GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney said this week that President Obama’s comment to Russian president Dimitry Medvedev that he would be more “flexible” on issues such as missile defense until after the election was “a cave to Russia.” Romney went on to attack the President’s plan in 2009 to scrap and replace President Bush’s European missile defense program. “The decision to withdrawal our missile defense sites from Poland put us in greater jeopardy in my view,” he said.
Except that’s not what happened. There weren’t any missile defense sites in Poland at that time. “The proposed interceptors for Poland have not even been built, much less tested. The Obama administration is killing an idea, not a program, and replacing it with a more technologically-promising system,” said chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Lt. Gen. Robert Gard back in 2009.
And the Wall Street Journal reports today that European and NATO officials aren’t too concerned with Obama’s comments to Medvedev:
But broadly, officials and diplomats from across the region said they were inclined to take Mr. Obama’s remarks at face value. The U.S. and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have pledged to cooperate with Russia on the system, which is initially aimed at defending against missiles from Iran.
Diplomats haven’t expected advances on those talks in a U.S. election year.
Stefan Niesiolowski, a Polish lawmaker and chairman of the defense committee in the lower house of Parliament, blew off the hysteria over Obama’s remarks. “This is not surprising or new, and there’s no outrage in Poland,” he said, adding, “There’s no military threat, and we haven’t had a situation as secure as this in 300 years. The level of U.S. military engagement in Poland therefore isn’t of top importance.”
As for Romney’s attacks on Obama’s missile defense posture, experts hailed Obama’s shift from the Bush plan. “The decision to revamp the missile defense plan in Europe is based on technological reality rather than rigid ideology,” said John Isaacs, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “The Obama administration’s proposal is a better choice for U.S. and European security.”
Even the Polish foreign minister said at the time of the announcement: “When President Obama announced the new configuration of the system, we did say that we liked the new configuration better, but I think you didn’t believe us.”
And as then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, Obama’s missile defense plan has “unanimous support” of the U.S. military’s senior leadership.
So what does Obama mean when he says he will be more “flexible”? The Journal reported that Ian Kearns, chief executive of the London-based European Leadership Network, “said allies could agree to provide more transparency about the system and address Russian worries that when the system ramps up at the end of this decade, it could be big enough to blunt Moscow’s nuclear deterrent.”