Trump & conservatives hate the treaties that keep us safe

Summary: Trump has cancelled the arms control treaty with Iran. Of course he did, since conservatives have opposed the treaties that have helped maintain the peace since WWII. Look at their history, described below. Fortunately we have muddled through despite them. We might be so lucky in the future.

Atomic bomb explosion



  1. Pro-fallout, against the treaty.
  2. Clinton takes a turn.
  3. Obama negotiates a New START.
  4. Reagan the peacemaker.
  5. Seeking war with Iran.
  6. Conclusions.
  7. For More Information.

(1)  Pro-fallout, against the treaty

The far-right’s grand strategy since WWII has been one of unceasing war and rigid opposition to all arms control treaties. To them we are always in 1938 Munich. Our foes are all just like NAZI Germany.

Their crazy opposition to arms control treaties became toxic in 1963 when 8 of 33 GOP senators voted against the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. This Treaty stopped the above ground nuclear testing that was blanketing the world with radioactive fallout. Fortunately saner people prevailed and it passed 80 – 19. Back then there were conservatives in both parties, before the GOP embraced racism and became the conservative party. 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 about arms control would play out repeatedly during the next 6 decades, but not always with a happy ending.


(2)  Clinton takes a turn

Bill 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“).  Their opposition was based on lies and misrepresentations, fruits of the GOP’s implacable opposition to Obama (irrespective of the national interest).

Advocates for the treaty did yeoman’s work providing line-by-line refutations to the GOP’s stories, 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

Even President Ronald Reagan – Saint Ronnie to conservatives – found that many conservatives hated arms control more than they liked him.

On 8 December 1987, at their third summit, Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This marked the beginning of the end to the cold war – and a large step 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: A Spectator’s Guide to the 1988 Election, 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 five conservative Senators voted against the treaty (one Dem, four GOP).

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 in 2015 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.” The IAEA said the same last week.

Jim Walsh (Research Associate at MIT’s Security Studies Program) calls the deal “the most intrusive multilateral agreement in nuclear history.” Which is why Fred Kaplan said “Bad Posture: Republican opponents of the Iran deal come off looking like they want war.” They might get it, if we let them.

See Kaplan’s grim analysis of Trump’s decision: “Trump Has Wrecked One of the Most Successful Arms-Control Deals in Modern History” in Slate — “The president withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal because of spite, ignorance, or both.” As usual, conservatives attack an agreement that experts and general applaud: “Trump Violates the Iran Nuclear Deal” at The Intercept — “Ignoring U.S. and Israeli Generals Who Support It.” As for the reasons Trump gave for breaking the deal, they are quite bogus (as usual). See the WaPo “Fact-checking President Trump’s reasons for leaving the Iran nuclear deal.

Sidenote: one of conservatives’ many lies about the Iran deal was that it was illegitimate because the Senate did not confirm it. Not so. Between 1977 and 1996 presidents negotiated nearly 4,000 executive agreements – but only 300 treaties (see the details at the WaPo).

(6)  Conclusions

Yet we continue to hear the same confidently given warnings about the danger of arms control agreements. We have heard decades of predictions about the certain ill results of these, all consistently proven wrong. Why do so many Americans continue to listen to conservatives on this subject?

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

We might not have much time to do so. Trump has began a trade war with China. He appears to be expanding our war in Syria. But most seriously is his cancelling the agreement with Iran.

(7)  For more information

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.

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26 thoughts on “Trump & conservatives hate the treaties that keep us safe”

  1. I do not even pretend to understand what they think war with Iran would accomplish, other than arms profits and perhaps a rise in the price of oil. I recall someone referred to the “Green Lantern” theory of foreign policy, where anything was possible if the US military was used (like Green Lantern’s power ring) with sufficient willpower and determination.

    At this point we are providing the primary motivator of nuclear proliferation: get some house atomics, and you probably won’t get invaded by a Republican president.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        SF’s reference to getting “House atomics.”

        That’s a great catch to a phrase from Dune!

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      I agree on all points. If our overthrow of Libya did not show the folly of agreeing on arms control with the US, Iran will.

      Here is an article with links to the various sources of the Green Lantern theory of politics and geopolitics.

