From the Economist: Can a distracted America remain a bulwark for eastern Europe?

Damage control is never as good as damage prevention. Despite repeated reassurances, the countries of eastern Europe are worried about security. Their biggest concern is NATO, where officials are meant to be drafting contingency plans to defend Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Barack Obama pushed this idea at the NATO summit in April. A recent big Russian military exercise, which officials say culminated in a dummy nuclear attack on Poland, highlights the region’s vulnerability.

Yet little is happening. NATO officials blame a “lack of consensus”. Western European countries, notably Germany and Italy, are against anything that is not first discussed with Russia. A likely outcome is a generic plan, to be presented privately to the Baltic three in December, that will not deal with specific threats…

“Why is the most popular man on the planet, leading the world’s strongest country, unable to get relations with America’s closest allies right?” fumes one (apolitical) former official.

Many explanations can be offered. Inexperience is one. European and American observers talk of disorganisation in the administration’s National Security Council. One European official speaks of a “black hole” there. Some note a tribal desire among Obamaites to be different from the Bushies: if they favoured eastern Europe, the new policy must be chillier. Others blame a habit of preferring a friendly atmosphere to tough decisions. “It is not irredeemable. But they have to redeem it,” says Kurt Volker, another former official. (photo: White House)