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Stand Up Against the Surge

The purpose of this old-fashioned newspaper crusade to stop the war is not to make George W. Bush look like … Read More.

Molly Ivins October 17


AUSTIN, Texas — Ha-ha-ha! The Republicans beat President Clinton — the Republicans beat President Clinton! And everyone said they couldn't outfox him.

Everyone said he'd got them into a box on the budget again and their leaders were too dim ever to get the best of Clinton. But they beat him! And they beat him on something he really, really wanted, too! They made him crawl, he gave them everything they asked for, and then they beat him anyway. Ha-ha-ha!

And history will forever record that on the day after a coup d'etat by the Pakistani military, the U.S. Senate voted to kill the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Let us pray that never again is this nation afflicted with such petty, vicious partisanship that the national interest — indeed, the best interest of all mankind — takes second place to the unspeakably tawdry gamesmanship of small-bore, fifth-rate politicians.

This was not just another disgusting episode in Washington. This is potentially catastrophic.

The background:

Every president since Dwight Eisenhower has wanted a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing. It has been a bipartisan foreign-policy goal for this country for more than 40 years.

In 1996, the culmination of years of effort by arms-control experts came when 153 countries signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

For the United States, the end of the Cold War made a test ban treaty even more urgent because the major threat to us no longer comes from the former Soviet Union but rather from the increasingly likely possibility that nuclear arms from Russia will be scattered from hither to yon.

As though to underscore this very point, symptoms of anarchy in Russia increased daily during the weeks of Republican maneuvering on the treaty. It is quite clear that Russian organized crime, perhaps the most powerful force in that country, is willing to sell arms stolen from the state to absolutely anyone.

Of the 44 nations with nuclear capability, only three have not signed the treaty: India, Pakistan and North Korea. India and Pakistan each tested nuclear weapons for the first time in May of last year, and North Korea has been testing ballistic missiles.

Both India and Pakistan made it clear that their signing the treaty depends on whether the United States ratifies it. Their understandable attitude is that the Western powers have no business dictating to them something that the West is not willing to do itself. Russia and China have also been holding off on ratifying the treaty, waiting to see if the we would do it.

Since India and Pakistan have fought three wars against each other in the past 40 years, and there exists a livid hatred between the two, the chances of a nuclear war are now far higher than they ever were during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union and the United States had once dealt with one another as allies.

We do not yet know if the military coup last week ousting the democratically elected government of Pakistan will increase tensions between those countries. But it seems likely.

Clinton knew he couldn't get the majority Republican Senate to ratify the treaty, so he wisely let it lie doggo for three years.

Late this summer, some grandstanding Democrats, including Sen.

Byron Dorgan of South Dakota, decided to make some political hay out of Republican inaction on the treaty. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott called that stupid bluff and raised it: The vote would be not just a procedural vote on whether to consider the treaty but up or down on the treaty itself.

The Republicans insisted on bringing the treaty to the floor after a travesty of a committee hearing. The Joint Chiefs of Staff endorsed the treaty; the heads of the national weapons labs endorsed the treaty; the country's entire scientific establishment — including 32 Nobel laureates — endorsed the treaty.

The prime ministers of France, Germany and Great Britain took the unprecedented step of urging the Senate to ratify in a New York Times op-ed piece. None of that made any difference to the Republicans, who saw a chance to beat Clinton.

The debate was simply pathetic. Daniel Patrick Moynihan rose above himself to demonstrate what statesmanship actually means, but almost no one else followed suit.

Robert Byrd of West Virginia was so disgusted at seeing an issue this important made into a political football that he voted "present" for the first time in his 41 years in the Senate.

It is never useful in politics to accuse people who don't agree with you of being stupid — the point is to convince them. But a memorable one-on-one duel of fact vs. stubbornness between Joe Biden of Deleware and Sam Brownback of Kansas — left at one point as the only senators in the committee hearing — will remain etched in my memory as a painful example of an old Texas legislative saw: I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you.

What an embarrassment.

It may be, as the Republicans suggest, that the treaty's system of placing several hundred sensors of the kind used to record earthquakes all around the world could still miss some low-yield, underground testing. The treaty also provides for on-site inspections, but that too could be less than perfect, as we know from dealing with Iraq. No one ever claimed that this treaty would provide us with 100 percent security.

But the Republican arguments are so weak that they're embarrassing: "Trust, but verify." That's what the hundreds of monitoring stations, including more than 30 in Russia, and on-site inspections are for.

The other argument is that ratifying the treaty would be "naive" because it would "lull us into a sense of security." How does NOT ratifying the treaty help our security? In what way is NOT having several hundred monitoring stations around the world to detect nuclear testing helpful to our security?

A coalition of retired Cold Warriors, CIA retreads and Henry Kissinger joined Jesse Helms in leading the opposition. It was so deja vu, so straight out of the '50s.

As though God had arranged a wake-up call for the Senate Republicans, the Pakistani military acted while the treaty was under consideration. One could hardly have asked for a clearer reminder of what the stakes are. History rarely provides an object lesson with such astonishing promptitude.

Made no difference.

After the vote, Republicans gathered around Trent Lott as though he were the winning quarterback in a football game. God grant that the next lesson of history concerning the gamesmanship on this treaty does not come soon.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at



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