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.
- Pro-fallout, against the treaty.
- Clinton takes a turn.
- Obama negotiates a New START.
- Reagan the peacemaker.
- Seeking war with Iran.
- 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).
(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“.
(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).
(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).
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.
- What happens when a nation gets nukes? Sixty years of history suggests an answer.
- What happens if Iran gets nukes? Not what we’ve been told.
- What is Iran’s 9-point plan to destroy Israel? – It demonstrates our gullibility.
- Have Iran’s leaders vowed to destroy Israel? – No, but it’s established as fact by repetition
- Fear Iran’s nukes, coming very soon since 1984.
- Martin van Creveld asks: the more, the better for nuclear proliferation?
- We pay for Trump’s gift to the hard-liners of Iran & America.
- Jessica Mathews: why scuttling the Iran deal is MAD.