The flexibility’ doctrine
—Barack Obama to Dmitry Medvedev, open mic, March 26
You don’t often hear an American president secretly (he thinks) assuring foreign leaders that concessions are coming their way, but they must wait because he’s seeking re-election and he dare not tell his own people. Not at all, spun a White House aide in major gaffe-control mode. The president was merely explaining that arms control is too complicated to be dealt with in a year in which both Russia and the U.S. hold presidential elections.
Rubbish. First of all, to speak of Russian elections in the same breath as ours is a travesty. Theirs was a rigged, predetermined farce. Putin ruled before. Putin rules after. Obama spoke of the difficulties of the Russian presidential “transition.” What transition? It’s a joke. It had no effect on Putin’s ability to negotiate anything.
As for the U.S. election, the problem is not that the issue is too complicated but that if people knew Obama’s intentions of “flexibly” caving on missile defenses, they might think twice about giving him a second term. After all, what is Obama doing negotiating on missile defense in the first place? We have no obligation to do so. The ABM Treaty, a relic of the Cold War, died in 2002.
We have an unmatched technological lead in this area. It’s a priceless strategic advantage that for three decades Russia has been trying to get us to yield. Why give any of it away? In order to placate Putin, Obama had already in 2009 abruptly canceled the missile-defense system the Poles and Czechs had agreed to host in defiance of Russian threats. Why give away more? It’s unfathomable.
In trying to clean up the gaffe, Obama emphasized how intent he is to “reduce nuclear stockpiles” and “reduce reliance on nuclear weapons.” In which case, he should want to augment missile defenses, not weaken, dismantle or bargain them away. The fewer nukes you have for deterrence, the more you need nuclear defenses.
If your professed goal is nuclear disarmament, as is Obama’s, eliminating defenses is completely illogical. Nonetheless, Obama is telling the Russians not to worry, that once past “my last election” and no longer subject to any electoral accountability, he’ll show “more flexibility” on missile defense. It’s yet another accommodation to advance his cherished Russia “reset” policy.
Why? Hasn’t reset been failure enough? Let’s do the accounting. In addition to canceling the Polish/Czech missile defense system, Obama gave the Russians accession to the World Trade Organization, a START treaty that they need and we don’t (their weapons are obsolete and deteriorating rapidly) and a scandalously blind eye to their violations of human rights and dismantling of democracy. Obama even gave Putin a congratulatory call for winning his phony election.
In return? Russia consistently watered down or obstructed sanctions on Iran, completed Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr, provides to this day Bashar al-Assad with huge arms shipments used to massacre his own people (while rebuilding the Soviet-era naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus), conducted a virulently anti-American presidential campaign on behalf of Putin, pressured Eastern Europe and threatened Georgia. On which of “all these issues”—Syria, Iran, Eastern Europe, Georgia, human rights—is Obama ready to offer Putin yet more flexibility as soon as he gets past his last election?
Where else will he show U.S. adversaries more flexibility? Yet more aid to North Korea? More weakening of tough Senate sanctions against Iran?
Can you imagine the kind of pressure a re-elected Obama will put on Israel, the kind of anxiety he will induce from Georgia to the Persian Gulf, the nervousness among our most loyal East European friends who, having already once been left out on a limb by Obama, are now wondering what new flexibility Obama will show Putin—the man who famously proclaimed that the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century was Russia’s loss of its Soviet empire.
They don’t know. We don’t know. We didn’t even know this was coming—until the mic was left open. Only Putin was to know. “I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” Medvedev assured Obama.
Added Medvedev: “I stand with you.” A nice endorsement from Putin’s puppet, enough to chill friends and allies, democrats and dissidents, all over the world.
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.