Obama Gets the Missile Shield Question Right

I very nearly didn’t write this column, given some of the recent partisan acrimony over web voices who would never utter a word regarding the Obama administration being wrong about anything or acknowledge that a Republican could ever have a good idea, but I refuse to play that game. While there has been precious little to praise the President over on the domestic front, when he does something right I like to point it out. (Similar to when I praised him for his positions on taxing U.S. corporations’ foreign investments, free trade and his stance on U.S. – Israeli diplomacy.) Another such opportunity arose this week when we learned that the President was going to shelve the “Star Wars” missile shield defense plans in Poland and the Czech Republic.

I’ve been opposed to these plans since George W. Bush was talking about them during his term, and my reasons boil down to a few points which I believe are still just as valid today.

    The technology is still far from proven, and may indeed be little more than an expensive boondoggle. For every report you produce by the experts saying we can pull this off I’ll find you another one from both military and technology experts saying that, when crunch time comes, the odds of knocking down missiles in flight in this fashion are still dodgy at best.

    The cost is huge, both in cash and political capital. We’ve already dumped massive amounts of money into an essentially unproven system which simultaneously pokes a pointless stick into the side of other members of the global community.

    Such a “shield” represents a cold war mentality view of the world, which has morphed quite a bit since the hottest days of the cold war.

The President’s more hawkish detractors are quick to chew on this bone, labeling it “appeasement” to the Russians and every other scary phrase which could be dredged out of the kitchen sink. We’ve supposedly thrown our Eastern European allies under the bus and left them to the less than tender mercies of the frightening Russian Bear. The double standards required to pose such a point are staggering, and really predate the cold war.

We should throw an elbow in the eye of the Russians and toss some missile systems in their back yard even when they object, eh? I wonder how we would react if they wanted to put missile systems in Cuba or Venezuela today? Oh… that’s right. We already know how we would react.

Via Hot Air, we see an approving nod given to an editorial from the Times of London who have the following, war-mongering points to offer.

By trading the loyalty of Poland and the Czech Republic to satisfy Russia’s security concerns, the United States is signalling that it no longer contests Moscow’s right to assert its interests in Eastern Europe.

Oh really? Should we be so quick to “contest Moscow’s right to assert its interests in Eastern Europe?” And I suppose the Times of London would be equally quick to criticize us if we try to ensure our ability to “assert our interests in South America and Cuba?”

As much as some of my hawkish friends might wish it to be so, Russia isn’t going away any time soon. And they have no interest in our posing as the only bully left on the playground. This is a big, complicated world and there are other powerful players on the board with their own diplomatic and security interests to bear in mind. Much of the animosity we seem to draw overseas comes from this overbearing attitude and we don’t need a return to confrontational, “our way or the highway” diplomacy.

Congratulations, President Obama. It was a tough call to make in a country still rife with fears and security concerns, many of which are clearly justified but often overblown to panic proportions. But you stood up and made the right call on this one, and for that, I congratulate you. Well done, sir.

16 Comments

  1. This was never anything but defense industry pork and the last time I looked pigs still can't fly.

  2. The US does actually have a missile defense system in place. It is based upon Aegis combat system which is found upon the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers. What would that do for Poland or the Czech Republic? Not much. But it would work pretty well for the continental US.

  3. You beat me to that one, vey9.
    With the ship-based Aegis system and the ground-based Patriot system, the technology (basically the same in both cases to the Star Wars system) is more than proven itself.
    I have to agree that it does “poke a stick in the side” of many nations (Russia, et. al.). Like Bush, Obama is a “one-world government” type, only with Bush he wished to use NATO where Obama uses UN.
    Within the NATO framework, we were, indeed, working against the Russians. Under the UN framework, we need Russia for key issues.
    Take your pick. Both forms of world government stink – be it the militarily powerful NATO, or the diplomatically powerful UN.
    Given the choice, I'd rather be on top of the heap with Star Wars, than on an equal keel without it.

  4. President Obama showed some real wisdom on this. In an era of huge budget deficits, he found a way to save some money for once. I don't doubt, though, that the GOP will seize on this to paint the President and his party as somehow “weak on defense.” On the other hand, if they do, Jimmy Carter will call those comments “racist”, because it's a black President who made this decision. And so it goes…

  5. I'm a Polish-American, and once again, the Polish people have been screwed by the US. There are Polish soldiers fighting in Afghanistan along side the Brits and Americans, but I guess that doesn't matter to him. So, is Obama hanging Europeans out to dry? I'm not saying Obama is a racist but this action sure seems like it. I wonder if he would have done the same thing if the missiles were pointed at Kenya? Meanwhile the International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran is almost ready to launch. This is contrary to what US intelligence has told Obama. You know, the same CIA that he and Pelosi hung out to dry. So, whose intelligence would you believe?

  6. I don't have a big problem with the decision it has pluses and minuses, but there aren't enough minuses to make me object to it and there may be many other pluses that I'm not aware of so I'll give the President the benefit of the doubt.

  7. VEY9 The Aegis system is going to be used instead of the X-band based boondoggle
    http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/2465/a-sensible-….


