I caught some flack from my conservative friends last week when I agreed with President Obama on the decision to shelve the star wars missile defense boondoggle in Eastern Europe. While anyone could rightly question my bona fides on such issues, they may want to pay a little more attention when no less a personage than Secretary of Defense Robert Gates weighs in on the subject.
Last week, President Obama — on my recommendation and with the advice of his national-security team and the unanimous support of our senior military leadership — decided to discard that plan in favor of a vastly more suitable approach. In the first phase, to be completed by 2011, we will deploy proven, sea-based SM-3 interceptor missiles — weapons that are growing in capability — in the areas where we see the greatest threat to Europe.
The second phase, which will become operational around 2015, will involve putting upgraded SM-3s on the ground in Southern and Central Europe. All told, every phase of this plan will include scores of SM-3 missiles, as opposed to the old plan of just 10 ground-based interceptors. This will be a far more effective defense should an enemy fire many missiles simultaneously — the kind of attack most likely to occur as Iran continues to build and deploy numerous short- and medium-range weapons.
I felt those Polish and Czech installations were a bad idea, both in terms of the politics and the technology. Many of the President’s critics disagree, and I understand that. But Gates puts them in a tough position. When you challenge many conservative and Republican pundits to name one thing that Obama has done right, the default answer is almost always to say, “keeping Gates on as Sec Def.”
It’s a safe answer for Republicans, because he was a Bush II appointment, and saying “Obama was right” is shielded by being able to say, “Bush was right, so we’ll credit Obama for at least recognizing that.” Now this experienced official, upon who so many from both sides of the aisle placed their trust, informs us that Obama acted on his expert analysis and the unanimous consent of the military leadership. It’s going to be hard for Obama’s detractors to suddenly do a 180 turn and say that Gates is some sort of partisan clown or inexpert hack on the subject.
Steve Benen weighs in on the subject with the following observation.
“Those who say we are scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting what we are doing,” Gates added.
It need not be an either/or situation.