  2. Incorrect. The Iran deal was worth less than the paper it was printed on. It can’t even be compared with the others listed here.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Thank you for a demo of how conservatives are lying about the Iran treaty, as they have about every arms control treaty for 60 years. Almost every expert disagrees with you. As does the Secretary of Defense, General Mattis.

      Mattis said that after reading the full text of the deal three times, he was struck by provisions that allow for international verification of Iran’s compliance. He said that since becoming defense secretary in January 2017, he also has read what he called a classified protocol in the agreement. “I will say it is written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat,” he said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “So the verification, what is in there, is actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability to get in” with representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency to check on compliance. {NY Times.}

    2. It is a detail, but one of the things that strikes me most about the way the usual chickenhawks speak of the Treaty is their insistence that the US and other treaty members are literally funding Iran since it has been signed. The phrasing is always the same, vague enough to say that Obama sent money to the ayatollahs, the vagueness being used to hint that it is US taxpayer money, and not, as it is, Iranian money and assets frozen decades ago (one might say “stolen”). At no point have I heard a conservative pundit mention the fact that this is just returning cash to its owners, every formula employed trying to point to US citizens footing a bill imposed by Obama.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        The key thing to remember about political debates in America: both sides lie. They do so because their tribes will believe almost anything – no matter how false, no matter how long the history of lies.

        Each tribe clearly sees this behavior in their foes, but is blind to it in themselves.

        This makes us a gift to our rulers, so easy to manipulate. Reform is impossible until we change.

    3. Larry Kummer, Editor

      More for Alan,

      From Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

      “The briefings I have received indicate that Iran is adhering to its JCPOA obligations. …It makes sense to me that our holding up agreements that we have signed, unless there’s a material breach, would have an impact on others’ willingness to sign agreements.” {Foreign Policy.}

      See this article giving statements about the Iran deal from a wide range of other military and civilian experts.

  3. John W Slater Jr.

    The biggest threat from the President’s action is that he has put the U.S. at risk of being proven a paper tiger. If we institute sanctions and the rest of the world refuses to go along, our choices are

    1) to do incredible damage to the international monetary system, which currently is our most powerful weapon, by barring major German, French and other countries from accessing the payments system in which event they will find ways to move their payments through alternative and competitive systems, eventually weakening our near monopoly control over payments or

    2) back down when it’s time to “punish” our allies who refuse to bar their companies from doing business with Iran.

    Either way we will have lost credibility and power, which is a dangerous invitation to our adversaries to take other actions against us.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      In this case, the sanctions are targeted at mega-corps. It does not matter if Europe or Japan agree. The corps will decide if the Iranian or American markets are more important. An easy choice for most.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        That’s been the goal since the Soviet Union fell. It does nothing for most Americans, and makes us less safe. But peons — our preferred role — get no say in these things. They pay in money and blood to build the empire that benefits US elites.

  4. I wonder if the decision to cancel the agreement had originated from the ‘deep state’ military industrial complex looking to start another cold war, as seems to be suggested here, or if it was Trump’s independent decision because his ego made him feel like he could negotiate a better deal?
    If this is part of Trump’s grand negotiating strategy, it seems beyond bizarre that he would welch on an existing nuclear deal just on the cusp of nuclear discussions with North Korea. Also the governmental structure of Iran is not as ‘eccentric’ as that of North Korea, and probably much less indulgent of name-calling Twitter feuds.
    Maybe this sort of negotiation is just too advanced for my mortal understanding.

    1. John W Slater Jr.

      The current MSM meme is that the timing relates to the President’s need to divert attention from the recent discovery that his pet attorney was on the take from numerous bad actors. Wheels within wheels.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “The current MSM meme is ”

        Total nonsense. For years Trump has been referring to Iran as an implacable enemy AND speaking against the deal. The far-right, most of whose views he mirrors, opposed the deal since before the ink dried.

      2. John W Slater Jr.

        He could have done this day one. Why now? No one has accused Iran of violating the agreement. I’m not a fan of reneging on agreements even when they turn out to be inconvenient.

    2. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “or if it was Trump’s independent decision because his ego made him feel like he could negotiate a better deal?”

      For many years Trump has been referring to Iran as an implacable enemy AND speaking against the deal. The far-right, most of whose views he mirrors, opposed the deal since before the ink dried.

