The Republican ground game

There is no better example of the pathology of mankind than the existence of nuclear weapons, weapons so destructive as to be unimaginable. No descriptors capture the horrifying impact of global thermonuclear war.

A single strategic warhead yields two megatons, the explosive equivalent of 2 million tons of TNT, amounting to the entire ordnance exploded in World War II compressed into a matter of seconds. Detonated over a city, this weapon will vaporize all buildings and turn the inhabitants to dust.

The late Carl Sagan estimated that in the first stage of a nuclear war, 1.1 billion people would be killed outright. An additional 1.1 billion would die shortly thereafter from excruciating radiation illness and injuries. Following would be a prolonged nuclear winter, the suns rays unable to reach the earth's surface because of smoke from fires and the resultant dust in the atmosphere. The process of photosynthesis would be truncated if not completely halted.

Those who survived would eventually die from starvation and untreatable pandemics. It would be a worldwide disaster, stark and terrible, defined by chaos and barbarism.

The United States and Russia have some 50,000 nuclear weapons, with a yield of more than 13,000 megatons. They are deployed in silos, submarines and bombers and are capable of destroying 1 million Hiroshimas. To say it is madness does not begin to capture the paroxysm that awaits us should there be such a war or an accident setting in motion uncontrollable events.

President Barack Obama and Russia's President Dimitry Medvedev met last spring in Prague and signed a treaty — called the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) — which will begin again the long and arduous process of reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons. The treaty includes onsite mutual inspections while prohibiting both countries from deploying more than 1,550 warheads and 700 launchers.

It is no secret that a signature goal of the Obama administration is to eliminate all nuclear weapons globally, building on the initial START treaty, known as START I, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev on July 31, 1991. It lapsed last December.

To be ratified by the U.S., 67 members of the Senate must agree or the treaty will stall, with rippling international implications.

The Republicans are balking. Representing them in discussions with the White house is Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. He has participated in at least 29 meetings and countless briefings. There have been innumerable phone calls and letters from the Obama administration to Kyl, all in prologue to achieving ratification. This is a very big deal.

In return for the Republicans' cooperation, Kyl has demanded $80 billion be allocated to the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal with an additional $4.1 billion over the next five years. This is weaponry that we hope will soon be obsolete.

Meanwhile, these same Republicans are sounding a perpetual alarm about the deficit and runaway government spending. Stunningly, they recently rejected an extension of unemployment insurance for those millions of Americans out of work and facing a bleak holiday, money that, for many, is what stands between them and groceries and foreclosure. Throw a safety net to those who have been leveled by this ongoing, relentless recession? Not a chance, say the Republicans. Spend $84 billion on nuclear weapon modernization? Indeed. It's outrageous and harmful to the point of political malpractice.

The Republicans continue to carry out a strategy of obstructionism, claiming to be negotiating in good faith while cynically biding their time to, at the last minute, reject what they, in principle, had agreed upon. Recall the health care debate and how successful they were in demonizing the bill as a big government takeover that would add to the nation's deficit. Their rhetoric, and that of the tea party, was sheer fabrication. What they hoped to do was make health care, in the words of Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., Obama's Waterloo.

The Republican ground game puts party and power before country, before the New START, before assisting Americans as they cobble together ways to survive this economic calamity.

Their objective is not to step forward and solve our nation's exigent problems; rather, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and DeMint have so clearly stated, it is to deny Obama a second term. Any legislative success for the Democrats, no matter its efficacy or urgency, would mean jeopardizing their singular plan to bring Obama down.

They want above all to regain power, to make the next two years such a disaster that when the 2012 elections arrive they can point an accusatory finger at the current administration while insisting that they should be once again restored to the Senate majority and the White House. Astonishingly, it's a strategy that worked in 2010. Why would they change?

Chris Honoré lives in Ashland.

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