Death of the foreign policy mandarins?

Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post earlier this week calling the New START Treaty Obama's "worst foreign policy mistake yet."  This prompted a fair amount of blowback.  The New York Times' Peter Baker and Slate's Fred Kaplan tore Romney a new one dissected the substance of Romney's argument and found it wanting.  Senator John Kerry wrote a WaPo op-ed the next day that had a pretty contemptuous conclusion: 

I have nothing against Massachusetts politicians running for president. But the world's most important elected office carries responsibilities, including the duty to check your facts even if you're in a footrace to the right against Sarah Palin. More than that, you need to understand that when it comes to nuclear danger, the nation's security is more important than scoring cheap political points.

Now reading through all of this, it seems pretty clear that Romney's substantive critique is weak tea.  Objecting to the content of a treaty preamble is pretty silly.  Claiming that the Russians could put ICBMs on their bombers because of the treaty indicates Romney's ghost-writer doesn't know the first thing about the history of nuclear weapons some holes in the research effort. 

Putting the substantive objections aside, there are some interesting implications to draw from this kerfuffle.  First, START will be an easy test of the remaining power of the foreign policy mandarins.  As Time's Michael Crowley points out, START has the support of former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and James Baker, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Senator Richard Lugar. 

If the Obama administration can't get Senate ratification of START despite the bipartisan support of the foreign policy community, well, it suggests that the foreign policy community doesn't have the political capital it once did.  I posited earlier this year that START would pass because it was pretty unobtrusive and wouldn't play a big role in political campaigns.  If GOP senators think differently, however, then you can kiss any foreign policy initiative that requires congressional approval bye-bye. 

This could seriously hamper U.S. foreign policy.  Politically, Romney was wise to pick on START, because its importance is not in the arms control.  Boosters like Kerry will talk about START like its the greatest thing since sliced bread, when in point of fact it's a modest treaty that yields modest gains on the arms control front.  No, START matters because its a signal of better and more stable relations with Moscow (much in the same way that NAFTA was not about trade so much as about ending a century-long contentious relationship with Mexico). 

So even if Romney gets chewed up and spit out by the foreign policy mandarins, there's a way in which he'll win no matter what.  By belittling the treaty, Romney will get its defenders to inflate its positive attributes.  This will force analysts to say that "both sides have exaggerated their claims," putting Romney on par with the foreign policy mandarins. 

Developing... in a bad way for the mandarins. 

UPDATE:  Barron YoungSmith makes a similar point over at TNR.  He's even more pessimistic than I am: 

[T]he responsible Republican foreign policy establishment is not coming back. Mandarins like George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and James Baker, who have all testified or written on behalf of the START treaty—calling it an integral, uncontroversial way of repairing the bipartisan arms-control legacy that sustained American foreign policy all the way up until the George W. Bush administration—are going to be dead soon (or they've drifted into the service of Democrats). The people who will take their place will be from a generation of superhawks, like John Bolton, Liz Cheney, and Robert Joseph, who are virulently opposed to the practice of negotiated arms control. Mitt Romney, though a moderate from Michigan, is not going to be the second coming of Gerald Ford.

Well.... this might be true, if you think Mitt Romney has his finger on the pulse of the GOP voter.  Based on past experience, however, Mitt Romney has never been able to find that pulse. 

Still developing....

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Daniel W. Drezner

Wall Street's pro-cyclical politics

In the wake of financial regulation moving its way through Congress, both the Washington Post and Politico have stories out on Wall Street's backlash against the Democrats.  The Post's lead: 

A revolt among big donors on Wall Street is hurting fundraising for the Democrats' two congressional campaign committees, with contributions from the world's financial capital down 65 percent from two years ago.

The drop in support comes from many of the same bankers, hedge fund executives and financial services chief executives who are most upset about the financial regulatory reform bill that House Democrats passed last week with almost no Republican support. The Senate expects to take up the measure this month.

This fundraising free fall from the New York area has left Democrats with diminished resources to defend their House and Senate majorities in November's midterm elections. Although the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have seen just a 16 percent drop in overall donations compared with this stage of the 2008 campaign, party leaders are concerned about the loss of big-dollar donors.

And now Politico: 

With the financial reform bill likely to hit President Barack Obama’s desk in coming weeks, Wall Street's top political players are warning Democrats to brace themselves for the next phase of the fight: the fundraising blowback.

Democrats who backed the bill  are finding big banks far less eager to host fundraisers and provide campaign cash heading into the tightly contested midterm elections this fall, insiders say.

Some banks, in fact, have discussed not attending or hosting fundraisers at all for the next few months. Goldman Sachs is already staying away from all fundraisers, according to two sources. The company would not comment.

“I think at least in the short term there is going to be a great deal of frustration with people who were beating the hell out of us — then turning around and asking for money,” said a senior executive of a Wall Street bank.

Based on these stories, when if the Democrats get hammered come November, expect a lot of pixels and ink spilled on the awesome power of the financial sector to get what it wants in Washington.  And don't believe a word of it. 

This is the lobbying equivalent of a good but struggling baseball club calling a team meeting right before they play the worst ballclub in the league.  That is to say, sports managers often save their rousing speeches before a game they're pretty likely to win, so they can claim that their motivation was what led their team to victory. 

As Charlie Cook notes, the Democrats are heading into a Category 5 political disaster come November.  This has nothing to do with FinReg, and everything to do with a struggling economy, an ecological disaster in the Gulf, fired-up conservatives, and disaffected liberals.  Wall Street antipathy is really the least of their problems. 

I'm laying this marker down now -- unless we see some shocking upsets among the New York delegation (the real target of Wall Street's ire), analysts who proclaim the awesome political power of financial sector will be doing so with sloppy facts and sloppy argumentation. 

In recent years, I've seen some very... let's say exaggerated arguments about the power of political lobbies in Washington.  They do possess political influence, but much of that influence rests on the perception that they can make or break electoral fortunes.  In Wall Street's case, however, they're pushing on a door that was already wide open. 

Which is not surprising.  Powerful interests tend to apportion their money to candidates they think will win.  Indeed, to use a term of art, Wall Street's political preferences appear to be -- dare I say it -- pro-cyclical.