If you doubted that Republicans could be so craven as to put their own political interests above national security, the proof was delivered Tuesday: Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl announced he will block New START, which calls for the resumption of nuclear controls that until now have had bipartisan support.
Holding our nuclear security hostage solely to embarrass President Barack Obama is a new low. Public-spirited Republicans should demand that the treaty move forward as planned.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice supports the treaty. So do other prominent Republicans including George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, James Baker and Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly backs it. The chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, has said, "I believe — and the rest of the military leadership in this country believes - that this treaty is essential to our future security."
The treaty would require that Russia and the United States cut back on nuclear arsenals and would allow the United States to resume inspecting Russia's nuclear facilities, a right that lapsed last December for the first time since the Cold War. Does anyone really want Russia shuffling its nuclear weapons around without inspections? Even a year's gap has put us in greater danger of materials falling into the wrong hands.
The intrusion of partisan politics into national security is a break with tradition. The opposition party in Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has long set politics aside so that the country could present a united front to other nations. Lacking trust, we will have fewer allies and partners. Does anyone really think we can go it alone in today's world?
Obama went to extraordinary lengths to iron out areas of disagreement with Kyl, knowing two-thirds of senators must approve the treaty. The president had no fewer than 29 meetings, phone calls or exchanges with the Arizona senator and his staff, White House documents show. The sticking point seemed to be Kyl's sense that the United States needs to go to greater lengths to modernize its nuclear arsenal (at the expense of the deficit). So the president offered to add $80 billion to the budget for that purpose, including $4.1 billion just last Friday in an effort to close the deal.
So how did Kyl respond? He disrespectfully blindsided the president, timing his announcement to embarrass Obama just before he departs to Portugal for a NATO summit.
Kyl is taking his marching orders from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who openly proclaims that Republicans' top priority for the next two years is to defeat Obama.
Unchecked nuclear weaponry in unstable Russia ultimately threatens American lives.
If that's the cost of this political game, it won't be Obama's fault. It will be McConnell's.