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President Clinton and leaders from other countries are shedding
gallons of crocodile tears in the wake of the U.S. Senate’s forthright
but unfortunately (from a PR perspective) largely partisan rejection of
the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The Republicans have reverted
to know-nothing isolationism, says The Groper, and world peace is at
greater risk. National Public Radio (my wife tells me I shouldn’t even
listen, or at least not shout at the disembodied news readers when
she’s in the room, but I do anyway) featured a parade of “world
leaders” lamenting this dread setback.

And yes, I know it’s utterly ridiculous, when every single Democrat
who voted one way while four Republicans strayed from Trent Lott’s
reservation, to see the result as strictly due to partisanship on the
Republican side. But that’s the way these matters are spun in most of
the media, and it’s unlikely to change any time soon. What’s
fascinating is that so much apparent distress was expressed after the
defeat of a treaty that was a relic of the Cold War era and — surely
almost all concerned understand this? — was almost solely a symbolic
gesture. Did anyone really believe that Senate passage or Senate
rejection of this particular treaty would make any appreciable
difference in the likelihood of nuclear war 10, 20 or 50 years down the
road?

Tom Sowell, about whom I wrote last week, explained part of the
reason in his new book, “The Quest for Cosmic Justice.” Those who
believe in disarmament as the path to peace, he argues in his third
chapter, “The Tyranny of Vision,” are impelled not so much by anything
resembling an opinion about the practical efficacy of disarmament as by
the sense of moral superiority their belief bestows on them. Thus those
who advocate deterrence are not even allowed the dignity of being well
meaning but mistaken. They must be either evil apostles of war and
death, tools of the greedy munitions makers, intellectually deficient or
cursed with psychological problems

“Personal exaltation, not empirical consequences for other people,”
writes Sowell, “has long marked cosmic visions and their advocates,
however much they proclaim their love of humanity, peace, the
environment, the poor, or other ostensible beneficiaries of their
activities.”

It’s well to remember, as Sowell also reminds us, that a strong
belief in disarmament, and the ability of treaties made of paper to
achieve disarmament, is hardly a new phenomenon. Between World War I and
World War II, numerous treaties renouncing war and pledging fealty to
disarmament, were solemnly negotiated and signed. The Washington Naval
Agreement of 1922 was followed by international conferences and treaties
at Locarno in 1925 and Lausanne in 1932. The Kellogg-Briand
Pact of 1928 renounced war as an instrument of national policy. After
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich agreement
with Hitler in 1938 he confidently proclaimed “peace in our time.”

Hitler began World War II in 1939.

But the failure of signatures on pieces of paper to prevent weapon
building and war in the past seems not to have registered.

Even more interesting is the ability of leaders like President
Clinton to view themselves as cosmic peacemakers because they wanted
this treaty ratified even as they instigate and fight brutal undeclared
wars with weapons only slightly less fearsome than nuclear warheads.

Apparently the use of weapons of mass destruction in a holy cause is
constructive when done by people who claim the following month to
believe that it’s really the weapons that cause wars rather than the
decisions of political leaders. Such tolerance for cognitive dissonance
is stupendous to contemplate.

Actually the rejection of the test ban treaty marks one of the few
times Senate Republicans have managed to outmaneuver President Clinton,
which could be a healthy development if you assume, as I do, that the
treaty in question was mostly a meaningless piece of symbolism. It also
exposed for those with eyes to see President Clinton’s
catch-as-catch-can approach to foreign policy.

For the last two years, the president has used the test ban treaty as
a weapon in the partisan battle against Republicans sporadically,
whenever it suited his almost solely partisan purposes. He would
challenge the Senate to vote on the treaty and give future generations
the gift of a hope for a world free of the scourge of nuclear weapons in
the hands of rogue nations from time to time. Finally, Trent Lott
counted the votes and decided to call his bluff and announce a vote.

The politicos in the White House can count votes too, and almost
instantly reversed their ground, demanding a delay and more hearings,
more discussion on a treaty that had been around and periodically
discussed for three years. Thus, for those able to see, the hypocrisy of
the administration was exposed quite nicely. And for a change, Trent
Lott and the boys avoided snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,
dealing the administration — and even the sacred institution of the
presidency itself as Time magazine would have it — a serious blow in
prestige.

Meanwhile, as nearly as I can tell, almost everybody outside the
Capitol Beltway except for a few in universities and defense industries,
well aware that the treaty was symbolic fluff, yawned.

It would be nice to hope that the rejection of the test ban treaty
actually marks the beginning of a move among Republicans to look at
issues of war and peace differently, to challenge decades of
unrealistic assumptions about how peace is preserved. And to be fair,
quite a few conservatives and Republicans have long rejected the utopian
notion that negotiating and signing treaties has anything to do with
preserving peace in the real world.

Would that there were signs that more Republicans were really
becoming as “isolationist” — or, as I might prefer to put it,
skeptical about haphazard military intervention and inclined to want the
United States to mind its own business rather than everybody else’s –
as President Clinton claims to think they are. But the closest thing to
a real isolationist in the Republican Party has been denounced by almost
everybody else in the party and is on the verge of taking his
presidential campaign elsewhere.

Not that I agree with Pat Buchanan across the board (especially on
trade matters) but his questioning of the role of the United States as
Policeman of the World is one of the healthier developments of recent
years.

The problem is that 10 years after the end of the Cold War we still
haven’t had the debate and discussion necessary to develop a new
paradigm for the post-Cold War world. International diplomats see the
prospect of a world with fewer prestigious and cushy international
conferences replete with caviar and empty moralistic gestures and panic
about a “new isolationism.” Old cold warriors, accustomed to supporting
every proposal for more defense spending and military
deployment when the Soviet Union was a real factor, meekly support
adventures whose main virtue is being utterly divorced from anything
resembling a national interest while they scan the world in search of
new enemies against whom to rearm.

If the rejection of the test ban treaty becomes a catalyst for
serious rethinking of the assumptions (on all sides) that reigned during
the cold war and genuinely vigorous, ruthlessly assumption-questioning
debate about American policies in the new millennium, it would be an
historic moment.

But I’m not holding my breath.

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