The Obama administration’s decision to scrap the missile-defense sites planned for Poland and the Czech Republic is bad news. Not so much because the sites are vital to the defense of America or our allies. The administration is undoubtedly right when it says that the immediate threat posed by Iranian missiles is more short-range and that it will be a while before Iran has longer-range missiles capable of hitting Europe. Thus it makes sense to concentrate for the moment on building shorter-range missile defenses. And even longer-range sites don’t necessarily have to be located in Eastern Europe for maximum effectiveness.
All that is true. It is also irrelevant. For the issue of the missile-defense sites had long ago taken on a life of its own. They had occasioned endless bluster and threats from Putin and his gang in the Kremlin who believed, or pretended to believe, that this small number of interceptors was somehow a threat to Russia. How a purely defensive system could threaten another country remains to be understood. The Russians apparently think they have a divine right to threaten Europe with nuclear annihilation and anything that interferes with this is “destabilizing.” Actually the missile-defense sites posed no threat to Russia’s vast missile arsenal, and Putin undoubtedly knew this.
His constant harping on the issue was, I believe, nothing more than cynical opportunism—a convenient way for him to brainwash his own people into thinking that they were being “encircled” by NATO and that only a strongman in the Kremlin could defend them from this (nonexistent) threat. That Obama has now bowed to Putin’s demands sends a dangerous signal of irresoluteness and weakness—similar to the signal another young president sent when he met with a Russian leader in Vienna in 1961. Nikita Khrushchev emerged from his summit with John F. Kennedy convinced that the president was “very inexperienced, even immature” and that he could be rolled. We all know the result: the Cuban Missile Crisis.
There is a danger that Obama is now sending a similar signal of weakness—one that will discourage our allies in Eastern Europe, who went out on a limb to stand with the United States, and one that will encourage our enemies, who will conclude that the U.S. will back down under duress. We can only hope that Obama received some secret concessions from the Russians on the subject of the Iranian nuclear program or some other pressing issue. If he yanked the missile-defense sites without getting anything in return, simply in the hope of engendering “goodwill” among the criminal clique in the Kremlin, that would be the height of naiveté.