    Those who would say the decision was about Russia have it backwards — for exhibits A and B check the quotes in stories by WaPo’s Michael D. Shear and Ann Scott Tyson and the NYT’s Peter Baker and Nicholas Kulish.

    The Bush Administration placed a midcourse interceptor site and X-band radar within the former Warsaw Pact precisely to make a political point to the Russia, not because it provided the best defense. Aegis was always a better technical option.

    Once the White House was no longer motivated to be churlish toward Moscow, that allowed technical considerations at the front of the debate. The fact that this may also open up a world of possibilities with Moscow (and I stress may) is nice, but is not the reason to put theater missile defenses into Europe. The reason is to give NATO allies a defense that works against a threat that exists.

  8. There no doubt are pathological people who are overjoyed that any kind of Western (especially US) missile defense is being dismantled, and that we are retreating from Russia. (The lessons to be learned across the Atlantic don't just involve Poland and the Czech Republic, but Georgia and Ukraine.) There have been such pathological people fervently agitating against missile defense since the 1980s and the election of Evil Reagan, who confronted their beloved USSR.

    The more subtle thing here is what is being sought instead, and if it is smart rather than a “symbolic” fluff gesture. Theater ballistic missiles are actually a greater threat in most anticipated future US conflicts than future missiles from Iran directed against Europe (such as the UK). Sea-based theater missile defense immediately makes you think of a likely conflict area, the Persian Gulf or Iran's nervous neighbors. (And in any conflict, Iran has already said, it'll destroy oil facilities of any neighbor who aids in attacks against Iran, for example.)

  9. DLS – Does your beloved system even work? If it does work, what can it stop but a couple of missiles.The sea based Aegis system will work better than the land based Eastern European system. Are you saying your in favor of wasted pork in Poland?

  10. Neither the Czechs nor Poles need to worry about a Russian invasion. Last I checked, they are part of the EU. If anything, we basically are pulling money we don't have out of those countries.

    Now, considering that the real “war” on terror is in Pakistan/Afghanistan, I think Russian help in those areas would be more valuable than the fake projection of power in eastern europe.

  11. “Does your beloved system even work?”

    There is no system beloved by me. [dusting hands] Oh, does the current system work yet? No. That's not the point. The point is that the concept obviously makes sense and it ought to be made to work, simply weighed against all the other things we're expecting our military and the rest of our federal government to do now and later, at the same time.

  12. And for those who neglected or failed to see it earlier:

    The more subtle thing here is what is being sought instead, and if it is smart rather than a “symbolic” fluff gesture. Theater ballistic missiles are actually a greater threat in most anticipated future US conflicts than future missiles from Iran directed against Europe (such as the UK). Sea-based theater missile defense immediately makes you think of a likely conflict area, the Persian Gulf or Iran's nervous neighbors. (And in any conflict, Iran has already said, it'll destroy oil facilities of any neighbor who aids in attacks against Iran, for example.)

  13. Most complaints I have seen against “Star Wars” dove tail with my own which is that its a great scifi idea that we are pouring money into without the bang for our buck needed. I also think the “beloved USSR” thing was good and dead by at the latest the 1950's early 60's and certainly did not carry over to the 80's in any large way as the were basically financially bankrupt in the 70's and everyone knew what Stalin had done.

  14. “the 'beloved USSR' thing was good and dead by at the latest the 1950's early 60's and certainly did not carry over to the 80's in any large way”

    It got augmented after the radicalization of liberalism in the 1960s here in the West, and obviously became florid in the 1980s after Reagan's election — US-Western nuclear “freeze,” nuclear disarmament, bogus religious arguments against US-Western nukes, attacks on missile installations, “peace” marches, propaganda in the schools, and more. Where else were you then?

  15. “that its a great scifi idea that we are pouring money into without the bang for our buck needed”

    It's not merely science fiction. (That's why the Russians began erecting a defense in the 1960s.)

    Is it difficult? Oh, yes. “Hitting a bullet with another bullet” (hitting a bullet, moreover, which has decoys and active maneuvering during the terminal phase and other defense “penetration aids”) has always been difficult.

    You probably remember the North Korea- and Iran-based threat study a few years ago:

    (Great threat maps and maps that describe the problem of boost-phase interception)

    (mid-course is a better approach, and may also need to rely on “catcher's mitt” terminal interception)

    http://www.aps.org/about/pressreleases/upload/B

    [full report]

    http://www.aps.org/about/pressreleases/upload/B

    [briefing slides]

    http://www.ndu.edu/ctnsp/030814%20NDU%20Full%20

  16. In those schools, at least in the 80's. I saw that but not in any link to Russia nor the dreaded communism. Just peace activists which are a mix of hippies and Quaker's with a little bit of everything else mixed in but they make up the vanguard of that movement. The anti-nuclear movement is not near as strong as it used to be but the industry is much safer and three mile island a much more distant memory. You can't lump those movements in with pro-Russia types of which I have yet to meet one and I am a russian history geek(big fan of Peter the Great!). I am positive those people exist and pretty sure they are or do get involved in those movements but they are an infinitesimally small amount. Probably similar to the royalists in or extreme authoritarians on the right.

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