As an advocate of scrapping the proposed missile defense system in central Europe since it was first announced, I was pleased to hear that the administration scrapped the system, which was supposedly designed to defend against a chimerical Iranian missile threat. By scrapping this system, the administration admitted that the long-range missile threat from Iran did not exist, which is what critics of the system had been saying for some time. They also implicitly acknowledged that the system was never really intended to defend against an Iranian threat. Instead, it was always another provocation aimed at Russia by providing a pretext for putting American soldiers in Poland and the Czech Republic on a permanent basis. Indeed, it is impossible to understand the Republican freakout over this decision if we do not take for granted that the missile shield was an anti-Russian move that was embraced by the governments in Warsaw and Prague in no small part because it was an anti-Russian move.
Lech Walesa’s response to the President’s decision was telling. Walesa was quoted by the WSJ in an article on the central European reaction. He said, “It’s not that we need the shield [bold mine-DL], but it’s about the way we’re treated here.” In the same way, Moscow might admit that the interceptors in themselves represented no significant military threat, but were a symbol of disrespect and hostility. In reality, the security of both allied nations remains as strong as it has been since they joined the Alliance. This makes the hysterics of Republican hawks simply comical, and it reminds us that they have virtually nothing worthwhile to contribute to foreign policy debate. Of course it is absurd for hawks to portray this as some kind of betratyal of Poland and the Czech Republic. There has been no betrayal. If Polish and Czech voters should be angry with anyone, it is their own governments that deserve their scorn for signing off on participating in an unnecessary system that did nothing to improve their security just because Washington wanted it so.
The one useful thing hawks have done in their silly responses to Obama’s decision is to abandon the weak security rationales they have used until now to justify support for this system and reveal that there is little more than anti-Russian paranoia behind their “support” for U.S. allies in eastern Europe. It goes without saying that we would defend our NATO allies in eastern Europe against attack. Indeed, what Obama has done by scrapping this system is to remove the bullseyes from the backs of Poland and the Czech Republic that the missile shield had placed on them. This reversal of foolish Bush-era policy has actually enhanced and improved security for Poland and the Czech Republic, because it does not expose them needlessly to new risks. The administration has also refused to pursue a policy that gained as much support as it did from the exploitation of anti-Russian nationalism in eastern Europe.
All that having been said, the administration is going to be disappointed. Having scrapped the shield, it has held out the false promise that this decision will make Moscow more cooperative in pressuring Iran. As I have said before, this is not going to happen. The decsion to abandon this shield was the right one as far as both allied security and Russian relations were concerned, and it should be defended on those grounds. Moscow is certainly pleased that the proposed shield will not be built, but it would be a serious mistake to expect Russian help in squeezing Iran on its nuclear program. Russia has no reason to do this. If the administration insists that Russian support for tightening sanctions or isolating Iran is the “payoff” for abandoning the shield, the decision will be judged to have been a quid pro quo that gained us nothing. If we see it instead not as a concession to Moscow, but rather as a concession to reality and common sense, it does not have to produce Russian cooperation on Iran’s nuclear program to be regarded as the correct and appropriate move.
P.S. Ackerman sums it up pretty well:
If Gates, the model of a pragmatic defense secretary who often discusses the need to reset defense policy around “real” and not “hypothetical” threats, doesn’t see an actual cost to U.S. or allied security, then none exists.