President Obama has yet to make a compelling, positive case for his re-election, including his track record in reinstituting verifiable reductions in nuclear forces, securing dangerous proliferation-relevant materials, and reaffirming the global compact known as the NPT. His opponent, Mitt Romney, opposed the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Moscow for reasons that would have made Ronald Reagan blush. None of his Republican presidential opponents had anything good to say about nuclear threat reduction, arms control or treaties. This crowd equates arms control with the use of force.
Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, the last Republican champion of cooperative threat reduction on Capitol Hill, got trounced by a more conservative Republican primary opponent whose definition of bipartisanship is when Democrats agree with him. Ten or so Senate seats are too close to call, meaning that both houses of Congress could be in Republican hands after the fall election.
Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush placated the right wing of the Republican Party by handing arms-control posts over to deconstructionists, leaving it up to Cabinet officers and national security advisers to provide adult supervision. Now the Republican supervisors have retired, and the Deputy-, Under-, and Assistant Secretaries-in-waiting are eager to resume policies that have previously blown up in their faces. Moderate Republican national security staffers are as rare as moderate Republican legislators.
Whoever wins the presidency will feel like he’s sledding uphill on nuclear issues. Moscow is a prisoner of the past under President Vladimir Putin. Putin might learn to adapt to improve Russia’s prospects, but don’t count on it. Then there’s North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan. Need I say more?
If President Obama wins re-election, he will need to find (1) new reserves of energy; (2) new Cabinet officers who are result-oriented and successful fire-fighters; and (3) new, savvy, senior staffers to advance his wide-ranging nuclear threat reduction agenda. That’s asking a lot – but that’s what I’m asking for. President Reagan managed to hit this trifecta in his second term, but he was dealing with Gorbachev, not Putin. And Republicans were different back then. If Mitt Romney wins, he might avoid becoming a prisoner to his ultra-hawkish campaign pronouncements, given his malleability as a politician. For the same reason, it’s doubtful that he will channel Reagan’s sentiments about nuclear weapons.