The Obama administration seems to be well on the way to surpassing the record for ineptitude of the Carter administration. Its actions in the ballistic missile defense situation in eastern Europe are about as bad as it can get.
UPDATE: There is another theory about Obama’s actions. It is that his actions are deliberate gestures and indicate his contempt for the US allies he insults.
We must keep in mind the fact that Obama is not a yokel and that the State Department is there to prevent an ill-informed president from unnecessarily stepping on toes. What happened last Thursday was a deliberate gesture. It was aimed at our allies in eastern Europe and at Russia, and it was recognized as such in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Russia. Vladimir Putin spoke of Obama’s decision as a courageous act. Our friends in eastern Europe would not have used that adjective. A signal has been given, and they know the meaning.
We are living in a dangerous time. It seems highly unlikely that Barack Obama will get his way in domestic affairs. The Democrats may control Congress, but they now fear a rout in 2010, and they are likely to tread with caution from now on. In foreign affairs, however, presidents have a relatively free hand, and this president has ample time to do damage to a country that, there is reason to suspect, he deeply hates.
I don’t know if this is a credible explanation but nothing in American history so far explains these actions.
Last week the Obama administration announced that it was reconfiguring U.S. plans for ballistic missile defense (BMD) in Europe, beginning with halting plans for installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. The shift would include an increased emphasis on Aegis-equipped warships already being upgraded to BMD capability that would patrol the waters of the North Sea and Mediterranean. At a press conference last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates emphasized the technical rationale for the decision: The assessment of Iran’s ability to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile had shifted, indicating that the development of such a missile is a long way off; this new scheme would protect Europe, which was still at risk and would continue to be vulnerable; and the new scheme would be in place sooner and ultimately would be more effective.
As it happened, technology aside, the decision met one of Russia’s ongoing demands — that the United States should not base BMD installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. However, Gates stated that “Russia’s attitude and possible reaction played no part in my recommendation to the president on this issue. Of course, considering Russia’s past hostility toward American missile defense in Europe, if Russia’s leaders embrace this plan, then that will be an unexpected — and welcome — change of policy on their part.”
This is unbelievable and is a cause for worry that the Russians will perceive this statement as worse than weakness.
U.S. President Barack Obama insisted that the decision had nothing to do with the Russians, saying it was merely a bonus if Russia’s leaders ended up “a little less paranoid” about the United States. Speaking to CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Obama said, “My task here was not to negotiate with the Russians. The Russians don’t make determinations about what our defense posture is.”
If Gates and Obama are to be believed, the decision to halt deployment in the Czech Republic and Poland was made without any consideration of Russian views whatsoever. It was simply the result of technical and military analysis, and the question of how the major power in the region — Russia — might react simply wasn’t considered.
Once again, this is simply not credible.
The issue is not, as the president has put it, one of Russian paranoia. The Russians might well be paranoid, but that paranoia is not a matter of incidental importance to the United States. Unless the United States is abandoning the idea of sanctions and moving to accept Iran as a nuclear power, or has already made the decision to strike Iran, Russia — paranoid or not — is important to the United States. We suspect that it crossed someone’s mind that in making this move now, the United States would be capitulating to a major Russian demand.
Certainly, it could not have escaped the administration’s attention that the decision, regardless of how it was made, would be seen by all as a response to the Russians. This is how the Poles and Czechs saw it; it is how the Russians saw it; it is how any reasonable observer would have seen it. That’s because this was a core Russian demand and because the announcement came two weeks before the meetings on Iran.
Is Obama really this incompetent?
In foreign policy, it is always important to be prepared to pretend that the elephant is not in the room. But there has to be a touch of plausibility to the pretense. In this case, the problem is that the administration’s description of how it made this decision indicates breathtaking incompetence. In saying they took the decision without considering diplomatic consequences, U.S. officials are claiming the administration doesn’t know how to play major league ball — and seem proud of that.
Maybe he is really this incompetent. Let’s look at Israel, another erstwhile ally. Obama promised change we could believe in and he has been as good as his word .
U.S. relations with Israel have had their minor bumps, but Israeli trust of America and respect for the American president have been constant. This was true whether the president was Nixon or Carter, Clinton or George W. Bush.
As a result, Israeli prime ministers — even crusty old war horses like Yitzak Shamir and Ariel Sharon — have struggled mightily to remain on good terms with the U.S. president. It can be argued that when a brash young Benyamin Netanyahu got on President Clinton’s bad side, the price was his office.
But in nine months all of this has changed. A recent survey sponsored by the Jerusalem Post showed that only 4 percent of Israelis believe that President Obama’s policies are more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian. Considering that the margin of error in the poll was 4.5 percent, one might wonder whether any Israeli, or at least any Israeli Jew, believes Obama is on the side of America’s long-time ally.
Meanwhile 51 percent of those polled believe that Obama’s policies are more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel. When more than half of the Israeli population believes that the American president tilts towards their sworn enemies, it’s fair to say that Obama has produced a sea-change in this small but important corner of the world.
But this is only the beginning of “change you can scarcely believe” in Israel. For decades Israelis have been bitterly divided, often more or less down the middle, over politics. And throughout much of this period, Benyamin Netanyahu has been among the most divisive Israeli politicians.
When Netanyahu formed a largely “right-wing” coalition government earlier this year, his regime was considered fragile even by Israeli standards. But then the Obama administration insisted that Israel halt all new construction in West Bank settlements, including construction of new homes within large settlements to accommodate natural population. Then it protested plans to build a new apartments in East Jerusalem.
When Netanyahu rejected these demands, his popularity soared. Obama had transformed the least lovable of all Israeli politicians into a leader around whom a strong majority of Israelis could rally.
How has Obama’s change in policy affected the Arabs, his preferred partners in the middle east ? There is no sign of any positive response as the Arabs worry much more about Iran than about Israel, rhetoric notwithstanding. They see the same weakness in Obama as he considers abandoning Afghanistan and accepting Iran as a nuclear power.
This will not end well.