President Barack Obama has scrapped an expensive ($56 bn so far) and probably useless “missile shield” program in the Czech Republic and Poland to which Russia had vehemently objected, and which had increasingly been described as aimed not at Russia but at Iran. In fact, the proposed ten anti-missile missiles in Poland the proposed radar station in the Czech Republic were part of wide-ranging push by Washington to encircle Russia while it was weak. Russia had indicated that the missile shield plan was an obstacle to further talks on nuclear disarmament.
Instead, Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates say that they will conduct missile defense from aircraft carriers at sea– that they haven’t given up on the principle, but are just doing it smarter. They are even cleverly turning the bizarre Iranian argument against its Republican inventors, pointing out that if the fear is really (wink, wink) Tehran, well it doesn’t have ICBMs or anything and the anti-missile batteries such as the Patriots on US naval vessels would be more effective.
The so-called shield on land was causing a lot of trouble for no good reason. AFP notes, “Critics argued the system could not be proven to work, was focused on a non-existent threat from Iranian long-range hardware and needlessly angered Russia.”
It is controversial among scientists whether missile defense is practical. I can’t imagine why in the world Iran would fire a missile at the Czech Republic or any other European country (Iran’s military budget is comparable to that of Norway or Singapore– it isn’t exactly a hulking behemoth stalking Europe). The US policy establishment has a long history of using euphemisms. Thus, Washington types often say “North Korea” when they actually mean China, because no one cares if they p.o. Pyongyang, but angering Beijing is unwise. Obviously, the Bush administration was talking about an Iranian strike on Europe as a symbolic way of speaking of a Russian attack.
But despite White House denials, surely the cancellation of the system is mainly about Obama’s hope for a more positive engagement with Russia. The Afghanistan War lurks in the background; Russia’s willingness to allow NATO to transship materiel for Afghanistan by rail is crucial now that the Karachi-Khyber Pass route in Pakistan is problematic. If you fight a war in a landlocked country, you need the help of neighbors for logistics. In Afghanistan’s case, that means Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the first instance, and beyond Central Asia (itself landlocked), the Russian Federation. Fred Weir at CSM wonders if the cancellation will convince Russia to be more willing to see UN Security Council sanctions on Iran increased (personally, I doubt that).
The rightwing squawkers at this move should explain how, practically, they would supply US troops if Russia were to turn hostile to such transshipment. The American Right is responsible for putting the US in this position of weakness by miring it in two Asian land wars and deregulating the economy into collapse. That they attack Obama for doing what is necessary to extricate us is mere posturing and hypocrisy.
They should also explain why America’s closest allies– Britain, France and Germany– all greeted the decision with effusive praise and hopes that it would contribute to better relations with Russia.
Still, the decision was received with dismay by some Polish and Czech politicians, who fear it will embolden Russian reassertion. (The Czech left, in contrast, was delighted). Again Aljazeerah English has a good reporet:
Obama’s smart move is a form of social intelligence– he has reversed Bush’s cowboy go-it-alone-ism, and is creating the conditions for US ‘resource cumulation’– getting others to cooperate in achieving shared goals.
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