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Even Appeasers All Appeased Out

2:12 PM, Sep 17, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Joe Klein writes:

I do hope that this anti-missile move has a Russian concession attached to it, perhaps not publicly (just as the US agreement to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey was not make public during the Cuban Missile Crisis). The Obama Administration's diplomatic strategy is, I believe, wise and comprehensive--but it needs to show more than public concessions over time. A few diplomatic victories wouldn't hurt.

Yes, all the concession and outreach and unclenched fists and turning the other cheek of Obama foreign policy was not intended solely to allow the holier-than-thou post-American left to claim their moral authority over the rest of us. It was, in fact, supposed to produce tangible benefits for the American people and our allies. There are three things we need from the Russians: a guarantee that Iran will not receive Russia's sophisticated S-300 air defense system, a halt to shipments of nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr reactor, and support for international sanctions on Iran at the United Nations. The rumor mill has it that when Bibi flew to Moscow last week he was told that the S-300 was a done deal. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov declared last week that there was no way the Kremlin would back international sanctions on Iran. And no one seriously believes the Russians are about to abandon their support for Bushehr, which would send the wrong message to all the other rogue and near-rogue regimes the Russians do business with.

Maybe the Obama administration will pull a rabbit out of a hat and get themselves a big, juicy concession from the Russians on Iran, but I doubt it. Obama has always been an opponent of missile defense, and he's always been in favor of appeasing the Russians with arms reductions (we'd have a really long record on that if someone hadn't disappeared his college thesis, a fantasy about "Soviet Nuclear Disarmament" and likely an ode to the nuclear freeze movement). This move to kill missile defense seems like an ideological, unilateral disarmament of choice, not a decision based on the cold, hard calculus of foreign policy realism, which would have at least demanded some concession in return.

And this was always the problem with Obama's approach to missile defense. It was about politics. What did an Illinois state senator know about proven or unproven missile defense systems? Nothing -- but it was totally conventional left-wing politics to be against Star Wars type systems. He may have dodged the issue during the presidential campaign, but no one had any doubt where this was headed. No Republicans thought that those installations would survive Obama's gutting of the Pentagon's procurement programs. Republicans should not give up hope though. Unlike most other Democratic initiatives, this one is not irreversible. We will have missile defense someday and there is nothing the Democrats can do to stop it. They can only delay it. We will have to hope they do not delay past the moment when we most need it.

One more thought: missile defense would provide weak presidents like Obama an additional option in the case of a crisis with a nuclear-armed regime. Instead of being forced to take some kind of preemptive action, a Democratic president would be able to sit by and try diplomacy with at least some confidence that a nuclear attack could be disrupted. This isn't an offensive program that will provide some Bush-like warmonger with new methods for coercing rogue states, this is a defensive program that provides violence-averse community organizers with extra time to organize the international community before forcing a confrontation.