With the defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the United States Senate, the chickens came home to roost for President Clinton. He's paying the price for his treatment of the Republican Congress over the past five years and his weakened credibility.
That's not to say all the treaty's opponents, which included most GOP senators, were politically motivated. Even stalwart arms-controllers such as Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana judged the accord seriously flawed.
But the flaws, such as a weak verification system and few enforcement teeth, could have been addressed. The treaty should have been put on hold for consideration at a calmer moment. A small group of hard-core treaty rejectionists regrettably used Senate rules to shut off that option.
Their opposition, however, was predictable. The White House has had years to respond to such concerns, to meet with Republicans to try to overcome the objections, and to conduct a public campaign to build support for the treaty.
Instead it followed its standard operating procedure: Trot out the president for a photo-op treaty signing, then spend the next few years doing little except lobbing potshots at Senate GOP leaders, when convenient, for failing to bring the treaty up for a vote.
Mr. Clinton and Senate Democrats should have been more careful what they wished for. At the least, they should have counted votes. Majority leader Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi called their bluff, suddenly bringing the treaty up, knowing it lacked the two-thirds support needed to ratify.
So the Senate has dealt the test-ban treaty a serious setback. That doesn't mean the cause of arms control is lost. The US should do what it can to salvage a leadership role on nuclear arms control. It can still refrain from testing as long as officials believe computer modeling can do the job. The treaty returns to the Senate calendar, and could be brought up again at some future date.
Meanwhile, the president, in his final year in office, should start seeking ways to work with Lott & Co. That means more compromise and fewer lines in the sand - on both sides.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society