"The American people deserve a full debate on the Senate floor on a treaty of this magnitude," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., wrote in a Dec. 1 op-ed in the Washington, D.C., newspaper The Hill about his opposition to the New START treaty.
Yet exactly two weeks later, when the Senate voted whether to debate the treaty between the United States and Russia that would further reduce and limit nuclear warheads, Barrasso voted no. Apparently the debate was no longer important to the senator, but stopping the treaty is definitely his prime goal.
Wyoming's senior Sen. Mike Enzi is also opposed to the New START, but Barrasso has been out front in the right-wing Republican charge against what President Barack Obama has called his top foreign policy objective.
Fortunately, with the help of eight Republicans, the Democratic-controlled Senate cleared the way for the debate, and the public will get a chance to learn why the treaty has strong bipartisan support, including former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, plus Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice, George Shultz and Howard Baker. Also on the list of backers are Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee, and Wyoming's former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson.
On Thursday, several top U.S. military leaders appeared at the White House to endorse the treaty and counter claims by Barrasso and other GOP senators that the New START would "straitjacket" the U.S.'s military-defense capabilities.
Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the treaty contains no prohibitions to America's ability to move forward on missile defense. "We need START, and we need it badly," he said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates concurred, noting that the treaty "in no way limits anything we want or have in mind on missile defense."
In his op-ed in The Hill, Barrasso claimed the treaty "offers no method to make sure a historically noncompliant Russian state will keep its promises."
But Simpson, in a Sept. 15 Star-Tribune guest column, explained why the treaty is essential to verify Russian actions. "If the New START treaty is not ratified, we will likely find ourselves in a situation of trust, but don't verify," he wrote. "We will be left to guess the size, location and nature of that arsenal because we will have denied ourselves the ability to conduct surveillance and inspection of Russian weapons and facilities."
Barrasso and other opponents said they want a chance to amend New START, but they know full well that any changes in the agreement would effectively kill the treaty because it would require new talks with Russia.
In their head-long rush to deny the president a foreign policy victory, some GOP senators are apparently willing to compromise Americans' safety to score political points. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., had the gall to complain that there wasn't enough time during the lame-duck session to consider the treaty, when he and other Republicans insisted all year in delaying the debate.
The fact that Barrasso has joined the extreme right-wing faction of his party and is leading opposition to the treaty confounds us. He is in one of the safest Senate seats in the country, and in no way needs to pander to ultraconservatives whose main goal is to see Obama lose. On this vital issue, Wyoming could use a statesman who has consistently demonstrated the ability to compromise and find middle ground. We have one, but Alan Simpson is retired and living in Cody. He can't vote in the Senate.
This is Barrasso's opportunity to put politics aside and be a leader on national security. We hope he takes it.