Walter Russell Mead thinks Obama has mishandled the “flexibility” non-controversy:
At this point, whatever the president’s post-November plans might be, Team Obama should have come out tough on Russia, reassuring the country that U.S. national interests were in safe hands and that the president wasn’t planning to give away the store. Instead, the White House press secretary announced “…it’s in the interest of the United States to work cooperatively with the Russians. And that’s what he’s going to do.” This makes it sound like Obama is indeed planning to make sweeping, politically unpalatable concessions to the Russians [bold mine-DL]. The Romney camp must be thanking its lucky stars.
Of course, it is in the interest of the United States to work cooperatively with Russia. Saying this publicly doesn’t hint at making “sweeping, politically unpalatable concessions.” Where did Mead get that? That makes as much sense as describing all forms of diplomatic engagement as appeasement. The U.S. doesn’t have to choose between hard-line demagoguery and abject surrender. According to Mead, the right way to handle this non-event was to engage in politically-motivated anti-Russian posturing despite the possible adverse consequences for U.S.-Russian relations. In other words, he thinks the administration should have potentially jeopardized U.S. interests that are served by cooperating with Russia in order to pander to its ideological critics here at home. Even if that were the right short-term political move, it would be potentially to U.S. interests, and the administration is right not to take the easy way out.
The only people who think that there is any danger of Obama “giving away the store” are the same opponents who wrongly think he has already sold out on national security. There is nothing that could have satisfied these people, and it would have been a mistake to try. What is most impressive about the hysteria over Obama’s remarks is that none of the issues involved has anything to do with American security. No matter what arrangement the administration comes to with Russia regarding missile defense, U.S. interests are not at risk.