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The expert influence behind START

As recently as Saturday, the New START treaty set to be approved in the Senate looked as if it might not have enough votes. The Post's Mary Beth Sheridan wrote over the weekend that success for the pact was still far from sure. Republicans rallied around an amendment that would have endangered the treaty, if approved, and threatened that votes might be withheld if Democrats tried to push through other bills on immigration and gays in the military.

But then on Monday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, wrote a letter. In no uncertain terms, he laid out his support for the treaty, of which he said "I am as confident in its success as I am in its safeguards. The sooner it is ratified, the better." Soon enough, the prospect of the treaty's passage looked more assured, as the opposition found itself in the awkward position of being on the other side of the experts. And not just Mullen: All six living secretaries of state who served Republican presidents support the treaty.

It's the second time in recent weeks that the advice of military and civilian defense leaders has helped to sway votes on an issue. The support by Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a key factor in helping the measure easily pass the Senate on Saturday. It appears that even amid all the petulance and partisan fray, expertise and experience still count for something.

Of course, it helps that military chiefs are the leaders in which this country has the most confidence. The armed forces' leadership is just one of four groups who got above-average marks in a survey done by the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School. (The other three were the medical, nonprofit and charity sectors.) The same survey found that just 38 percent of Americans say they have confidence in their leaders.

Perhaps that's one reason the lines have blurred so much over who's an expert and who isn't, and how much their opinions should matter. Seeing how little confidence we have in those in charge--some 68 percent of respondents to the Harvard survey believe the country has a leadership crisis--makes it at least a little easier to understand how people would let it slide when their congressmen allow politics to override the advice of wise authorities.

But not this time. Mullen's letter, requested by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, proves that support from a respected name on a subject can still help cut through partisan acrimony and surmount petty differences. In an era of talking heads who have little to no expertise on the subject about which they're pontificating--if plenty of ambition for bigger riches or higher office--it's nice to see politics still make room for expertise and experience.

By Jena McGregor

 |  December 22, 2010; 9:26 AM ET |  Category:  Federal government leadership , Foreign Affairs , Government leadership , Military leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Comments

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Mullen and Gates didn't sway anyone who knew anything. They were merely Obama's PR boys and they did their job well with all the media except Fox which is the only one who doesn't cowtow to Obama.

POSTED BY: GORDONSHUMWAY

-----

Really? So what you are saying is that the rest of the GOP does not know anything because they still voted against it.

I guess then we agree that the majority of the GOP in Congress are a bunch of idiots.

Ok, I can live with that!

Posted by: rcc_2000 | December 23, 2010 8:18 AM

Mullen should lead us into a time of honest government service by resigning. Now. His past history is a shame to our nation.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | December 23, 2010 7:25 AM

Mullen and Gates didn't sway anyone who knew anything. They were merely Obama's PR boys and they did their job well with all the media except Fox which is the only one who doesn't cowtow to Obama.

Posted by: GordonShumway | December 22, 2010 11:04 PM

Sorry about the double post. Never use "Preview."

Posted by: Mandy_M | December 22, 2010 8:06 PM

It continually dismays me that obstuctionists aim to prevent important legistation to be passed because of partisan loyalty. These last couple of weeks show a very small acceptance of compromise and bipartisonship. But that won't last long when the new Congress convenes.

The power struggle will result in continual gridlock to important legislation by both Dems and Reps. It's nothing more than a power play - regardless of who it hurts but more importantly of who it benefits.

The predominance of our elected "leaders" are only in it for themselves and not for the American people. It has become a game of those who can line their pockets best by allowing big business, lobbyists, Wall Street, etc, to court them.

Our legislative body has long been corrupt on both sides. And it continues to degenrate. Where does that leave the everyday American? Truly without a voice despite being able to vote. Voting for the the best of the worst?

What has happened to our country? GREED at the very top! It isn't very hard to believe that.

Posted by: Mandy_M | December 22, 2010 8:04 PM

It continually dismays me that obstuctionists aim to prevent important legistation to be passed because of partisan loyalty. These last couple of weeks show a very small acceptance of compromise and bipartisonship. But that won't last long when the new Congress convenes.

The power struggle will cause continual gridlock to important legislation by both Dems and Reps. It's nothing more than a power play - regardless of who it hurts but more importantly about who it benefits.

The predominance of our elected "leaders" are only in it for themselves and not for the American people. It has become a game of those who can line their pockets best by allowing big business, lobbyists, Wall Street, etc, to court them.

Our legislative body has long been corrupt on both sides. And it continues to degenrate. Where does that leave the everyday American? Truly without a voice despite being able to vote. Voting for the the best of the worst?

What has happened to our country? GREED at the very top! It isn't very hard to believe that.

Posted by: Mandy_M | December 22, 2010 8:01 PM

John Kerry has shown leadership and determination on getting the START treaty ratified. Kerry is one of the few members of Congress who consistently puts the welfare of the country ahead of petty politics. We need many more senators with his intelligence and command of the issues.

Posted by: jp1943 | December 22, 2010 2:39 PM

Politicians know that military officials are under the President's thumb and if they don't tow the line they'll be summarily fired as was General McChrystal and several Bush administration generals who dared to speak out.

So I doubt if Mullen or the prior Secretaries of State changed any minds. It just gave some Senators protective cover for voting for this stupid treaty in which the parties to it aren't even in agreement as to its meaning.

Posted by: billeisen1 | December 22, 2010 12:32 PM

You are way too kind to suggest that Adm. Mullen's advice resulted in the enlightenment of Republicans who changed their minds based on his expertise and consequently did what they thought was right for the country. An overwhelming number of cynical self serving Republicans voted against the treaty in spite of his advice and the advice of other experts. Even among the few who did change their minds, I suspect they did so, not because they were enlightened, but because they saw which way the wind was blowing.

Posted by: AndyGarciaLongBeachCA | December 22, 2010 10:27 AM

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