This is not the start of some­thing new

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - Adrian Hamil­ton

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is fi­nally hit­ting bot­tom in Congress. Rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the new USRus­sian Strate­gic Arms Re­duc­tion Treaty (Start) to re­duce nu­clear weapons, along­side the re­cent agree­ment on tax cuts, should pro­vide him with the firmer ground on which to launch his bid for re-elec­tion in 2012. And good luck to him. If ever a man had been tra­duced, de­monised and made the sub­ject of quite ex­traor­di­nar­ily vi­cious per­sonal attacks, it has been Obama.

The Start treaty is a case in point. It is a mea­sure that could hardly be called rev­o­lu­tion­ary, re­duc­ing the num­ber of nu­clear weapons from the cur­rent level of 2,000 to around 1,550, with tighter com­pli­ance. Pres­i­dent Bush was for it, so - as the cho­rus of sup­port from vir­tu­ally the whole of the for­eign pol­icy es­tab­lish­ment in the past few months shows - were the Sec­re­taries of State to suc­ces­sive Pres­i­dents, Repub­li­can and Demo­crat, from Henry Kissinger up­wards. The fact that fewer than a dozen Repub­li­cans voted to cur­tail de­bate on Tues­day, while pro­vid­ing the ma­jor­ity needed, is a sad com­ment on the state of ad­ver­sar­ial pol­i­tics in Washington.

Still, Obama chose to put his own pres­tige and ne­go­ti­at­ing skills to the test on this one. Pro­vided the treaty does get passed in the fi­nal vote - and you can never be cer­tain of these things in Congress - the Pres­i­dent will have re­gained some of the author­ity he ap­peared to be los­ing at the time of the Novem­ber midterm elec­tions. Hav­ing had a field-day bat­ting him round the field, the Repub­li­cans have now to show more dis­cre­tion and re­spon­si­bil­ity if they are to look as if they are ready to re­sume of­fice in 2012.

That's the pol­i­tics of po­si­tion­ing, how­ever. The prospect for ac­tual pol­icy in the new year, and par­tic­u­larly so far as for­eign af­fairs are concerned, is much less as­sured. The new Start treaty is not the start of any­thing. Rather it is a throw­back to the old ob­ses­sions with US-Rus­sian re­la­tions af­ter the Cold War.

Obama wanted it as part of a State Depart­ment drive to re­set the re­la­tion­ship with Moscow af­ter the froideurs of the Bush era over the de­ploy­ment of a mis­sile shield in Europe and the war in Ge­or­gia. In­deed, Rus­sia has made it ab­so­lutely clear in re­cent months that this sym­bol of a new be­gin­ning was at risk should Congress fail to pass the mea­sure.

It was for the same rea­son that some of its most vir­u­lent op­po­nents in the Se­nate were against it. It of­fered, they ar­gued, an ex­pres­sion of equiv­a­lence in US and Rus­sian pow­ers that was nei­ther war­ranted nor nec­es­sary.

It is a pretty weak ar­gu­ment. The as­ser­tion of su­pe­ri­or­ity is a bad ba­sis for any diplo­macy. But it is par­tic­u­larly so in an area such as Russo-Amer­i­can re­la­tions, where the US has much to gain from Moscow's co-op­er­a­tion in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs - and much to lose by throw­ing it away.

What it doesn't do is to take the gen­eral cause of nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment any fur­ther for­ward, for all the hopes that Obama's elec­tion and rhetoric had raised. The new Start treaty was signed last April, less than a month be­fore the all-im­por­tant sum­mit of sig­na­to­ries of the Nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty took place in New York in May. It might have served as a sig­nal for re­newed ef­fort on a global front. It should have served as such. It didn't.

In­stead, Washington at­tempted to use the oc­ca­sion to mar­shal a grand al­liance against Iran, the meet­ing be­came dom­i­nated by the ques­tion of Is­rael's weaponry and a nu­clear-free Mid­dle East, and most of the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries took it as yet an­other les­son in US de­ter- mi­na­tion to or­der world af­fairs to its own agenda.

The new Start treaty re­mains where it be­gan, a piece of the Rus­sian jig­saw, rather than a move to­wards a world free of weapons of mass de­struc­tion. And for any­one who doubts that, look at the price Obama was will­ing to pay for Repub­li­can sup­port. To pla­cate the mil­i­taris­tic right, the Pres­i­dent has pro­posed an $85bn in­vest­ment in Amer­ica's nu­clear in­fra­struc­ture. There is no rea­son to throw away the nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment but­tons now, or for a long time to come.

All-party coali­tion will strug­gle in Iraq: Pres­i­dent Obama has, mean­while, greeted the Iraqi par­lia­ment's ap­proval of a new govern­ment (ac­tu­ally a pro­lon­ga­tion of Nouri al-Ma­liki's ten­ure as Prime Min­is­ter) as a "ma­jor step for­ward in ad­vanc­ing na­tional unity". Up to a point, Lord Cop­per. In one sense, it is a re­flec­tion of the work­ings of democ­racy.

The March elec­tion pro­duced a hung par­lia­ment (as here). The months of wran­gling since have been the clas­sic prod­uct of com­pet­ing power blocks. The for­mer prime min­is­ter, Iyad Allawi, gained the most votes for his sec­u­lar Shia-Sunni coali­tion bloc, al-Ir­raqiya, but not an over­all ma­jor­ity. Ma­liki has re­sponded by draw­ing to­gether the Shia groups and form­ing an al­liance with his (and Amer­ica's) for­mer en­emy, Mo­q­tada al-Sadr, to keep his po­si­tion in a new all-party coali­tion.

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