October 19, 2009 |
by Richard Brownell
The naïveté of the Obama administration was on full display this past week after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Russia failed to drum up support for tough sanctions against Iran. Clinton and Obama had hoped that Russia would join the United States in bringing heavy pressure to bear to stop Tehran’s nuclear program. They had been led to believe as much just a few weeks ago by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. But Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Clinton that diplomacy needed to be given a chance to work and that sanctions would be “counterproductive.”
Clinton was clearly disappointed by the about-face, but neither she nor Obama should have been surprised by this development. Russia is interested in reestablishing itself as a global power, and its actions are motivated solely by that goal. If Iran develops nuclear weapons, Russia faces no real threat from it. They do business with Iran. The two countries are strategic partners. Only the U.S., its European allies, and Israel would be at risk. In the unlikely event the U.S. were to go to war with Iran to prevent development of its nuclear program, the price of oil would skyrocket and Russia would be able to cash in on its own huge reserves. They win either way.
Liberal supporters of Obama’s foreign policy agenda, such as it is, maintain this is a simplistic view, but modern Russia is not a complex nation. Their goals are clear, and they are committed to realizing them, U.S. concessions notwithstanding. And by concessions, I am referring to Obama’s September move to scrap the Eastern European missile defense system. Russia had been against the development of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic since President George W. Bush called for it a few years ago. They believed it a threat to their own nation, though it was explicitly designed to protect Europe from a long-range missile attack from Iran.
Obama said publicly at the time that the system was of no use because Iran was 3-5 years away from developing long-range missiles. We have since learned that the Iranians are much closer to building these missiles than we originally assumed, and we simply have no real idea how long it will be before they are capable of detonating a nuclear device. Recognizing our dangerous lack of knowledge of just what Tehran is up to, wouldn’t it be prudent to proceed with the system anyway?
Obama also stated that the technology just isn’t there yet for effectively deploying the system. This is not accurate, and he was only relying on standard liberal rhetoric that the entire missile defense concept is not technologically feasible. That’s an argument that frankly only a Luddite would embrace. If history proves anything, it is that the human mind is capable of developing whatever gadget is necessary to fill a need. There have been fits and starts along the way to developing a missile defense system, as with any research and development program, but real progress has been made in targeting and deployment in the last decade. For years, liberals have predictably played up the failures and explained away the successes. The failures allow them to argue for reducing funding at precisely the time when more funding is needed to learn from past mistakes and proceed toward a successful system. It’s an interesting little negative feedback loop they have created, and it has slowed the overall progress of the system for decades.
Obama’s public excuses about scrapping the missile defense system and replacing it with some ship-based anti-missile defense in the Mediterranean were only part of the reason behind his actions. He denied this at the time, but it was clear that Obama also hoped to earn points with the Russians by obliquely acceding to their demands to remove the system. His gamble was that by scrapping the system, and irritating our Polish and Czech allies in the process, he would gain Russia’s support in putting the screws to Iran to get that country to give up its nuclear program.
We have now seen that Obama severely miscalculated. Lavrov’s blunt refusal to back Clinton’s call for sanctions against Iran kills the last reason behind Obama’s scrapping the missile shield. Poor strategic thinking and longstanding liberal prejudice against missile defense were also at play here.
Obama’s miscalculation will be an unmistakable blow to American prestige on the world stage. Even if we take him at his word that his decision to cancel the Polish and Czech deployments was not swayed by Russian pressure, the international view that now exists is that America caved to Russia and got nothing in return. And if you need a bigger clue that Obama made the wrong move, consider this: if Dmitri Medvedev, Vladimir Putin, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are pleased with Obama’s call to remove the defense shield and America’s Eastern European allies are upset, then that means that Obama messed up.