Politics & Policy

The Long Retreat

Our security will now depend on the kindness of strangers.

Was it only April? There was President Obama, speaking (as is his wont) in Prague, about the Iranian nuclear program and ballistic-missile capability, and saluting America’s plucky allies: “The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles,” he declared. “As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile-defense system that is cost-effective and proven.”

On Thursday, the administration scrapped its missile-defense plans for Eastern Europe. The “courageous” Czechs and Poles will have to take their chances. Did the “threat from Iran” go away? Not so’s you’d notice. The dawn of the nuclear ayatollahs is perhaps only months away, and, just in case the Zionists or (please, no tittering) the formerly Great Satan is minded to take ’em out, Tehran will shortly be taking delivery of a bunch of S-300 anti-aircraft batteries from (ta-da!) Russia. Fancy that. 

Joe Klein, the geostrategic thinker of Time magazine, concluded his analysis thus:

This is just speculation on my part. But I do hope that this anti-missile move has a Russian concession attached to it, perhaps not publicly (just as the US agreement to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey was not make public during the Cuban Missile Crisis). The Obama Administration’s diplomatic strategy is, I believe, wise and comprehensive–but it needs to show more than public concessions over time. A few diplomatic victories wouldn’t hurt.

Golly. We know, thanks to Jimmy Carter, Joe Klein, and many others, that we critics of President Obama’s health-care policy are by definition racist. Has criticism of Obama’s foreign policy also been deemed racist? Because one can certainly detect the first faint seeds of doubt germinating in dear old Joe’s soon-to-be-racist breast: The Obama administration “needs to show more than public concessions over time” — because otherwise the entire planet may get the vague impression that that’s all there is.

Especially if your preemptive capitulations are as felicitously timed as the missile-defense announcement, stiffing the Poles on the 70th anniversary of their invasion by the Red Army. As for the Czechs, well, dust off your Neville Chamberlain’s Greatest Hits LP: Like he said, they’re a faraway country of which we know little. So who cares? Everything old is new again.

It is interesting to contrast the administration’s “wise” diplomacy abroad with its willingness to go nuclear at home. If you go to a town-hall meeting and express misgivings about the effectiveness of the stimulus, you’re a “racist” “angry” “Nazi” “evilmonger” “right-wing domestic terrorist.” It’s perhaps no surprise that that doesn’t leave a lot left over in the rhetorical arsenal for Putin, Chávez, and Ahmadinejad. But you’ve got to figure that by now the world’s strongmen are getting the measure of the new Washington. Diplomacy used to be, as Canada’s Lester Pearson liked to say, the art of letting the other fellow have your way. Today, it’s more of a discreet cover for letting the other fellow have his way with you. The Europeans “negotiate” with Iran over its nukes for years, and in the end Iran gets the nukes and Europe gets to feel good about itself for having sat across the table talking to no good purpose for the best part of a decade. In Moscow, there was a palpable triumphalism in the news that the Russians had succeeded in letting the Obama fellow have their way. “This is a recognition by the Americans of the rightness of our arguments about the reality of the threat, or rather the lack of one,” said Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Duma’s international-affairs committee. “Finally the Americans have agreed with us.”

There’ll be a lot more of that in the years ahead.

There is no discreetly arranged “Russian concession.” Moscow has concluded that a nuclear Iran is in its national interest — especially if the remorseless nuclearization process itself is seen as a testament to Western weakness. Even if the Israelis are driven to bomb the thing to smithereens circa next spring, that too would only emphasize, by implicit comparison, American and European pusillanimity. Any private relief felt in the chancelleries of London and Paris would inevitably license a huge amount of public tut-tutting by this or that foreign minister about the Zionist Entity’s regrettable “disproportion.” The U.S. Defense Secretary is already on record as opposing an Israeli strike. If it happens, every thug state around the globe will understand the subtext — that, aside from a tiny strip of land on the east bank of the Jordan, every other advanced society on earth is content to depend for its security on the kindness of strangers.

Some of them very strange. Kim Jong-Il wouldn’t really let fly at South Korea or Japan, would he? Even if some quasi-Talibanny types wound up sitting on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, they wouldn’t really do anything with them, would they? Okay, Putin can be a bit heavy-handed when dealing with Eastern Europe, and his definition of “Eastern” seems to stretch ever farther west, but he’s not going to be sending the tanks back into Prague and Budapest, is he? I mean, c’mon . . . 

Vladimir Putin is no longer president but he is de facto tsar. And he thinks it’s past time to reconstitute the old empire — not formally (yet), but certainly as a sphere of influence from which the Yanks keep their distance. President Obama has just handed the Russians their biggest win since the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Indeed, in some ways it marks the restitching of the Iron Curtain. When the Czechs signed their end of the missile-defense deal in July, they found themselves afflicted by a sudden “technical difficulty” that halved their gas supply from Russia. The Europe Putin foresees will be one not only ever more energy-dependent on Moscow but security-dependent, too — in which every city is within range of missiles from Tehran and other crazies, and is in effect under the security umbrella of the new tsar. As to whether such a Continent will be amicable to American interests, well, good luck with that, hopeychangers.

In a sense, the health-care debate and the foreign-policy debacle are two sides of the same coin: For Britain and other great powers, the decision to build a hugely expensive welfare state at home entailed inevitably a long retreat from responsibilities abroad, with a thousand small betrayals of peripheral allies along the way. A few years ago, the great scholar Bernard Lewis warned, during the debate on withdrawal from Iraq, that America risked being seen as “harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend.” In Moscow and Tehran, on one hand, and Warsaw and Prague, on the other, they’re drawing their own conclusions.     

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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