President Barack Obama lost a golden opportunity last week and exhibited a surprising naiveté in foreign affairs when he unilaterally agreed to scrap plans for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.
The president decided to undo the actions of former President George W. Bush, who had continued President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” concept by placing a radar station in the Czech Republic and an anti-ballistic missile site in Poland, all on the borders of Russia.
The response of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev to Bush’s strategic move was to threaten retaliation by having Russian ballistic missiles aimed at NATO countries. The U.S. claimed that the two installations were defensive only, and were intended to shoot down nuclear missiles aimed at Western Europe, Israel, and America by Iran, North Korea, or terrorists.
The Russians, of course, scoffed at Bush’s explanation. Remember how the U.S. under President John F. Kennedy reacted when the Soviet Union, then headed by Nikita Khrushchev, placed ballistic missiles in Cuba? We threatened war if they were not removed. We also imposed a blockade preventing Soviet ships from entering Cuban waters without first being searched for nuclear missiles.
A third world war involving the U.S. and the Soviet Union was avoided when the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw all of its nuclear ballistic missiles from Cuba and the U.S. agreed to withdraw its ballistic missiles from NATO member Turkey.
Obama should have secured a similar quid pro quo from Russia before he terminated the planned missile defense program in Eastern Europe. What do we need from Russia? We want Russia to use its influence with Iran to end Iran’s research and development of nuclear weapons. If Iran declines to stop its nuclear weapons program, we want Russia’s support for greater sanctions in a resolution to be voted on at the United Nations Security Council. Russia has publicly stated it will oppose such a resolution. The leverage that Obama might have had with Russia was lost when he unilaterally gave Russia what it wanted.
All this is not to say that Obama was wrong in terminating the nuclear shield program. The Obama administration stated that the Bush plan was directed at intercontinental missiles Iran did not yet have and was years away from developing. In my opinion, the president was right to come to that conclusion but wrong in the execution of his new plan.
It is generally accepted that Obama has restored the international standing of the U.S. As The New York Times stated in a Sept. 20 article, “Foreign counterparts flock to meet with him, and polls show that people in many countries feel much better about the United States. But eight months after his inauguration, all that good will so far has translated into limited tangible policy benefits for Mr. Obama.”
Surely there must be some middle ground between the swagger of Bush and Obama’s rush to please. My choice is the policy of former President Teddy Roosevelt: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
As a result of naiveté or bad advice, Obama dropped one of America’s biggest sticks without apparently obtaining any concessions that would protect us from those who want to see us destroyed. The president has lost a great opportunity.
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