STARTing Blocks: Obama chooses nukes to flesh out foreign policy

By Jonathan Blakely

Apr 7, 2010 8:02am

By Rick Klein: For whatever he leaves behind, he can start to build anew this week. As Michael Steele stays on a slowly warming hot seat back home (and don’t think one shake-up will leave things steady at the RNC) … President Obama heads to the Czech Republic Wednesday evening for a foreign trip that stands out for its length (it’s a quickie) and its breadth. We know what to expect this time: The START II nuclear arms treaty will be signed with Russia on Thursday — hardly a shocker, but more than a box to check. Beyond that, the trip is as pure an expression of an Obama foreign policy as we’re likely to see for a while. This is an issue, at least to some extent, of his choosing, and one that’s drawn personal passion, at some political risk. Inside a classic Obama move that defies easy categorization is a nuanced series of assumptions about how to leverage American power on a changing and complicated world stage. More than on Afghanistan or Iraq or the Middle East, this gives the president the flexibility that comes with general public inattention. And you can say much about the president’s plans, but it’s hard to say they weren’t thought through. Earthbound, or at least Senate-bound: “Obama’s nuclear policy breaks with the past by narrowing the circumstances under which the U.S. government says it will use the devastating weapons. But on one point after another, the changes are gradual rather than transformational,” The Washington Post’s Mary Beth Sheridan reports. ” Analysts said Obama’s policy reflects the hard reality of advancing an agenda that has not attracted enthusiastic support among the American public or lawmakers and has raised some opposition in the U.S. military. Obama needs support for his nuclear policies in Congress, starting with ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia.” The teeth: “At the heart of President Obama’s new nuclear strategy lies a central gamble: that an aging, oversize, increasingly outmoded nuclear arsenal can be turned to the new purpose of adding leverage to the faltering effort to force Iran and North Korea to rethink the value of their nuclear programs,” David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker report in The New York Times. Vice President Joe Biden, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed: “This new strategy, a sharp departure from previous Nuclear Posture Reviews released in 2001 and 1994, leaves Cold War thinking behind. It recognizes that the greatest threat to U.S. and global security is no longer a nuclear exchange between nations, but nuclear terrorism by extremists and the spread of nuclear weapons to an increasing number of states. From now on, decisions about the number of weapons we have and how they are deployed will take nonproliferation and counter-terrorism into account, rather than being solely based on the objective of stable deterrence.” The context… Politico’s Ben Smith: “The energy he’s devoting to nuclear policy has no obvious domestic political advantage, and it represents a far sharper break with the Bush years than most of his foreign policy choices. If you’re looking to define the Obama foreign policy, it’s a good place to start.” Julie Mason, in the Washington Examiner: “Taken together, the president’s nuclear policy moves are steeped in the kind of history-making, heavily symbolic atmospherics that deeply appeal to Obama and his ambitions for leadership.” David Corn, at Politics Daily: “Obama deserves our thanks for making nuclear weapons policy a priority and working hard on this front. But he won’t get much — or any — political credit for this. In a great irony, nuclear weapons policy is not a hot-button issue.” Carefully, now: “The administration’s hedge on the warhead issue was but one example of the caution built into a policy portrayed as a groundbreaking effort to reduce U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons,” Paul Richter reports in the Los Angeles Times. “Although Obama campaigned on a pledge to overhaul nuclear policy, administration officials listened closely to the more conservative advice of Pentagon officials in a yearlong study, said people close to the discussions. And they were sensitive to the need to win Republican votes in the Senate for ratification this year of a new arms control treaty with Russia.” Next steps: “A proposed communiqué calls for leaders from more than 40 countries to endorse a global crackdown on the illicit trade of nuclear material at a summit in Washington next week,” The Wall Street Journal’s David Crawford and Peter Spiegel report. “The U.S.-led initiative comes as Washington has been pushing for tougher sanctions against Iran in connection with Tehran’s nuclear program. Though Iran isn’t officially on the agenda of next week’s meeting, officials said Tehran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program and the international effort to contain it have lent the meeting an additional sense of urgency.” Rudy Giuliani, among the few loud voices from the GOP in reaction: “The president doesn’t understand the concept of leverage,” Giuliani told National Review Online’s Robert Costa, calling the president “inept.” “A nuclear-free world has been a 60-year dream of the Left, just like socialized health-care. This new policy, like Obama’s government-run health program, is a big step in that direction.” (Read those two sentences again — is that an endorsement?) Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, to ABC’s Jake Tapper on “Good Morning America” Wednesday: “It does overall diminish our options, and I think certainly that the American people should be concerned.” Other kinds of next steps … “President Barack Obama’s advisers plan to remove terms such as ‘Islamic radicalism’ from a document outlining national security strategy and will use the new version to emphasize that the U.S. does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism,” the AP’s Matt Apuzzo reports. “The change would be a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. … Rewriting the strategy document is the latest example of Obama putting his stamp on U.S. foreign policy, as with his promises to dismantle nuclear weapons and limit the situations in which they can be used.” Back home … it may just be Michael Steele’s bad luck that he’s coping with questions about his leadership while Congress is on break, and health care is done, and nothing else much captivates the political press corps at the moment. (And what a topic for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference…) Numbers games… The Daily Caller’s Alex Pappas: “The Republican National Committee at the end of last year struck a deal with the Michigan Republican Party that if the state party could raise what turned out to be a half a million dollars for the RNC from its donors, the committee would immediately give the money back, in a scheme apparently devised to increase the RNC’s 2009 fundraising numbers.” Slippage: “Michael Steele’s political standing as chairman of the Republican National Committee is continuing to deteriorate. Alex Castellanos, a Republican media consultant who has been serving as an unpaid top adviser to the RNC, suggested on CNN Tuesday that Steele needs to step down as party chairman,” ABC’s Teddy Davis reports. Castellanos: “I think a change in direction now at this point would do the party good.” Sean Mahoney, an RNC member from New Hampshire, also left the RNC in protest Tuesday. And it may not be done yet… A Republican close to the RNC got in touch with ABC News on Tuesday and shared the following: “Further staff departures from the RNC should be expected. Today, multiple RNC staff members have been sending out resumes and actively investigating positions outside the Committee. The staff are fed up with all the scandals and bad press, and Steele has lost the confidence of some key players in multiple different divisions. Recent staffing changes are not being universally lauded; there is concern that some senior staff don’t get how big the problems facing Steele really are now.” Politico’s Jonathan Martin: “Should other committee staffers also flee, it would suggest that what took place Monday wasn’t the culmination of an internal power struggle but rather a sign of chaos. … Morale among some RNC staff members was low on Tuesday, multiple sources told POLITICO. None of the grumbling aides wanted to speak for attribution, but the common view is that McKay, who was actually back home in Rhode Island last week dealing with the flooding there, was the fall guy for expenses that others should have been held accountable for.” Calming things at all? (When what really matters is cash on hand….) “The RNC said it raised $11.4 million in the month, according to a committee spokesman. That was the most the RNC has raised in March of a congressional-election year. It was also the RNC’s best fund-raising month since Mr. Steele took over at the RNC,” Brody Mullins reports in The Wall Street Journal. “It is not lost on congressional leaders that the NRSC and the National Republican Congressional Committee have traditionally received substantial disbursements from the RNC,” Philip Rucker and Chris Cillizza report in The Washington Post. “In the 2006 election cycle, the RNC transferred $18 million to the NRCC and nearly $5 million to the NRSC in an unsuccessful attempt to preserve GOP majorities in both chambers.” Trailblazer: “In the best of circumstances, the head of a party out of power is the voice of the loyal opposition; at worse, the chairman is an irrelevance barely known outside party headquarters, hustling for time on the afternoon cable news shows,” Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times. “But Mr. Steele, who did not respond to a request for comment, has become something else: a remarkably public presence that even some Republicans say is distracting his party at a moment of high opportunity.” On the Hill Wednesday: Alan Greenspan is the headliner as the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission gets underway. “The government’s push to pinpoint the causes of the financial meltdown and prevent another crisis is expected to move forward this week when a bipartisan panel appointed by Congress will grill over a dozen high-profile officials, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan,” ABC’s Matthew Jaffe reports. “The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a 10-person panel tasked with submitting a report on the meltdown to President Obama later this year, will kick off three straight days of hearings [Wednesday] morning in Washington when Greenspan testifies about subprime lending problems.” Tea Party tests — in Minnesota Wednesday: “For Sarah Palin’s Wednesday stop in Minneapolis, the masses will come first, to be followed by the moneyed,” Rachel E. Stassen-Berger reports in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “The popular and polarizing 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate will attend a free, massive rally and a high-dollar fundraiser to benefit U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and the Minnesota Republican Party. The Republican Party rally at the Minneapolis Convention Center starts at 2 p.m., but doors open at noon. GOP officials say they have handed out 10,000 rally tickets and have no more.” Remember health care? “Two weeks after President Barack Obama signed the big health care overhaul into law, Americans are struggling to understand how — and when — the sweeping measure will affect them,” McClatchy’s Margaret Talev reports. “Questions reflecting confusion have flooded insurance companies, doctors’ offices, human resources departments and business groups.”  HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, at a National Press Club speech Tuesday: “Our department will serve as a nationwide health insurance reform Help Desk. If you have questions, we’ll have answers.  If you aren’t sure what to believe, we’ll have the facts.  We know that the only way this law will achieve its full potential is if Americans understand and take advantage of all the new benefits and choices that will be available to them.” Who’s helping here? Over in that crucible of a state: “The standoff between Massachusetts regulators and health insurance companies intensified yesterday, as most insurers stopped offering new coverage to small businesses and individuals, and state officials demanded that the insurers post updated rates online and resume offering policies by Friday,” Robert Weisman reports in The Boston Globe. “People seeking to buy health insurance for the first time, or customers looking to change policies, found they could not do so, at least temporarily.” Across the country: “A 63-year-old Yakima County man has been charged with threatening to kill U.S. Sen. Patty Murray over her support of the health-care overhaul,” the Seattle Times’ Mike Carter reports. “The FBI and local police arrested Charles Alan Wilson at his Selah home early Tuesday. … According to the charges, staffers in Murray’s office in the Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle had become concerned over phone calls by an unknown man in recent months. The calls came from a blocked number and often were made at night or on weekends.” Roiling ’12 already: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced on Tuesday that he is going to sue over President Obama’s federal health-care law,” ABC’s Teddy Davis reports. “Pawlenty, who is gearing up to run for president in 2012, is one of several high-profile Republicans seemingly trying to prove they are the most anti-Obamacare candidate in the field.” 
Of future fights: “Fresh from raising taxes on upper-income Americans to help expand health insurance coverage, President Obama and Democratic lawmakers are targeting them again,” USA Today’s Richard Wolf reports. “When Congress takes up Obama’s proposed $3.8 trillion budget this year, it will include extending President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for middle-income families enacted in 2001 and 2003. Tax cuts for individuals with income above $200,000 and couples above $250,000 would be eliminated.” Of foreign policy headaches: “White House press secretary Robert Gibbs today continued his criticism of the comments by Afghan President Hamid Karzai — and when pressed, Gibbs refused to say if Karzai was an ally of the U.S.,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “Press secretary Robert Gibbs said a planned meeting between Obama and Karzai on May 12 is ‘still on the schedule.’ But later, in a reference to a series of anti-Western comments made recently by the Afghan leader, Gibbs said that ‘we certainly would evaluate . . . continued or further remarks’ by Karzai before deciding whether it’s ‘constructive to have such a meeting,’ ” Michael D. Shear writes in The Washington Post. In Pennsylvania — new Quinnipiac University poll numbers: “Sen. Arlen Specter has a 53 – 32 percent lead among likely Democratic primary voters over U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak in the Senate race.” Peter A. Brown: :Not only would Sestak have to win every undecided vote, he also would have to take away some who say they are for Specter.” Stay tuned on this fight in the coming weeks — as battle lines get drawn for a possible Supreme Court fight: ABC’s Jake Tapper: “In a letter to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Associate Dean and Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law Goodwin Liu, a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, apologized for dozens of omissions from his Senate questionnaire.” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.: “Professor Liu’s unwillingness to take seriously his obligation to complete these basic forms is potentially disqualifying and has placed his nomination in jeopardy.”
The Kicker: “Lee Harvey Oswald had 100 percent name ID and none of it was any good.” — Katon Dawson, former South Carolina Republican Committee chairman and former (and maybe future) Michael Steele rival, to The New York Times. “I said, ‘Ben, if I had gotten that for Nevada, I would have yelled it from the rooftops.’ … He didn’t, and that’s a decision that he made.” — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, recounting a conversation with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., on the “Cornhusker Kickback,” to Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren.
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