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If diplomatic pusillanimity was the aim, Pres. Barack Obama’s decision to abandon our current missile-defense plans in Eastern Europe must be regarded as a masterstroke.
With just one announcement, the Obama administration undercut two loyal allies, rewarded Russian bullying, and diminished our ability to counter an emerging Iranian threat. If there were awards for self-defeating weakness, this move would deserve a Neville for Appeasement in a Perpetually Threatened Region.
In an April speech in Prague, Obama hailed the “courageous” Poles and Czechs for agreeing to host ten missile interceptors and a radar site, respectively. When the Czechs signed the initial deal for the radar installation last July, a suspiciously timed “technical difficulty” reduced Russian gas exports to Prague by half. Last November, Russia moved missiles to Kaliningrad, bordering Poland. Now, Polish and Czech courage gets its perverse reward.
The Russians loathe the very idea of the missile-defense sites, claiming they threaten its nuclear deterrent. They never explain how ten interceptors can counteract a Russian arsenal totaling 4,100 warheads. Vladimir Putin can’t be that bad at math. What Moscow doesn’t want is a relationship between Central and Eastern Europe and the West that makes the region less vulnerable to its malign influence.
Perhaps hardheadedness says an attachment to the pro-U.S, democratic Poles and the Czechs shouldn’t outweigh our interest in placating Russia. But this is realpolitik without the real. There’s no indication that Obama struck a secret deal with Moscow for anything meaningful. He appears to be acting out of the kindness of his heart a week after Russia said it wouldn’t support tough sanctions against Iran or a timetable for progress on checking Iran’s nuclear program.
They say “nyet,” we say “da” — let’s call the whole thing off. As a political figure, Obama is famously aloof, cool, detached. In international diplomacy, there’s a cringing desperation to him.
We’re open to bilateral talks with the North Koreans (within the so-called six-party framework), even though their M.O. of serially selling the same notional concessions is long established; we’re going to sit down with the Iranians, even though they’ve indicated that their nuclear program can’t be the focus; we’re giving in to the Russians on missile defense, even though they are stiffing us on Iran. When the primary tools in your arsenal are talk and soothing gestures, everything looks like an occasion for a negotiation or concession.
This misunderstands the Russians (and most of the rest of the world). Increasingly aggressive and authoritarian, Moscow wasn’t belligerent because we planned to install missile-defense interceptors; it objected to the interceptors because it is belligerent. As Winston Churchill said in a different context: “Disarmament has nothing to do with peace. When you have peace, you will have disarmament.”
Obama is selling his move as a robust commitment to missile defense, only in a more effective form focused on defense against Iran’s short- and medium-range missiles. Obama said the new arrangement will provide a “stronger, smarter, and swifter” defense. Just like his health-care plan is all about “choice and competition.”
We’re told new intelligence is less alarming about the timeline for Iran’s development of long-range missiles. Could the intelligence have really changed so drastically in a matter of months? In any case, intelligence is a fickle thing. As recently as December 2007, we were assured in the National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had halted its nuclear program.
Like almost all liberal Democrats, Obama has an instinctive aversion to missile defense. At a time when every repaving project in America is flush with funds, he’s cut total funding for missile defense by 15 percent.
In July, a group of pro-Western intellectuals and political leaders from Central and Eastern Europe wrote Obama an open letter pleading with the U.S. not to abandon them in a misbegotten romance of a revanchist Russia. They said missile defense had become “a symbol of America’s credibility and commitment to the region.” Obama has now given his answer — return to sender.