- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008


The ink had barely dried on the final vote count when the testing of President-elect Barack Obama began.

One of the first was by Vladimir Putin’s puppet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declaring that if the United States continued with its plan to deploy 10 ABM interceptor missiles into Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, then Russia would move short range missiles into Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic, targeting Europe. Russia’s excuse for this threat is that they were forced into it because the U.S. defensive system could be converted to an offensive system, targeting Russia. This is a contrived argument and Mr. Putin knows it is groundless.

What’s more disturbing is that Mr. Putin’s European proxies like the former German defense minister, Peter Struck, currently the parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats, called Mr. Medvedev’s threat understandable and blamed President Bush for provoking Russia. This is incredible since he knows Russia was invited to participate in this very limited defensive shield whose fundamental purpose is to destroy any ballistic missile fired at Europe or the United States from a “rogue state” such as Iran.

During Mr. Medvedev’s recent visit to Washington, he appeared to soften his opening salvo by saying he hoped a compromise on the planned defensive shield deployment could be worked out with the new administration. He suggested a potential global system of protection against rogue states or perhaps use of existing systems to defeat such an attack. Existing systems clearly will be inadequate for this task. Mr. Medvedev concluded his comments by saying Russia will not make the first move.

With NATO’s weak response to Russia’s blatant invasion of Georgia, plus Russia’s increasing control of energy resources provided Europe, Mr. Putin sees the defensive shield issue as another opportunity to embarrass and further weaken U.S. influence while furthering his own agenda. If Mr. Putin can cause President-elect Obama to eventually back down on the deployment of the defensive shield, then Mr. Putin’s influence in dealing with the Eastern European border states, as well as the rest of Europe, will be significantly strengthened. Mr. Putin and his KGB cronies can be expected to further expand their control over the energy systems fueling Europe, as well as promoting the gas cartel.

Just last week, we saw the European Union reverse its position on withdrawing from negotiating with Russia on a “strategic Partnership” - the negotiations now will proceed even though Russia has not lived up to its obligations in the EU-brokered agreement with Georgia. Led by France and Germany, the EU has essentially caved and will resume business as usual. After all, since they have mortgaged their energy requirements, they cannot afford to have Mr. Putin turn off the energy valves as he did to the Ukraine in the winter of 2006.

I believe Mr. Obama will come under intense pressure from our European “partners” to cancel the deployment of defensive missiles to Poland. With no change in Iran’s drive to achieve a nuclear weapon capability, we would be sending all the wrong signals by canceling the deployment.

Following on the heels of the Medvedev threat was the letter Mr. Obama received from the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad indicating Iran may be ready to improve relations with the United States. However, the letter incredibly implied that Iran expects Mr. Obama to take some positive steps to decrease tensions and improve the atmosphere between the two countries. Here we have this “rogue state,” the leader of state-sponsored terrorism and the one responsible for thousands of casualties inflicted on our military from Beirut to Iraq. And now they want us to make the first concession. This is really code for capitulating to Iran’s expansion objectives in the region, including withdrawing our objections to their nuclear program and lessening our support for Israel. However, the new administration may be saved from direct negotiations by recent negative remarks by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which has raised caution flags on such talks.

We have many unresolved issues with Iran, not the least of which is their drive to achieve a nuclear weapon capability. This is not just a U.S. issue. The sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council and supported by our European allies cannot be disregarded. Further, our European allies have offered a very attractive incentive package to Iran to suspend their enrichment program which they have ignored.

If President-elect Obama responds to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s letter, he should say that if Iran is serious about improving relations, it should suspend its nuclear fuel enrichment program. Anything less will be seen by Iran and others as a sign of weakness. Other atrocious acts sponsored by Iran against the United States and our allies need to be addressed separately.

In the Pacific region, there will be a number of challenges, not the least of which is North Korea’s nuclear program amid an apparent transition as Kim Jong-il’s health fades. On Oct. 11, President Bush removed North Korea from its state sponsor of terrorist list. Will Mr. Obama now continue a policy brokered by China that is based on the fantasy that if we treat Pyonyang nicely, it won’t act like a nuclear rogue?

Chinese Gen. Liu Huaqing, former vice chairman of the People’s Liberation Army Central Military Committee, once told me many years ago that nothing major goes on in North Korea without China’s knowledge. China has refused to put decisive pressure on Mr. Kim to destroy his nuclear weapons as it has drawn the United States and Japan into never-ending Six Party Talks.

Now North Korea is building a new, large missile base, most likely for new, long-range nuclear armed missiles. Meanwhile, reports indicate China is building up its forces on its North Korean border. What is Beijing’s real intention?

Make no mistake - while China needs the commercial ties to the United States to sustain their economy, they are challenging us militarily in the Western Pacific and are already pressuring Mr. Obama to forgo arms sales to Taiwan. If Mr. Obama caves to pressures to eliminate key weapon programs like the F-22 air superiority fighter or Navy ship construction programs to pay for domestic programs, he will only accelerate a military imbalance that will tempt China to strike Taiwan.

China’s rush to modernize and expand its military forces and capabilities cannot be ignored. We must recognize the imbalance which will occur if we do not address China’s sustained military build-up now.

During the election campaign, Mr. Obama successfully ignored most of these rogue actors but they won’t return the favor. While Mr. Obama may try to reduce the burdens of American international leadership to pursue his domestic agenda, Russia, China, Iran and North Korea will not give him such a “honeymoon.”

James Lyons, U.S. Navy retired admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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