      “If this is part of Trump’s grand negotiating strategy,”

      Trump has been in office for 15 months. There is no evidence so far that he has a “negotiating strategy” on anything.

      “Maybe this sort of negotiation is just too advanced for my mortal understanding.”

      There is zero evidence that Trump, or the far-right elements he mirrors, have any interest in negotiating with Iran. Probably they are just lying in order to look reasonable. Just as they were for many years about their plans for an “improved version” of Obamacare. Once in office their only plan was to repeal it, leaving nothing.

      The great oddity of our time is that our political leaders lie to us time and time again. Each time we construct complex narratives to explain their actions, instead of skepticism. This gullibility makes us easy to lead.

  5. Desi Erasmus

    Was not a treaty.
    Was not ratified. (never even sent to Senate for “advice and consent”)
    Was not required to be signed by Iran
    Was not signed by Iran
    Was not a “deal”

    Iran could not fail to comply as they were never bound in the first place.

    This was nothing but a set of “policy guidelines” and $1.5B payout by the Obama administration towards the fall of Israel and a boon to those that shout “Death to America” as part of their day jobs running Iran. Trump is merely dismantling a dangerous and anti-American FARCE foisted on our citizens by its feckless former POTUS.

    1. What’s anti-American about it, the fact that it didn’t bomb or invade Iran? For that matter, can you explain to us younger folks who will get to pay the bills, what is pro-American about military conflict with Iran?

      This doesn’t mean Iran is a wonderful state and a great friend, but at some point these wars feel like we (well, my younger relatives at this point) are bleeding, dying, and getting indebted to… what? Make contractors profits? To satisfy the emotions of a section of the Republican base?

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “This doesn’t mean Iran is a wonderful state and a great friend …”

        Amazing that you need to say that. But you do. International agreements are of the most value when between rivals and enemies.

    2. Larry Kummer, Editor


      You don’t seem to be clear how international agreements work. Not all are treaties in a formal sense. So let’s look at your list.

      Was not a treaty. True..

      Was not ratified. (never even sent to Senate for “advice and consent”). True.

      Was not required to be signed by Iran. False.

      Was not signed by Iran. False. On 24 November 2013 it was signed by the foreign ministers of seven nations.

      Was not a “deal.” Bizarrely false.

      Iran could not fail to comply as they were never bound in the first place. False. It specified in great detail the inspection regime and sanctions if Iran violates the “deal.”

      Got to love how gullible are modern Americans. This is a detailed agreement, in writing, between 7 nations. But you guys are told lies and that’s that. Natural born peons.

    3. @larry: I’m used to conversations like this leading into suggestions that if you don’t wholeheartedly support X, you must necessarily wholeheartedly support -(X). But just because people are not our friends or our lackeys doesn’t mean they are (to borrow a term) the Great Satan.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        That’s an important observation. Americans, left and right, have been indoctrinated to not only value tribal truths above all else — but to see only tribal truths. The “us” or “them” binary thinking makes it easy to keep the flocks in line — since they recoil from heterodox facts and thought.

  6. I don’t believe Trump is in same vein as these other GOPees. I think he feels Obama’s Iran deal merely guaranteed Iranian nuclear weapons production and war efforts around the middle east.

    I think many on the left are just as obstinate in their denials that diplomacy as Obama saw it doesn’t work well either.

    They appear to doubt everything Trump does like normal GOPees doubt everything diplomacy.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      El Bastardo,

      (1) “I think he feels Obama’s Iran deal merely guaranteed Iranian nuclear weapons production and war efforts around the middle east.”

      That’s exactly the kind of fact-free reasoning conservatives have used to oppose every previous arms control deal for 60 years.

      (2) “I think many on the left are just as obstinate in their denials that diplomacy as Obama saw it doesn’t work well either.”

      Examples, please. So far the only diplomacy Trump has done is with North Korea. So far that has followed the same script as with previous Presidents. Our behavior with Libya and now Iran — making a deal, then breaking it — makes a real deal with North Korea much less likely. Those guys are mad, but not stupid.

      (3) “They appear to doubt everything Trump does like normal GOPees doubt everything diplomacy.”

      Can you provide an example of an irrational “doubt” by Democrats about Trump’s actions? For example, they “doubt” Trump’s actions on immigration. But that’s a legitimate policy difference between the major parties.

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