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Why did Obama drop his chips before heading to the table?

Adam FivensonOn Thursday it was announced that President Obama has decided to forego the Bush administration's plans to place a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Bush administration’s plans were intended to prevent Iranian missile strikes on Europe; However, most experts agree that the reason for placing a missile defense system in Eastern Europe had little to do with Iran, which is unlikely to gain long-range missile technology for some time.

Instead it was designed to be a barking dog at Russia's doorstep. This analysis makes sense, given the Bush administration's icy relationship with The Kremlin.

The START-1 treaty, signed in 1991, was the first of three agreements to reduce ballistic weapons between the U.S. and Russia, and is scheduled to expire this coming December 5th. A new round of talks promising further reductions is due before that date.

Of President Obama's decision, which greatly reduces pressure on Russia, one must ask "why now?" It would seem that going to the table with such a hefty bargaining chip would be a boon in the game of horse trading that is arms negotiation.

The move is in line with the administration's apparent policy of trying to lead by example, as it has done in extending an open hand in an attempt to bring Iran to the nuclear negotiating table (mission: success, the U.S., Iran, and other nations will begin "wide-ranging" discussions in October).

Nevertheless, given the fact that Russia never saw the missile defense system as legitimate to begin with, the move probably won't be taken as the type of grand opening gesture that would necessitate a reciprocal action by The Kremlin, but instead as a return to normalcy, meaning that the Russians will come to the negotiation table expecting more concessions from the U.S.

Iran, to its apparent credit, refused to "take the first step" and abandon its nuclear program, which was the Bush administration's key precondition to beginning open talks, and is now being rewarded by the Obama administration with diplomatic discussions.

Israel, much like Iran, has rejected calls for it to nullify its advantage by halting or ceasing settlement construction in the West Bank without getting a concession of equal value from the Palestinian Authority.

Both of these parties will go into their respective negotiations (yes, the Israelis and Palestinians will end up sitting across the table again soon) with a significant ace in the hole that they may or may not be willing to give up.

The question is, why give up ours before the game even begins? Why not wait for the next round of negotiations with Russia to start in December, and offer to re-shuffle our missile defense system in exchange for more a concession from the Russians?

Another set of questions: does this U-turn in policy have any connection to changes in defense acquisitions policy, like the scrapping of the F-22 Raptor program, which was actually supported by Secretary of Defense Gates himself? Is there any indication that the decision was made in order to save tax payers' money? Or is it purely foreign policy-driven as administration officials are indicating?

These are all questions that will be answered in due time.

  • Ed Hahnenberg

    In August of 2008, the United States and Poland signed a deal to place a U.S. missile defense base just 115 miles from Russia, a move followed swiftly by a new warning from Moscow of a possible military response.

    For many Poles, whose country has been a staunch U.S. ally, the accord represented what they believed would be a guarantee of safety for themselves in the face of a newly assertive Russia.

    Negotiators sealed the deal against a backdrop of Russian military action in Georgia, a former Soviet republic turned U.S. ally, that has worried former Soviet satellites across eastern Europe. It prompted sharp rhetoric over the system, which it contends is aimed at Russia despite Washington’s insistence the site is purely defensive.

    During the Cold War, Poland was under Soviet rule by a puppet leader controlled by Moscow. Remember his name? President Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski. His presidency last a couple of years before it capitulated to the Solidarity union movement of just before the Solidarity movement headed by Lech Wałęsa with the moral leadership of the future Pope John Paul II toppled Communist rule in the country in 1990. Walesa went on to become Poland’s president for five years, having earlier won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for founding Solidarity.

    Poland became a member of NATO in 1999 along with the Czech Republic and Hungary. Poles then voted to join the European Union in a referendum in June 2003, with Poland becoming a full member in May of 2004.

    So much for the recent history of Poland. However, has Poland been left out to dry by the Obama administration? In February, Obama sent a secret letter to Russia’s president last month suggesting that he would back off deploying a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons.
    The letter to Russian President Medvedev was hand-delivered in Moscow by top administration officials. It said the United States would not need to proceed with the interceptor system, which has been vehemently opposed by Russia since it was proposed by the Bush administration, if Iran halted any efforts to build nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.

    The Poles placed great faith in the United States during the Bush administration. It took a huge risk trusting the U.S. to keep its word on the missile defense agreement. However, the Obama administration appeared to have other ideas, despite Secretary of State Clinton’s words then: “As members of NATO, we take seriously our alliance commitments and I’m very confident that we will work through any issues that lie ahead — on any front.”

