Obama’s first Polish joke was snubbing the September 1st ceremonies in Gdansk marking the seventieth anniversary of the German invasion of Poland. Let’s review:
The lack of understanding of European history and sensitivities was not lost on the Polish chattering classes. They have been in a justifiable uproar over this mother of all snubs, feeling a mixture of humiliation and neglect. For an administration that pledged to prioritize public diplomacy, this treatment of an ally was appalling. Unsurprisingly, popular opinion of the United States took a serious nose dive in Poland.
Already, the Obama administration’s warm embrace of the relationship with Russia has been a cause for concern among Central and East European governments…Also, the Obama administration’s apparent attempts to use plans for “the third site” for U.S. missile defense (in Poland and the Czech Republic) as a bargaining chip to win Russian support for sanctions on Iran have gone down very poorly in Poland.
Those plans may have “gone down very poorly” in Poland, but who cares about a little Polish disappointment when Russia’s butt can be kissed? In his second Polish (and Czech Republic) joke, the scrapping of the missile shield negotiated by President Bush, Obama has offered the excuse of saying his decision was based on intelligence and strategy rather than the desire to court Russia and wink at Iran at Poland and Czech expense. And perhaps it was, but the Poles and Czechs don’t appear to think so, and I can’t really blame them.
Here’s the Obama rationale:
The Bush administration proposed the European-based system to counter the perceived threat of Iran’s developing a nuclear weapon that could be placed atop its increasingly sophisticated missiles…The Bush plan infuriated the Kremlin, which argued the system was a potential threat to its own intercontinental ballistic missiles…The Obama administration’s assessment concludes that U.S. allies in Europe, including NATO members, face a more immediate threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range missiles and is ordering a shift toward the development of regional missile defenses for the Continent, according to people familiar with the matter.
As the WSJ article goes says, “There is widespread disagreement over the progress of Iran’s nuclear program.” Ya think?
Obama is counting on Iran taking a long time to develop a nuclear capacity. Whether Obama actually believes this or not (or whether we even have the capability to correctly predict such a timetable), it suits him to underestimate Iran’s nuclear program in his continuing efforts to appease enemies (Iran) and hostile potential enemies (Russia) while simultaneously doublecrossing friends.
How did the Russians return Obama’s favor? The answer is: why should they return the favor? Maybe I don’t get the intricacies of the famous three-dimensional chess Obama is supposed to be playing these days, but it seems to me that he’s given a freebie to Iran and the Russians in exchange for nothing except the opportunity for them to view him as a weakling and a pushover. Here’s Russia’s response to Obama’s “chess” move (that statement about “dialogue” at the end seems a sly dig at Obama’s love of empty verbiage):
Russia on Thursday welcomed the news but said it saw no reason to offer concessions in return. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the plan a “responsible move.” He threatened last year to station tactical Iskander missiles on Poland’s border if the U.S. system was deployed.
“We appreciate this responsible move by the U.S. president toward realizing our agreement,” Mr. Medvedev said Thursday. “I am prepared to continue the dialogue.”
And what is this “dialogue” that Obama so greatly desires? Apparently he believes that, if he throws this fish to them, the Russians will cooperate in imposing sanctions against Iran. That remains to be seen. But if this is Obama’s goal, then why throw the previously planned defense system out now, before talks on the subject of what to do about Iran begin in early October?
As the WSJ article says, “[T]he decision is likely to be seen in Russia as a victory for the Kremlin.” I would add that it seems to be not only an error, but an unforced error at that. Poland is apprehensive and disturbed, and the Czech Republic can’t be all that happy either:
A Czech official said his government was concerned an announcement by the White House on the missile-defense program could influence coming elections and has urged a delay. But the Obama administration has decided to keep to its original timetable.
European analysts said the administration would be forced to work hard to convince both sides the decision wasn’t made to curry favor with Moscow and, instead, relied only on the program’s technical merits and analysis of Iran’s missile capabilities.
I half expect some Polish or Czech official to stand up and yell “You lie!” to Obama (or his representatives) if that tack is tried. But this is diplomacy and not Parliament (or even a joint session of the US Congress), so any response will probably be veiled in exquisite politeness.
But the Poles and the Czechs know the score: in the future they must count on being betrayed by the Obama administration, or at the very least shut out of “dialogue” on issues that affect them mightily.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, one of the few Obama holdovers from the Bush administration, is not a diplomat; he’s a military man. But he seems to approve of the decision in strategic terms, “saying that the new configuration ‘provides a better missile defense capability’ for Europe and American forces.”
Perhaps so, perhaps not. It really depends on which of the predictions about Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities is correct. But aside from the military calculations, the diplomatic ones seems to be dreadful, especially for allies Poland and the Czech Republic. The NY Times lets us in on some of the details of how they were treated by the sensitive Obama adminstration:
As details began to leak, the White House arranged for a post-midnight call from Mr. Obama to the Czech prime minister and a call in the morning to Poland’s prime minister. It also dispatched top officials to Prague and Warsaw to explain the decision and calm any anxieties…But it made for unfortunate timing, as Thursday was the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland at the start of World War II, a date fraught with sensitivity for Poles who viewed the Bush missile defense system as a political security blanket against Russia. Poland and many other countries in the former Soviet sphere worry that Mr. Obama is less willing than Mr. Bush was to stand up to Russia.
While the Americans always described missile defense as a hedge against Iran, the Polish and Czech governments saw the presence of American military personnel based permanently in their countries as protection against Russia. Moscow strongly opposed the shield and claimed it was aimed against Russia and undermined its national security.
The Times article goes on to say that the Obama plan will puts defenses for Eastern Europe in place earlier than the Bush plan would have. That’s good; it’s just that those defenses are not against nuclear weapons. In addition, however, there is some talk of placing a nuclear defense system against Iran somewhere else, for example in Turkey or the Balkans.
So perhaps it all makes a certain amount of strategic sense; I suppose time will eventually tell on that. But even if it turns out to have been a good decision in the military sense, the way it was handled was not. It sends a larger signal to all the parties involved, one that is completely consistent with the one I previously stated here: offend our allies and friends, and cozy up to our enemies.
The Obama Doctrine.