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Other view: A Russian challenge

This appeared in Saturday’s Washington Post.

Russia’s apparent violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty has moved a worrisome step forward. A ground-launched cruise missile that the United States has identified as a treaty violation is being deployed by Russia, according to a report in the New York Times. This threatens to upend an important treaty and poses a major challenge for the United States, especially since years of objections over the violation have been stonewalled by President Vladimir Putin. With a new U.S. administration taking office, it would make sense for President Donald Trump to press Russia once more to adhere to the treaty, while holding out the possibility of military countermeasures if he does not.

The treaty was a centerpiece of the cooperation between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the end of the Cold War, eliminating an entire class of deployed land-based missiles in Europe with a range between 300 and 3,400 miles, and their launchers; prohibiting flight-testing and production of new missiles in the future; and including new, intrusive verification measures.

Over the past decade, Russia stealthily developed a ground-launched cruise missile in apparent violation of the treaty, one of a number of asymmetric weapons programs developed by Putin to throw the West off balance. The new missile was first seen in a flight test in 2008; former President Barack Obama’s administration told Congress about it in late 2011, and State Department compliance reports formally called it a treaty violation in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Russia has repeatedly refused to acknowledge a treaty violation. A special commission set up in the treaty to resolve disputes met late last year without result. Now, Trump should raise the issue directly with Putin and make it clear that the United States will not tolerate behavior that undermines the very foundation of arms-control treaties—that they are binding and verifiable. Trump has described himself as a good negotiator and as a Mr. Fix-it. Certainly, the INF treaty needs repair. The military countermeasures prepared by the Pentagon, such as deployment of new U.S. missiles or active defenses, might, over time, coerce the Kremlin to change tack. But it would be far preferable for Trump, who has yet to meet Putin, to attempt persuasion first, while being direct about the consequences of inaction.

According to an account by Reuters, Trump denounced another U.S.-Russian accord, the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), in a Jan. 28 phone call with Putin, saying it favored Russia. In fact, the treaty has been a model of successful implementation, holds both nations to equal levels and ought to be extended when it expires in 2021. The real worries about strategic nuclear weapons are elsewhere, starting with setting priorities for the hugely expensive nuclear modernization cycle that the United States has embarked upon. There’s also the unratified nuclear Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the toothless and drifting Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Plenty of negotiating and fixing up awaits Trump, and none is getting easier by waiting.

Stapilus: Can you hear me now?

After describing in a recent column annoying cellphone service gaps in the Idaho Statehouse, the Lewiston Tribune’s William Spence remarked how that serves as a metaphor for this:

“I can’t count the number of hearings I’ve attended where the testimony is skewed entirely one way or the other and the committee votes the opposite way.”

In my days covering the Legislature years ago, that happened seldom. If the testimony was strongly weighted in one direction, that ordinarily was how the committee would vote. Apparently not so much these days.

I crowdsourced the question of whether Spence was right. The crowd told me that he was.

The legislative examples cited most were guns on campus, Medicaid expansion and “add the words.” Large crowds showed in support of the latter two and against the first; few people countered; the committees involved wasted little time siding with the few. (They did at least, it should be said, hear out the public first.)

Holli Woodings, a former state representative, offered: “Guns on campus. I listened to an entire day of testimony against it, and still was in the committee minority voting nay. There were two, maybe three folks who testified in favor, and dozens against, including law enforcement, educators, students, administration, and others who actually had a stake.” The proposal won approval.

Activist Donna Yule: “Happens all the time in the Idaho statehouse. It’s extremely frustrating to all the people who take the time to testify. I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the GOP chairs of the committees already have their minds made up, and they care more about their base voters than the people of Idaho. But I still think the testimony matters. Even though they ignore the people testifying, it still makes them uncomfortable, and maybe eventually the people will get angry enough to rise up against them and vote in some new people who WILL listen.”

Do your representatives listen? Actually listen, or just sit there with minds made up?

Idaho’s United States senators have been barraged with comments and protesters in recent weeks, but there’s been little response from them.

After Sen. Mike Crapo’s office rebuffed media requests to find out how Idahoans calling in on Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos stood, a staffer let slip to the Payette County commissioners: “DeVos is the one we’re hearing the most about … and I think 95 percent are against her.” Crapo, and fellow Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, voted for DeVos’ confirmation, and said little or nothing about what they were hearing from back home.

OK. It’s possible not every protesting call or visit came from a constituent (though I’d bet the great bulk of them did). It isn’t the job of a representative to vote in the popular direction every time. Yes, it’s those in opposition who usually are most motivated to step up, more than those in support. Sometimes the majority is wrong; it happens.

But when this kind of dissonance happens as often as it seems to (and yes, Idaho is not alone in this), something is wrong.

In saying this, I’m looking most directly at the voters. Are you not being listened to? Are your concerns not being met? Are your representatives not doing what you want them to do?

If you think so, then: Are you getting organized and out to the polls? That’s the message that will be heard without a doubt.