    Poland wanted the U.S. to honor its agreement to build a missile defense base in its country. Poland’s president has said that scrapping the project to improve ties with Russia would be an unfriendly gesture toward Poland. In Brussels on March 22, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said that Poland took significant political risk signing a pact in August with the U.S. approving a missile defense system in the country.

    “Russian generals, and even the Russian president, still continues to threaten us with the deployment of medium-range missiles in our immediate vicinity,” he said. “So we signed with the previous administration. We patiently wait for the decision of the new administration and we hope we don’t regret our trust in the United States.”

    So, what about Poland?

    Obama has done the unthinkable…the White House announced on September 17 that the US is shelving its plans to build a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in Central Europe. This impacts not only Poland but the Czech Republic…and Europe itself.

    By making the announcement on September 17 about abandoning ballistic missile defense plans for Poland and Czech Republic, the Obama White House chose a date with painful historical significance for the Poles. Under the terms of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland 70 years ago, on September 17, 1939, while western and central parts of Poland were being overrun by German armies.

    Russia has fought hard to keep American missiles away from its borders, and President Obama’s decision is seen as a concession to Moscow in return for Russian support in curbing Iran’s nuclear program. The Poles, always fearful of the Kremlin’s imperial reach, are more likely to see it as a betrayal of their country, a faithful NATO ally of the US.
    As I wrote in another forum this spring, “I fear for Poland and its being sold down the river in the name of diplomacy by an inexperienced and naïve President.”

    Sadly I was correct then. Just watch now as Russia encroaches again on Georgia. The real prize for the Putin-puppet president will be the breadbasket of the former Soviet Union, the Ukraine. I taught a student from the Ukraine. I fear for her future. Russia certainly is thinking up strategy to begin rebuilding the Soviet empire in light of this decision by the most naïve president the U.S. has had in many decades.

    It is my opinion, as I wrote Fox News, that Obama caved to a sinister request by Russia’s president to release the news on Sept. 17th, the 70th anniversary of the Soviet’s invasion of Poland, to show that the U.S. wants friendship MORE with Russia than its faithful allies, Poland and the Czech Republic. Or was it furthered along by the cozy relationship of General Electric with Putin at the International Investment Forum Sochi 2009?

    If either assumption is correct, I find this despicable and the fruit not of a naive president, but of a betrayer of this country’s long tradition of honoring its commitments.

  • Ed Hahnenberg

    In August of 2008, the United States and Poland signed a deal to place a U.S. missile defense base just 115 miles from Russia, a move followed swiftly by a new warning from Moscow of a possible military response.

    For many Poles, whose country has been a staunch U.S. ally, the accord represented what they believed would be a guarantee of safety for themselves in the face of a newly assertive Russia.

    Negotiators sealed the deal against a backdrop of Russian military action in Georgia, a former Soviet republic turned U.S. ally, that has worried former Soviet satellites across eastern Europe. It prompted sharp rhetoric over the system, which it contends is aimed at Russia despite Washington's insistence the site is purely defensive.

    During the Cold War, Poland was under Soviet rule by a puppet leader controlled by Moscow. Remember his name? President Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski. His presidency last a couple of years before it capitulated to the Solidarity union movement of just before the Solidarity movement headed by Lech Wałęsa with the moral leadership of the future Pope John Paul II toppled Communist rule in the country in 1990. Walesa went on to become Poland’s president for five years, having earlier won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for founding Solidarity.

    Poland became a member of NATO in 1999 along with the Czech Republic and Hungary. Poles then voted to join the European Union in a referendum in June 2003, with Poland becoming a full member in May of 2004.

    So much for the recent history of Poland. However, has Poland been left out to dry by the Obama administration? In February, Obama sent a secret letter to Russia’s president last month suggesting that he would back off deploying a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons.
    The letter to Russian President Medvedev was hand-delivered in Moscow by top administration officials. It said the United States would not need to proceed with the interceptor system, which has been vehemently opposed by Russia since it was proposed by the Bush administration, if Iran halted any efforts to build nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.

    The Poles placed great faith in the United States during the Bush administration. It took a huge risk trusting the U.S. to keep its word on the missile defense agreement. However, the Obama administration appeared to have other ideas, despite Secretary of State Clinton’s words then: “As members of NATO, we take seriously our alliance commitments and I'm very confident that we will work through any issues that lie ahead — on any front.”

