | Foreign Policy in Focus, January 4, 2011 | Go to article overview

Negotiating with Evil


Feffer, John, Foreign Policy in Focus


Given the title, perhaps you expected an essay on North Korea or another vilified U.S. adversary and violator of all human decency.

Actually, I was referring to Jon Kyl.

Those who dismiss the value of negotiating with North Korea insist that the country makes unreasonable demands, never has any intention of compromising, and violates any agreement that it ultimately signs. Funny, this sounds a lot like the hard-line Republicans in the last Congress.

Consider the strategy of Jon Kyl during the recent deliberations in the Senate over the strategic nuclear reductions treaty with the Russians (New START). Kyl is the Republican senator from Arizona who has made a name for himself as a hawk among hawks for his support of U.S. military intervention and astronomical Pentagon spending. He's never met an arms control treaty he liked. Indeed, he rose in the Republican pecking order in part because of his leadership during the Clinton years in defeating ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (which put the United States in the august company of none other than ... North Korea).

Then along came New START, the first baby step in reducing the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia. Wily Kyl sold his "support" for the treaty by insisting that an $85 billion modernization of the U.S. nuclear complex be included in the package. It might seem odd that the party that purports to prohibit pork endorsed the biggest BBQ blow-out of them all: a 10-year obligatory upgrade in the very systems that we're supposed to eliminate.

OK, fair enough. Politics is a game of give-and-take. Kyl, like the crafty North Korean negotiators, managed to get a good deal for himself.

But here's the ugly part. After practically gutting New START, Kyl worked overtime to defeat the treaty! After the mid-term elections, he began his obstructionist tactics. He began by offering his appreciation "for the recent effort by the Administration to address some of the issues that we have raised"--i.e., thanks for the handouts, suckers. But, he continued, the treaty shouldn't be addressed in the lame duck session because of the "combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization"--i.e., he has other worthy efforts to block and it takes him longer than the average senator to understand the treaty's complexities.

Then, when it seemed as though the ship would leave the dock without him, Kyl did everything possible to blow up the vessel. First he tried the procedural route, tying the treaty's ratification to extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. His fellow Republicans were not as enthusiastic about the tactic, and the tax cuts alas went through anyway.

So, Kyl proceeded to trot out all the traditional arguments: New START would limit missile defense options, prevent additional nuclear modernization, and provide for insufficient verification. But he wasn't getting any support even from the nuclear experts on this one. "These arguments have been thoroughly debunked," nuclear physicist John Parsons told Vanity Fair. "Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (a Republican, by the way) has stated explicitly that the treaty does not curtail the ability of the U.S. to deploy missile defense systems in the future. The directors of the National Labs responsible for maintenance of the U.S. nuclear stockpile have all come out in favor of the treaty. Concerning verification, New START would re-start verifications that have been suspended since the original START treaty expired in December 2009. New START includes enhanced on-site inspections that would allow, for the first time, direct monitoring of Russian warheads."

Nor did it seem to matter to Kyl that the Pentagon, former Cold Warriors Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz, and even fellow Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain all came out in favor of the treaty.

When the Senate voted on December 22, the treaty passed easily 71 to 26. …

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