What is it about the New START treaty’s Bilateral Consultative Commission that seems to stir up such paranoia on the right-wing?

Jack Goldsmith and Jeremy Rabkin, two conservative legal scholars, have what at first glance to be the most boring op-ed in the history of the Washington Post — a proposal that the Senate ratify the New START treaty on the understanding that the BCC confine its deliberations only to technical treaty matters and that the Senate be notified about such deliberations.

On the other hand, the fact that conservatives are worked up enough about the BCC that Fred Hiatt would devote precious column inches to a  technical treaty matter is very revealing about the further reaches of the modern conservative movement.

It isn’t just Goldsmith and Rabkin, but also Bob Joseph and Eric Edelman, Mitt Romney, Jim Talent and the Heritage Foundation that have all warned that the BCC might undermine US sovereignty and offer Moscow the chance to negotiate secret and crippling limits on US missile defenses.

This is all completely paranoid, but that is point: Conservatives are worked-up about the BCC in the same way they are worked up about birth certificates, death panels, and black helicopters.  Just take 20 minutes to read Richard Hofstadter’s 1964 essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics and you will encounter a very familiar story.

Now, I don’t know Goldsmith and Rabkin personally.  Perhaps they aren’t paranoid at all.  But that was precisely Hofstadter’s point about the paranoid style — “It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”

Let’s get some facts straight.

Every arms control treaty has provisions for an implementing entity: the Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission (JCIC) for the START Treaty, the Special Verification Commission (SVC) for the INF Treaty, and the Bilateral Implementation Commission (BIC) for the Moscow Treaty.

As I noted last week, the JCIC has been a very successful forum for resolving technical disputes about the START treaty that range from the important (ensuring inspectors an unobstructed view during on-site inspections) to the mundane (who gets to hold the measuring tape during an on-site inspection.)

Heritage warns that the BCC could make secret agreements.  Maybe.  The JCIC Joint Statements (and other documents) are published, though not always promptly.  You can download them online. I suppose there must be some sensitive national security information that is classified — at the very least, the minutes of the meetings — but the norm has been one of transparency and openness.

But that’s paranoia for you: Sure, I suppose if you think that the Obama Administration has changed the Missile Defense Agency logo as part of an Islamofascist third column effort, then the BCC might as well be staffed with Illuminati and Freemasons cutting secret deals to leave America defenseless.  Of course, nothing remotely like that has happened in the JCIC — which just shows you how successful the conspiracy has been! (Goldsmith and Rabkin warn, for example, of what might be called “treaty creep” in other cases but utter not a word about the actual practice with arms control treaties.  For a reason, sez I.)

The more interesting question is the one unanswered by Hofstadter — why do otherwise sane and seemingly rational people engage in the paranoid style?  I suppose there is no answer — except in the case of Romney, who is clearly pandering.  But the rest of the crowd? I can only leave you with Hofstadter’s thoughts:

This glimpse across a long span of time emboldens me to make the conjecture–it is no more than that–that a mentality disposed to see the world in this way may be a persistent psychic phenomenon, more or less constantly affecting a modest minority of the population. But certain religious traditions, certain social structures and national inheritances, certain historical catastrophes or frustrations may be conducive to the release of such psychic energies, and to situations in which they can more readily be built into mass movements or political parties. In American experience ethnic and religious conflict have plainly been a major focus for militant and suspicious minds of this sort, but class conflicts also can mobilize such energies. Perhaps the central situation conducive to the diffusion of the paranoid tendency is a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest–perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands–are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power–and this through distorting lenses–and have no chance to observe its actual machinery. A distinguished historian has said that one of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen. It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop. He has a special resistance of his own, of course, to developing such awareness, but circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him–and in any case he resists enlightenment.

Update | 4:14 A colleague writes “I do wish you wouldn’t make this so much about “conservatives” vs. the rest … On the GOP spectrum beyond Lugar, there is lukewarm support, there is reluctance, there is opposition, and then there’s this. But they’re all conservatives, except maybe in Maine.”  I suppose that’s correct, but I am just annoyed that other than Lugar, Hadley and one or two others, so few Republicans really have the courage to push back on this stuff.