    Poland wanted the U.S. to honor its agreement to build a missile defense base in its country. Poland's president has said that scrapping the project to improve ties with Russia would be an unfriendly gesture toward Poland. In Brussels on March 22, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said that Poland took significant political risk signing a pact in August with the U.S. approving a missile defense system in the country.

    “Russian generals, and even the Russian president, still continues to threaten us with the deployment of medium-range missiles in our immediate vicinity,” he said. “So we signed with the previous administration. We patiently wait for the decision of the new administration and we hope we don't regret our trust in the United States.”

    So, what about Poland?

    Obama has done the unthinkable…the White House announced on September 17 that the US is shelving its plans to build a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in Central Europe. This impacts not only Poland but the Czech Republic…and Europe itself.

    By making the announcement on September 17 about abandoning ballistic missile defense plans for Poland and Czech Republic, the Obama White House chose a date with painful historical significance for the Poles. Under the terms of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland 70 years ago, on September 17, 1939, while western and central parts of Poland were being overrun by German armies.

    Russia has fought hard to keep American missiles away from its borders, and President Obama’s decision is seen as a concession to Moscow in return for Russian support in curbing Iran’s nuclear program. The Poles, always fearful of the Kremlin’s imperial reach, are more likely to see it as a betrayal of their country, a faithful NATO ally of the US.
    As I wrote in another forum this spring, “I fear for Poland and its being sold down the river in the name of diplomacy by an inexperienced and naïve President.”

    Sadly I was correct then. Just watch now as Russia encroaches again on Georgia. The real prize for the Putin-puppet president will be the breadbasket of the former Soviet Union, the Ukraine. I taught a student from the Ukraine. I fear for her future. Russia certainly is thinking up strategy to begin rebuilding the Soviet empire in light of this decision by the most naïve president the U.S. has had in many decades.

    It is my opinion, as I wrote Fox News, that Obama caved to a sinister request by Russia's president to release the news on Sept. 17th, the 70th anniversary of the Soviet's invasion of Poland, to show that the U.S. wants friendship MORE with Russia than its faithful allies, Poland and the Czech Republic. Or was it furthered along by the cozy relationship of General Electric with Putin at the International Investment Forum Sochi 2009?

    If either assumption is correct, I find this despicable and the fruit not of a naive president, but of a betrayer of this country's long tradition of honoring its commitments.

  • Anonymous

    weird and unexpectable decision. imho there are more minuses for US than advantages (worsen relationship with eastern europe and kremlin politic encouraging against maybe saving couple of billions for not installing the missile shield)

  • MaratAbdrakhmanov

    weird and unexpectable decision. imho there are more minuses for US than advantages (worsen relationship with eastern europe and kremlin politic encouraging against maybe saving couple of billions for not installing the missile shield)

  • Anonymous

    Ed, thanks for your perspective.

    Another question that was on my mind was: given the rosy portrait administration officials have painted of the decision, saying it will cost less and better address the threat of Iranian short and medium range missiles, it seemed that there must be some major trade-off. Poland’s (and the Czechs’) trust was just that, I.E., the chips we dropped before sitting down at the bargaining table.

  • afivenson

    Ed, thanks for your perspective.

    Another question that was on my mind was: given the rosy portrait administration officials have painted of the decision, saying it will cost less and better address the threat of Iranian short and medium range missiles, it seemed that there must be some major trade-off. Poland's (and the Czechs') trust was just that, I.E., the chips we dropped before sitting down at the bargaining table.

  • Anonymous

    Which special interest groups will profit from this decision? Follow the money….

  • thrashertm

    Which special interest groups will profit from this decision? Follow the money….

  • Anonymous

    Marat, there are definitely two sides of this decision as any other. If they are intending to do what they said they were going to do, defend from Iranian missile launches, the decision will be more effective.

    Obviously there are sacrifices that come along with that decision, but obviously the administration has decided that its strategic relationship with certain Eastern European countries is strong enough that they will have other opportunities to strengthen those strategic alliances.

  • afivenson

    Marat, there are definitely two sides of this decision as any other. If they are intending to do what they said they were going to do, defend from Iranian missile launches, the decision will be more effective.

    Obviously there are sacrifices that come along with that decision, but obviously the administration has decided that its strategic relationship with certain Eastern European countries is strong enough that they will have other opportunities to strengthen those strategic alliances.

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