The Cable

Tea Party activists come out against START

A lobbying group affiliated with the Tea Party has joined the effort to derail President Obama's new arms-control agreement with Russia, launching a grassroots campaign by spreading misleading information about the pact to the general public.

Former governor Mitt Romney kicked off the conservative nationwide campaign to convince ordinary Americans to actively oppose the new nuclear reductions treaty with Russia. He is even trying to raise money off of it. The Heritage Foundation has a new grassroots lobbying arm that has made opposition to New START one of its core activities. Other right-leaning issues organizations are now following suit.

The latest salvo is being launched by a Tea Party-affiliated group called Liberty Central, a 501c4 lobbying organization that has started a letter-writing campaign entitled, "TAKE ACTION: Tell Your Senators to Oppose START Treaty."

The group dates back to November 2009, and was started by Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, the wife of none other than Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. She has also worked for former congressman and leading Tea Party figure Dick Armey, and served as the White House liaison to the Heritage Foundation during the George W. Bush administration.

The group explains its mission as returning the United States to its "Founding Principles," which it describes as "limited government, personal responsibility, individual liberty, free enterprise, and national security."

A video introducing the group was moderated by failed 2004 Georgia GOP Senate candidate Herman Cain, who now leads a group called The New Voice, of which he appears to be the only member.

"Today, our society is being remade by the elected leadership in Washington, who wants to take us down the road to a European style social democracy, disconnected from the principles of the Constitution and the ideas and the ideals of our founding fathers," Cain said.

Liberty Central's call to action on New START, written by Director of Policy and General Counsel Sarah Field, lists six major objections to the treaty:

  1. Our existing missile defense system, put in place by the Bush Administration, actually does not have the technology to stop a Russian missile attack.
  2. The Treaty drastically reduces our offensive nuclear capabilities without advancing our defensive capabilities - specifically through the development of a meaningful missile defense program.
  3. According to the Russians themselves, the section of the treaty that actually allows either the U.S. or Russia to withdraw from the treaty is included specifically so that Russia can withdraw if it believes that it is being "threatened" by developments in U.S. missile defense programs.
  4. As part of the negotiating process, President Obama gave up our missile defense presence in the Czech Republic and Poland, but it is not clear that the Russians gave up anything of similar value.  If we concede something, they must as well.
  5. In 2009, General James Cartwright testified that, at a bare minimum, the United States needs at least 860 weapons launchers.  However, this new Treaty limits our capabilities to only deploying 700.  Why did we agree to have 160 less than necessary?
  6. In addition to reducing the number of weapons in our arsenal, this Treaty also limits the types of circumstances in which the United States is allowed to launch our weapons!

The criticisms omit several relevant facts and get others wrong. For example, although the existing U.S. missile-defense system has its origins under the Reagan administration, it was never intended to stop a Russian missile attack. In any case, New START was never aimed at advancing defensive capabilities, which fall outside the scope of the treaty.

Moreover, there is no section that allows each country to withdraw; rather such language is in the preamble, which does not include the word "threatened."

Nor did President Obama did not give up the U.S. missile-defense presence in Poland and the Czech Republic as "part of the negotiating process"; that decision was made independently of the START talks and was aimed at strengthening the system's ability to thwart the short- and medium-range missile threat from Iran.

The treaty also does not limit the type of circumstances in which the U.S. is allowed to launch weapons. Here, Field might be referring to the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which reduced the scenarios under which the United States would launch a nuclear strike.

None of that prevented Liberty Central from including these assertions in its form letter, which members can send to senators with one click of the mouse.

"The START Treaty fails to ensure the ability of the US to maintain a reliable nuclear deterrent going forward, and severely limits our missile defense systems. I urge you to protect American security by opposing this treaty," the letter states.

"This group is trying to come up with any argument they can and so they came up with several that aren't even relevant to the treaty," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World. "It's even more troubling when we see these same arguments repeated by some GOP senators."

"They say that missile defense doesn't protect us from Russia? Well, it doesn't protect us from cancer either, so what does that prove?"

Multiple attempts to contact Field or Liberty Central garnered no response.

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Hanoi, Indonesia, Kosovo, Baghdad, Gration

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Thursday's briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Hanoi Thursday, where she met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem and participated in a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of normalized relations between the United States and Vietnam. Clinton said they talked about North Korean arms shipments to Burma, including possible  nuclear assistance. She also held a Lower Mekong Initiative meeting with representatives from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the decision to resume military cooperation with the Indonesian Special Forces, which were guilty of war crimes, especially during the campaign in East Timor. "The United States government has decided to resume limited security cooperation with Kopassus, which is the Indonesian special forces -- within the limits of U.S. law -- based on the democratic changes that have taken place within Indonesia and the reforms that continue to take place within the Indonesian national armed forces and Kopassus," Crowley explained.
  • State Department is endorsing the decision of the International Court of Justice that Kosovo's declaration of independence does not violate international law. "Kosovo is an independent state, and its territory is inviolable. We call on those states who have not yet done so to recognize Kosovo," Crowley said.
  • Three American contractors working for the State Department were killed in recent attacks in Baghdad and two more were injured. "They played a critical role in our effort to bring a better way of life to the people of Iraq, and we extend our condolences to the families of the victims," Crowley said.
  • The State Department has exchanged diplomatic notes with the Russian Federation regarding the arrest of accused drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko, who allegedly was caught with "thousand-kilogram quantities of cocaine" in Liberia. The Russians weren't given consular access within the normal time period, but Crowley says that's now been resolved. He was arraigned on June 1 in New York but the Russians didn't find out until after. "We sent out the consular notification. We just happened to send it to the wrong embassy," Crowley said, "We pressed the wrong button on the fax machine, to be brutally honest." He declined to explain exactly how Yaroshenko got the U.S.
  • Crowley said he spoke directly to Sudan Special Envoy Scott Gration about an article in The Cable where Gration was quoted as saying the genocide indictment against Sudanese President Omar al Bashir would make Gration's job more difficult. "Let me be very clear, what Scott Gration was reflecting in his comments was that the indictment is viewed negatively, for obvious reasons, in the eyes of the Sudanese leadership. And because of how they view the indictment and how -- you know, they view the indictment as an attempt at international regime change. You know, it is the Sudanese attitude of the indictment that, in Scott's mind, has affected Sudan's willingness to cooperate with the international community and with the United States," he said.
  •  Assistant Secretary Bob Blake visited Male, Maldives, Thursday and met with President Mohamed Nasheed.