Indefensible defense

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When it came to acting on behalf of peace in the 21st century, the Obama administration weighed “sphere of influence” against “sphere of security” and came down solidly on the side of the Russian czars.

I am referring to the administration’s refusal to deploy long-range defensive ground-based interceptor (GBI) missiles in Poland. For an administration that insistently congratulates itself on “smart diplomacy,” this is a shortsighted decision that sets back 21st century collective defense (sphere of security) at least five critical years and likely longer.

Moreover, President Obama’s personal announcement of the policy decision was disastrously timed, an utter tin ear to grand history. Just this month, on Sept. 1, Polish President Lech Kaczynski demanded an apology from Russia for the “stab in the back” that occurred Sept. 17, 1939, when Russian tanks invaded eastern Poland and began linking up with Nazi panzers attacking from the west.

On Sept. 17, 2009, free Poland (liberated 20 years ago from the dungeon of Kremlin tyranny) took another knife, as the Obama administration dumped the GBI deployment in favor of pursuing its befogged “reset” of relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Little wonder Poles have dissed the decision. The White House’s decision also damaged relations with the Czech Republic, which had agreed to host an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) radar as part of the defensive system. Recall that, in 1938 in Munich, the West sold out Czechoslovakia in an attempt to “reset” diplomacy with Adolf Hitler.

If you think the Poles and Czechs are overreacting, then you might brush up on World War II’s effects on their nations and their extended prison term in the Kremlin’s “sphere of influence” that followed it, known as the Cold War.

Smart diplomacy? History will judge the level of intellect involved in this decision, as well as the level of strategic awareness and diplomatic deftness. But the odds are that the descriptive phrase will not contain an adjective associated with brilliance or courage. A “YouTube Era” Neville Chamberlain seems more apt.

Mr. Obama, however, ritually included the word “smarter” in his Sept. 17, 2009, statement. “To put it simply,” he said, “our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter and swifter defenses of American forces and America’s allies. It is more comprehensive than the previous program; it deploys capabilities that are proven and cost-effective; and it sustains and builds upon our commitment to protect the U.S. homeland against long-range ballistic missile threats; and it ensures and enhances the protection of all our NATO allies.”

Obama began with a narrow truth: Deploying short- and mid-range ABM systems to defend friendly nations against an Iranian ballistic missile attack is a good idea. In the Sept. 11, 2009, Wall Street Journal, Iraqi commentator Omar Fadhil al-Nidawi and I suggested that Iraq acquire Patriot PAC-3 short-range ABMs to provide a basic defense against Iranian missiles.

Iraqis know the threat. During their long conflict in the 1980s, Iraq and Iran fought a “war of the cities” with theater ballistic missiles. Saddam fired SCUDs at Israel and Saudi Arabia. America could deploy a belt of Patriot batteries and Navy Standard-3 ABMs along the Persian Gulf littoral and in Turkey.

Mr. Obama says he will deploy Patriot PAC-3s and Navy Standard-3s in Europe.

Fine. But to call substituting short- and mid-range ABMs for the GBIs “smarter” and more comprehensive is balderdash, and balderdash that ultimately increases risks to Europe and the United States, while undermining once-strong political relationships with nascent democracies (like Poland) in Eastern Europe.

Europe needs all of these systems, in concert, for a layered, full-spectrum defense of short-, mid- and long-range ABMs that is harder for a volley of rogue-nation ballistic missiles to penetrate.

Full-spectrum missile defense is part of a “unified diplomatic program” to create a sphere of security, first for the U.S. and NATO allies. But over time, its shield can expand to protect other nations favoring peaceful relations, mutual cooperation and trade. Mr. Obama has hobbled that grand initiative in favor of dubious promises from the Kremlin.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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