For 50 years Republicans have fought against treaties that brought peace

Summary:  To understand the dynamics and stakes of the Iran deal we should look at our past, rather than conservatives’ confident warnings about the future. The peace we’ve enjoyed for decades results in part from 50+ years of arms control treaties — all strenuously fought by the Right. We can learn much from their false predictions, as they’re repeated today about Iran.

Atomic bomb explosion


  1. Unceasing war.
  2. Clinton takes a turn.
  3. Obama negotiates a New START.
  4. Reagan the peacemaker.
  5. Conclusions.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  Unceasing war

The far-right’s grand strategy since WWII has been one of unceasing war and rigid opposition to all arms control treaties (we are always in 1938 Munich; are foes are always NAZI Germany). We see that in their opposition to a deal with Iran (where the likely alternative is war), just as we saw in their support for the continued above ground nuclear testing that was blanketing the world with radioactive fallout. Even after a full-court press by Kennedy, 19 Senators voted in 1963 against the first Nuclear Test Ban Treaty JFK negotiated in 1963. Fortunately saner people prevailed.

To get an idea of the results if the conservatives had won, read the National Institute of Health’s pages about exposure to radioactive Iodine-131 from fallout. These debates would play out repeatedly during the next 6 decades, but not always with a happy ending.


(2)  Clinton takes a turn

Clinton negotiated the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. The UN approved it; 164 nations have ratified it. Implementation awaits approval by 8 rogue nations: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States of America. In 1999 the Senate voted it down 48-51-1 (the GOP vote was 4:51).

New START treaty(3)  Obama negotiates a New START

Obama negotiated the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 2010. A conservative chorus denounced it. Mitt Romney described it as “Obama’s worst foreign-policy mistake“; the Heritage Foundation said “Stop START Now“).  All lies and misrepresentations, fruits of the GOP’s implacable opposition to Obama (irrespective of the national interest).

Experts did yeoman’s work of line-by-line refutations, as in Fred Kagan’s “Mitt Romney’s dumb critique of Obama’s New START nuke treaty“. Gary Schaub Jr. and James Forsyth Jr. wrote a broader analysis in “An Arsenal We Can All Live With“.

Raegan and Peace

(4)  Reagan the peacemaker

Perhaps Republicans don’t want war. Rather they might have little confidence in Democratic Presidents’ ability to negotiate a good deal with our foes. Ronald Reagan learned otherwise.

On 8 December 1987, at their third summit, Regan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This marked the beginning of the end to the cold war and progress towards lifting the threat of global annihilation. How did conservatives react to this bold step by their leader?  They unleashed a tsunami of criticism. For example, Howard Phillips (Chairman of The Conservative Caucus) wrote these calm words in “Treaty: Another Sellout”, an op-ed in the New York Times on 11 December 1987…

America has never been in more danger than now, during the final 13 months of the Reagan administration.  Although neither Ronald Reagan nor George Bush could have come to power without strong conservative support, conservative influence is absent from the top decision-making councils of the executive branch, and conservative policies have been comprehensively abandoned.  President Reagan is little more than the speech reader-in-chief for the pro-appeasement triumvirate of Howard Baker, George Shultz and Frank Carlucci.

… The center of the administration’s policy is the president’s unfounded assertion that Mikhail S. Gorbachev is “a new kind of Soviet leader” who no longer seeks world conquests. The summit meetings and so-called arms-control treaties are a cover for the treasonous greed of those who manipulate the administration.

In his 1988 book The New Season, George Will wrote: “Historians may conclude that it was during this administration that the United States conclusively lost the Cold War.” The Berlin Wall fell the next year. As Reagan biographer Richard Reeves noted, “In fact it was the day we won the Cold War.” Fortunately there were more responsible Republicans in those days, and only 5 conservative Senators voted against the treaty.

Nuclear global trefoil

(5) Seeking war with Iran

As the ink dries on the deal the flow of nonsense begins, continuing the tradition of conservatives’ predictions since 1984 that Iran will have nukes in a few years. Such as this by Victor Hanson: “Appeasing Iran Ignores the Lessons of History“.

Unfortunately these simple but false stories from ideologues drown out voices from actual experts. Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations explained at Defense One: “When a politician, analyst or pundit mentions an Iranian ‘nuclear weapons program’ they are referring to a program that the intelligence community is not aware of.”

Jim Walsh (Research Associate at MIT’s Security Studies Program) calls the deal “the most intrusive multilateral agreement in nuclear history.” But Elizabeth Drew in NYRB tells the sad facts as “The Iran Deal Goes to Washington“…

Yet I can find no one on the side of the deal who thinks that it will have majority support in either chamber, which means that the president will veto what Congress sends him. Therefore, beneath all the rhetoric, the realists here are looking for one thing: whether there will be enough votes in the Senate or the House — 1/3 plus one of the members — to uphold that veto. (A veto can be overridden by a 2/3 vote in both chambers.)

For more about this see “Bad Posture: Republican opponents of the Iran deal come off looking like they want war” by Fred Kaplan, and the NY Times editorial “Republican Hypocrisy on Iran“.

(6)  Conclusions

Yet with each new cycle we hear the same confidently given warnings. We have heard decades of predictions about the certain ill results of arms control treaties, all consistently proven wrong. Why do so many American’s continue to listen to these people?

The cure lies within us for our gullibility and difficulty of learning from experience. We face no foes so serious as our own weakness. I doubt that reform is possible for America until first we change.

(6)  For more information

This is a follow-up to For 50 years Republicans have fought against treaties that brought peace. Also see a similar analysis: “Why Republicans Reject the Iran Deal — and All Diplomacy” by Nicole Hemmer and Tom Switzer, op-ed in the New York Times, 25 August 2015. See additional reviews in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “For 50 years Republicans have fought against treaties that brought peace”

  1. Fabius Maximus,

    This post reminds me of the special status to which the FTC treats medical claims.
    In general, in America, you can claim whatever you like and people are expected to punish liars by not buying their products. Health claims are different, though, because sick people are desperate. Sick people will try the 1 in 1 million chance to stay alive and lose their ability to think as rationally as is common place.

    We should consider that the same is true of those who are fearful of their safety. We don’t assess threats rationally when scared, we just dump money to those who say they’ll protect us. Once threatened and exposed to violence, our fear can impact our ability to gauge threats well. In the same way that a sick man seeks out miracle cures, we are seeking miracle safety from the world.

    Though the case is confused because we are objectively safer than we have been. We’re closer to being hypochondriacs than actual sick people.

    Good post and analysis.

    PF Khans

  2. Pingback: For 50 years Republicans have fought against treaties that brought peace | henrytpeacemaker

  3. Pingback: For 50 years Republicans have fought against treaties that brought peace | henrytpeacemaker

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