Arms control has often been a bone of contention between the White House and Congress. Presidents and their diplomats prefer to reach agreements in secret and then shield the accord from congressional scrutiny, much less consent. It is all too tempting for the Obama administration to follow this script as it negotiates with Iran. But that would be a mistake. Notwithstanding partisan difficulties, seeking congressional endorsement is essential lest any agreement rest on a shaky foundation and be difficult to implement.
Two of President Obama's predecessors offer a path worthy of emulation. Harry Truman did much to anchor the institutions of the Cold War in a durable domestic consensus. Richard Nixon, in turn, created the modern arms-control architecture and managed to persuade both parties on the importance of nuclear restraint.
Truman appreciated that, for the United States to awaken fully from its isolationist torpor, he had to bring along a Republican Party skeptical of international engagement. He cultivated influential Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (Mich.) and paid close attention to their advice and suggestions. Even a fierce partisan such as John Foster Dulles was included in the Truman administration's inner circle on issues such as the peace treaty with Japan and the establishment of NATO. As a result of these efforts, key initiatives such as the creation of the United Nations and the Marshall Plan enjoyed widespread support from across the aisle — even though bipartisan support could not be assumed at that time. It is worth recalling that, for the Republican Party, membership in global organizations and offering aid to foreign countries had once been anathema.