On Russia, Obama sounded almost as tough as he did on Iran. He said the Russians needed to understand that they couldn’t be a 21st-century power while acting like “a 20th-century dictatorship.” What’s more, he pledged his support to “all the fledgling democracies in that region,” including Poland and the Czech Republic. He even used the word “solidarity” (a significant word for Eastern Europe). When he became president, however, he badly unnerved the Poles and the Czechs by yanking missile defense from them. And he “hit the reset button” with Russia, adopting a policy of accommodation. (This was one of the moves that won him the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.)
In debate, Obama made a statement surprising to a lot of us: “I actually believe that we need missile defense, because of Iran and North Korea and the potential for them to obtain or to launch nuclear weapons.” Once in office, though, he put the brakes on the program. And in March 2012 he was caught on tape in a fascinating exchange with Russia’s Dmitri Medvedev. A number of issues can be “solved,” said Obama, and “particularly missile defense” — but “it’s important for him to give me space.” The “him” was Vladimir Putin, the boss. “Yeah, I understand,” said Medvedev. “I understand your message about space.” Obama continued, “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.” Then he patted Medvedev’s arm knowingly and reassuringly. Medvedev said, “I will transmit this information to Vladimir.” What Obama has in mind, in the event he is reelected, is hard to say.