President Obama Makes The Right Call On Missile Defense

President Obama’s decision to cancel plans to deploy missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic (as recommended in CAP’s December 2008 report Building a Military for the 21st Century) is another important step in reforming the structures of U.S. national security to deal with threats as they actually exist in the real world, and not as they exist in the fevered imaginations of conservative ideologues and the defense contractors who love them.

While it will surprise no one that the president’s decision is being met with cries of “weakness“, “appeasement,” etc. from those conservatives, it’s worth pointing out here that, as the president noted in his statement this morning, he is acting on the unanimous recommendations of Defense Secretary Gates and of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after a comprehensive review of the program. Given that conservatives have lately been demanding that the president “listen to the military” on more troops for Afghanistan, it’s interesting that so many feel that he should “ignore the military” now on missile defense. It’s almost as if “listen to the military” were a cudgel used by conservatives when convenient, and dropped when their favored projects are threatened…

Rob Farley has a great post hailing the president’s decision, and reiterating the case against missile defense. “Let’s be clear,” Farley writes, “this is a huge victory for common sense over fantasy, and for responsible defense budgeting.”

This project had no function other than to serve the pecuniary interest of the missile defense industry, and to sate the ideological lust of conservatives infatuated with St. Reagan. No convincing strategic logic could ever be provided for the program; advocates careened wildly between arguments, desperately trying to see if they could make anything stick. Protecting Europe from Iranian missiles? Nobody in Europe was particularly concerned, or, outside of Poland and the Czech Republic, really wanted the defense. Protecting from the Russians? By the admission of advocates, the shield could not have served as a deterrent to Russian attacks. Necessary to demonstrate our commitment to the Poles? Meh; I’d rather get them something they could actually use.

It’s wrong to treat the jibe at “conservatives infatuated with St. Reagan” solely as a joke. The cult of Reagan is a major force among American conservatives — especially in regard to foreign policy, as I explored in this article back in June — and a dogmatic commitment to missile defense is one of its core tenets. As with so much else having to do with Reagan’s role in the Cold War, the extent to which the prospect of the U.S. deploying an effective missile defense caused the Soviet Union to collapse has been seriously blown out of proportion, having now become simply an article of faith for many of Reaganism’s adherents. But as with his speech to Moscow’s New Economic School last July, which recognized the important roles played by many nations and peoples in the end of the Cold War, Obama has shown that he is not afraid to challenge some of conservatism’s most treasured myths.

Having said that, Robert Gibbs’ denial this morning notwithstanding, it seems pretty obvious that this decision, while correct on the merits, was also made with an eye toward the upcoming G20 meeting, and getting some Russian support for sanctions against Iran in the event that the planned talks go nowhere.