Brent Scowcroft has issued a strong statement of support for President Obama’s decision to scrap George Bush’s planned missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic in favor of a sea-based system.  General Scowcroft, however, elides the main point. While there may be a strong case in favor of the Aegis alternative, the announcement should have been delayed until some concessions were extracted from the Russians.

The missile plan was not only a matter of protecting ourselves and our allies from a threat emanating from Iran, it was also viewed by the last administration as a means for further solidifying the U.S. commitment to the democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. That was the real reason it elicited so much opposition from Russia.

In this context, the Obama administration’s decision has cuts the rug out from under our staunch allies, the Poles and the Czechs, but got nothing from the Russians. Instead, the decision could have been held back and Obama could have gotten something back from the Russians, including a commitment to  work to rein in Iran or to consider Moscow’s return to the Conventional Forces in Europe regime, which it left under President Putin.

Today’s Russia is itching for a fight with Georgia and Ukraine. Its legislature  just passed a measure that will permit it to engage in military action to protect “Russians” — not just Russian citizens— anywhere in the world.

And whatever the objective  reasons for the Obama decision, it is widely interpreted as a signal that the U.S. is more sensitive to Russian concerns than those of its bedrock democratic allies at a time when Russia is an obstacle in getting action on Iran, is menacing its neighbors, and otherwise acting in belligerent fashion. Talk about new mechanisms and new systems in Poland is nice rearguard action. But some strong and clear alternative should have been in place for the Poles and Czechs before this announcement was made.

General Scowcroft gets two of three right when he says “I strongly approve of President Obama’s decision regarding missile defense deployments in Europe. I believe it advances U.S. national security interests, supports our allies, and better meets the threats we face.” The decision does advance OUR security interests and the threat WE face. But it weakens our best allies in Central Europe and offers no support to them, except for mealy-mouthed truisms.

Russia will, alas, only gain encouragement from the way the Administration handled this decision. And the decision already is being interpreted and understood in the region as a  the signal of a shift away from Central and Eastern Europe as a US priority.

Adrian Karatnycky, Founder and President of the Orange Circle, served for over a decade as Executive Director and President of Freedom House

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