For some armchair strategists, President Obama’s decision to scrap the Bush 43 plan to deploy ballistic missile defense hardware in Poland and the Czech Republic was rank appeasement that would merely sharpen the Russian bear’s appetite for more unilateral concessions that could only weaken America’s defense posture. That was sound Cold War thinking. And for some, the Cold War’s villains continue in sheep’s clothing. Moscow still craves recognition as the dominant power in the former Soviet Union.
For others, Obama made the wise decision of bagging a lemon that had soured relations with the Russian leadership that never really believed the story it was designed to intercept Iranian missiles on their way to European and/or American targets.
If Iran’s unknown future plans were to take on the European Union and/or the United States with nuclear-tipped intercontinental missiles, which no one in the intelligence community believes, the first prudent move would have been to share our fears with then President Putin and to exchange ideas on a joint deterrent. The only plausible Iranian nuclear missile threat is against Israel, a country Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants consigned to oblivion. And Israel is now ready for any kind of Iranian missile attack. The Gulf countries across the water keep upgrading their anti-missile defenses with the latest U.S. Patriot systems and now feel a little safer from whatever threats Iran may have up the chief ayatollah’s sleeve.
Poland and the Czech Republic, say some pundits, now feel abandoned by the United States as a result of Obama’s decision. Wrong. Both Prague and Warsaw had been expecting Obama’s decision since he won the presidency. But it clearly encourages these two former Soviet satellites — once anointed “New Europe” by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — to close ranks with the “Old Europe” and seek security against missile attacks in a larger defense framework.
This was precisely what NATO’s new secretary-general, Denmark’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen, recommended in his inaugural address — “a genuine, new beginning” in NATO-Russia relations. The new strategic vision, he explained, should focus on immediate shared security challenges, i.e., missile defense (against Iran) and transnational terrorism. A joint review of new security challenges facing the United States, NATO and Russia is long overdue.
On missile defense, Rasmussen said NATO should explore the potential for linking the missile defense systems of the United States, NATO and Russia. A first step should be to revitalize the NATO-Russia Council “as an open and transparent forum for peace and stability in Europe.” A Russian general is still stationed at NATO’s supreme allied command near Mons in Belgium. The idea of a wider global security system with Russia was first bruited as the Cold War suddenly expired with the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. But geopolitical tunnel vision led the United States to push NATO’s frontiers ever closer to Russia’s borders, rekindling Russian paranoia about encirclement.
Denials notwithstanding, Obama’s decision to replace ground-based interceptors and radars in Poland and the Czech Republic by Aegis-equipped warships already upgraded to BMD in the North Sea and Mediterranean was tailored to “reset” the U.S.-Russia relationship by providing a little space for U.S.-Russian strategic arms control negotiations. START, the strategic arms reduction treaty, expires in December. There was also the hope Moscow would agree to much tougher punitive sanctions against Iran to persuade the mullahs and their Revolutionary Guards to forgo their nuclear ambitions. Forlorn hope, that is. But on Afghanistan, where the Soviet Union was defeated in the 1980s, Russian leaders have proved uncharacteristically cooperative in securing alternate supply routes from Riga on the Baltic Sea to northern Afghanistan, a weeklong rail journey, to replace much faster but deadly roads through Pakistan.
Obama has opted for diplomatic engagement, so-called smart power, or a blend of soft and hard power. But the ranks of his detractors grow daily — e.g., leaders representing 28 million Evangelicals and Catholics calling for a blockade of Iranian ports against imports of gasoline and an arms embargo; former Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton advocating the overthrow of Iran’s Islamist dictatorship; Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh pontificating daily about grassroots anger coast-to-coast with millions seeing themselves permanently jobless as companies climb back to profitability with fewer workers; and now 60 percent of Americans against the war in Afghanistan as Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s bleak confidential assessment that recommends 40,000 more troops leaks and adds more fuel to the fires of dissent.
Hardly the picture a much diminished Obama wanted to project to the rest of the world as he monopolized the Sunday morning talk shows — America’s equivalent of the weekly question time in the British Parliament — and flew to Pittsburgh for a G20 summit.