THE PROGRESS REPORT
September 18, 2009
by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, and Zaid Jilani
Smarter Missle Defense
In what the Guardian called "arguably the most concrete shift in foreign policy from that of the Bush administration," President Obama announced yesterday that the United States would abandon President Bush's plan to construct a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic and instead focus defensive measures on more immediate threats, such as short-range Iranian missiles capable of targeting the Middle East and parts of Europe. Obama said yesterday that the new system "will provide stronger, smarter, and swifter defenses of American forces and America's allies," noting that the new system is "more comprehensive than the previous program" and that its capabilities are "proven" and "cost-effective." The new program, at the recommendation of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will unfold in three stages. First, by 2011, the Navy will deploy Aegis ships carrying SM-3 missiles to the eastern Mediterranean Sea to better protect U.S. allies in the Middle East and East Europe. The second phase, beginning around 2015, "will field an upgraded, land-based SM-3 in allied countries," perhaps even Poland and the Czech Republic, while the third phase envisions larger, longer-range defense missiles based in Euro pe to protect against intercontinental ballistic missiles.
RIGHT-WING FREAK OUT: Like clockwork, cries and complaints of "appeasement," "surrender," and "weakness" emerged immediately from the right wing, with many implying that the Obama administration is scrapping missile defense altogether. "This is just pre-emptive capitulation, although like everything else, the rhetoric is that we're doing the opposite," neoconservative hawk John Bolton said. The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb spent most of yesterday whining on the magazine's blog, ridiculing Obama as "an Illinois state senator," and saying the administration is "smearing missile defense." Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney joined in as well, calling Obama's decision "alarming and dangerous." "The cult of Reagan is a major force" driving the opposition among the right, The Wonk Room's Matt Duss writes. "Given that conservative s have lately been demanding that the president 'listen to the military' on more troops for Afghanistan, it's interesting that so many feel that he should 'ignore the military' now on missile defense," Duss said, adding, "It's almost as if 'listen to the military' were a cudgel used by conservatives when convenient, and dropped when their favored projects are threatened."
BACK TO REALITY: "Those who say we are scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing," said Gates, who has vowed to rein in bloated defense spending. The new missile configuration "provides better missile defense capability than the program I recommended almost three years ago," he said. The Bush system was designed to counter a threat from Iranian long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles, but Gates said that intelligence experts concluded that short- and medium-range missiles were "developing more rapidly than previously projected" in Iran and the new system is adapting to the change. "Let's be clear; this is a huge victory for common sense over fantasy, and for responsible defense budgeting," said Robert Farley, assistant professor at the University of Kentucky's Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. "This project had no function other than to serve the pecuniary interest of the missile defense industry, and to sate the ideological lust of conservatives infatuated with St. Reagan," Farley added. Indeed, as Obama noted in his remarks on the policy shift, Bush's system was unproven, and the U.S. has "made specific and proven adva nces in our missile defense technology, particularly with regard to land- and sea-based interceptors and the sensors that support them." "Bush's idea was hugely expensive, and massively illogical," Center for American Progress Action Fund fellow Matthew Yglesias writes. "For one thing, Poland and the Czech Republic aren't in any sense between Iran and Europe. Nor is Iran actually threatening Europe with any missiles. Which is why nobody in Europe particularly wanted this thing built," he said.
POLES, CZECHS, AND RUSSIANS: Obama has also been facing charges from his critics of abandoning Europe, but it's unclear just how popular Bush's scheme was. While some Czech and Polish politicians have scoffed at Obama's decision, the Bush administration found it difficult in the beginning to get the Czech and Polish governments on-board its plan. Poland only signed on after getting an agreement for funds to modernize their military, a point Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski acknowledged last February when talk of abandoning the Bush program surfaced. "What we would like to be honored is what went along with" the Bush missile-defense system, he said, adding, "We paid quite a political price for the agreement, both in terms of internal politics and in our relations with Russia." A poll this year found that 53 percent of Polish respondents were against program. Another recent poll found that 70 percent of Czechs opposed hosting part of the missile shield system, and the final treaty faced strong opposition in the Czech parliament. But conservatives still complained that Obama's new policy exposes Eastern Europeans, who are, as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said yesterday, "increasingly wary of renewed Russian adventurism" (an expa nsionist "adventurism" the right wrongly predicted last year during Russia's war with Georgia). Nevertheless, "Poland does not appear to be emerging empty-handed," as Sikorski announced that the U.S. will still deploy patriot missile batteries in Poland. After all, Poland, the Czech Republic, and the United States all still belong to the same security alliance. In fact, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reportedly said Obama's decision was a "positive step."