Bill Gertz of the conservative Washington Times should be applauded for the amazing piece of journalistic gymnastics he does this morning. Gertz, in Glenn Beck-conspiratorial fashion, takes an issue that is uncontroversial and that the State Department has been quite open about – its efforts to cooperate with Russia on missile defense – and contorts it into “secret” talks in the effort to reach a “secret” deal that would somehow secretly constrain missile defense. If there was an anti-Pulitzer award for bad journalism this piece would put Bill Gertz in contention.
Let’s start with the premise that the Obama administration is seeking to cooperate with the Russians on missile defense. This is true. That sounds like some shady left wing effort to gut missile defense and surrender to the Russians, right? Republican Senators are even concerned! Mark Kirk yesterday said “I was also concerned about this entirely new proposal bringing the Russians into the missile defense program of the United States.”
Except every US president has tried to do this, starting with Ronald Reagan. Reagan offered to cooperate with the Soviets on missile defense at the Reykjavik summit in 1986. At the summit in Sochi in April 2008, Presidents Bush and Putin even agreed to a strategic framework document that endorsed exploring a broader anti-missile architecture that would involve Europe, Russia, and the United States as “equal partners.” A State Department in a fact sheet notes that:
In 2004, under the Bush Administration, the United States began seeking a Defense Technical Cooperation Agreement (DTCA) with Russia. The DTCA is a broad agreement that, once concluded, would address the Parties’ responsibilities and rights with respect to a broad range of defense-related cooperative research and development activities, including missile defense. The last DTCA discussions with Russia were held in 2008.
In other words, there is nothing new here. The Obama administration is seeking to get the Russians to drop their opposition to missile defense by finding ways to cooperate with them so that we can build more missile defenses. At the Lisbon NATO summit this month the Administration scored a big victory when it got Russia to climb down from its opposition to European missile defense. This was a huge get for missile defense proponents, but now to the right wing this is part of some conspiracy theory to kill missile defense. In reality, the fact that there is movement on this issue is another success of the Administration’s reset of US-Russia relations.
But if this is good for missile defense why were the talks secret? What do you say to that Obama! Gertz writes:
The internal report contradicts congressional testimony by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in June denying a missile defense deal was in the works.
The only problem here is that the “secret talks” were not secret! Gertz must have dozed off during the START hearings or perhaps he lost his Lexis-Nexis account due to the downturn in the newspaper business, but both Secretary Clinton and Gates testified about the effort.
Here is Hillary Clinton testifying on May 18th in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC):
And furthermore, we continue to offer to work with the Russians on missile defense. We have a standing offer, and we hope that eventually they will because we think we now have common enemies.
Here is Gates at a June 17th hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the very time Gertz alleges they denied a secret deal:
Separately from the treaty, we are discussing missile defense cooperation with Russia, which we believe is in the interests of both nations. But such talks have nothing to do with imposing any limitations on our programs or deployment plans.
At a June 15 SFRC Hearing, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said:
I would just like to underscore one point that we have not yet addressed this afternoon, and that is that the United States have been talking very extensively to Russia about missile defense cooperation… my under secretary, Ellen Tauscher, has been working very extensively with the Russians to develop missile defense cooperation.
And as for denying that a deal had been reached, that’s probably because no deal had been reached! Gertz’s only piece of evidence is a draft document that State used for the talks. Is it a bad thing that the State Department before entering talks on missile defense cooperation — talks they told Congress about — went in prepared with a possible draft agreement in the unlikely case the Russians said yes? That is what the State Department is supposed to do.
Finally, this all ties in with a broader right wing conspiracy theory that this non-existent “secret” missile defense deal, along with the New START treaty is all part of some plot to unravel missile defense. But the fact is that the START treaty in no way constrains missile defense. The Bush-appointed head of the Missile Defense Agency, General Patrick O’Reilly, even testified that the New START treaty was good for missile defense, as it “actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program.” Right wingers need to read that line again and again and again.