If there was any real doubt about where the Obama Administration’s foreign policy is heading, then Thursday’s events provided an important clue. The Administration’s decision to cancel a long planned and heavily negotiated missile defense shield for both Poland and the Czech Republic pounded home a message that American allies can no longer rely on prior U.S. commitments and that the hard necessities of confronting aggression from rogue states will from now on give way to diplomatic expediency.
“Shameful” is a word which has been flung at the Administration by many on the right and it may be true that the cancellation of the early warning stations was a moral disgrace. But the real damage done is not to our sense of pride, but the impact it has had on Russian and Iranian perceptions of American resolve.
The Russians knew perfectly well that they had nothing to seriously fear from an American presence in either Poland or the Czech Republic. The anti- missile defense shield could only interdict incoming missiles and would be incapable of creating a base for the launch of ballistic missiles of its own.
The problem now appears to be that a major concession has been made to the Russians without securing anything in return. On Saturday the Los Angeles Times quoted Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as describing the cancellation of the program as “ a step in the right direction, with the hope that more would follow” Translation: “We have secured a victory at no cost to ourselves and we will now press our advantage in other areas.” That expectation will be fulfilled when Russia invades or intimidates one of the former Soviet satellites (Latvia, Estonia Lithuania, the Ukraine or Georgia) and demands U.S. acquiescence. We shouldn’t forget that Russian diplomacy is largely a zero sum game which relies on projecting hard power in order to force diplomatic gains. This was most clearly seen in operation last year in the invasion of Georgia and the gas dispute with the Ukraine. No doubt it will be employed again.
The Administration’s explanation for the cancellation of the program is similarly weak. Claiming that Iran’s long range ballistic missile program is still years away from completion, the Administration has decided that a more muscular ( and less expensive) short and medium range missile defense system in Europe would help facilitate the defense of Europe. But as many commentators have asked over the past few days – that might take care of the defense of Europe but what about the defense of the United States?
It is no secret that the anti-missile battery planned for the Czech Republic and Poland would not only help defend those countries but would also impede the trajectory of a ballistic missile launched into space from Iran and aimed at the United States. Yet the protection of the continental United States has already been significantly weakened by the cancellation of Kinetic Energy Inceptors ( designed to eliminate an enemy missile at an earlier stage of its trajectory ) which were to be located in Germany and Turkey. They were canceled as part of the $1.4 billion cuts in the missile defense budget.
What does it all mean? It means that the United States is wide open to a ballistic missile attack with only the continental anti- ballistic missile system in Fort Greely, Alaska and another at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for use in preventing a catastrophic nuclear attack upon the United States. Without the German, Turkish, or Eastern European inceptors, the entire U.S Eastern seaboard is exposed to an Iranian ballistic missile attack, something that should worry any Administration and any American.
The argument that the Iranians are nowhere near the construction of an ICBM that could reach North America also falls flat. Iran has already become the first Muslim country to launch a missile into space – which it achieved in 2005. The capacity to launch a rocket into space is not so dissimilar to the technology needed to launch an ICBM and it is therefore foolish for anyone to suggest that Iran could not achieve the latter capacity soon – particularly with Russian support.
The Iranians themselves will view U.S. deference to Russian demands with no small amount of satisfaction. The attempt to mollify an aggrieved Russia will be read in Tehran as weakness and a further indication that the Obama Administration does not have the will to confront Iranian aggression. The laughable pursuit by the Administration of the Iranians for ‘dialogue’ has turned into a tragic-comedy wherein, with each passing day, it becomes clear that the Iranians have no intention whatsoever of negotiating away their potential nuclear arsenal. The U.S retreat over a missile defense shield aimed at protecting Eastern Europe from that very same Iranian threat, will not be lost on the mullahs who recognize cowardice when they see it.
Other nations who have a bone to pick with the United States should also be smirking. North Korea, a country which has flouted all of its previous agreements on nuclear disarmament, will take heart from the Administration’s volte face and will recognize that such timidity gives them an opening to move aggressively ahead with their own program. Venezuela, the Latin American thorn in America’s side will use the episode to continue to stir Latin American antipathy to the United States, characterizing it as a toothless lion.
Seventy years ago, another toothless lion failed to confront a nation with regional ambitions – resulting in catastrophe for the West. The important lesson then, as now, is that nations often act like human beings and that they can be frightened or intimidated into taking actions which are clearly at odds with their own and their friends’ best interests. That era of appeasement, with the leader of the West firmly fixed in his belief that the German leader was adamantly opposed to the needless waste of innocent life, was the precursor to a conflagration. Chamberlain came back from Munich with nothing but a piece of paper, having traded away the sovereignty of a fellow democratic nation in exchange for empty promises. In this case, Obama did not even receive the promises.
Russia may not be a mirror of 1930s Germany but no one can doubt for a minute that it has been itching for nearly two decades to regain the superpower status it lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It should also be clear that the humiliation of the United States is an important step upon that particular road to recovery. How sad it is that the U.S. has now unwittingly opened up that road for a Russian advance.
The Obama Administration, in its naivety, may well believe that it is winning the hearts of the Russian leaders, but in fact it has achieved just the opposite. Its policy of appeasement will make the Russian bear hungry for another morsel of Western flesh. What a true disgrace it would be, that rather than having American troops stationed in Poland or the Czech Republic manning defensive weapons, they will end up, by necessity, on the Georgian, Latvian or Ukranian borders defending those countries from an aggression their government could have once deterred.
As we remember the capitulation at Munich the words of Neville Chamberlain should echo down to us with an eerie resonance: “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.”
The same people of whom we once knew nothing – the Czech and the Poles – could have once been the guarantors of own security. In betraying them, we may have also betrayed ourselves.