The next American president will face the continued threat from Iranian ballistic missiles and their associated nuclear program. However, the election of Barack Obama would destroy a chance for the United States and Europe to be protected from such threats, This would undermine future associated diplomacy undertaken to change the course of Iranian behavior in the Middle East and beyond.
Consider: Mr. Obama has called for the elimination of billions in missile defense spending. His Senate colleague, New York Democrat Charles Schumer, has called for the U.S. to stop deploying interceptors in Europe in return for Russian support of economic sanctions against Iran, An Obama adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has actively pushed the Polish government, in whose country the interceptors would be deployed, to stonewall any deployment during the remaining months of the Bush administration. European missile defense opponents, including past Clinton administration officials, have negotiated with Greenpeace on how to stop these deployments.
Whether economic sanctions would bring down the Iranian mullahs is unclear. And while Mr. Schumer says we could pay Russia $3 billion a year to make up for its loss of Iranian trade, who else would line up for such bribes? He assumes that China will join the effort as well - but without mention of what price tag that entails. Yet even if such a deal is plausible, in the meantime, Iranian ballistic missiles, already modernized and deployed, would continue to threaten U.S. interests. Why give up these defenses?
This leads us back to the presidential race. To negotiate with an adversary one must carefully “set the table” to acquire leverage to secure a deal that would protect U.S. security. But the Iranian regime has laid out no “deal” in which such U.S. security concerns would be met. Its stance has echoed that of North Korea: Guarantee Pyongyang the unfettered right to take over South Korea and it will “think about” giving up its nuclear arms. So too, Tehran: its nuclear weapons, once mated with its ballistic missiles, give it the leverage to provide top cover for its terrorist activities. Eliminating one key factor in defending the West - missile defenses - would be utter folly.
Mr. Schumer appears to be of two minds on this. He says the U.S. should “cease building ineffective” missile defenses - without explaining why such “ineffective” defenses would drive Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to “apoplexy.” Then he says - correctly - that missile defenses “strengthen the relationship between Eastern Europe and NATO, with real troops and equipment on the ground. It mocks Mr. Putin’s dream of eventually restoring Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe.”
Peter Huessy is president of GeoStrategic Analysis.