While President Obama was having a private talk with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, he apparently didn’t know that his microphone was on and told Medvedev that after his “last” election he would have “more flexibility” to make some modifications in the Eastern European missile defense shield. Obama was taken to task, mainly by conservative commentators, for offering to give something up without asking for concessions on the part of the Russian government. One suggested concession is that in exchange for the United States giving ground on the shield, the Russian government display a more cooperative attitude on putting pressure on the Syrian government to stop killing its own citizens.
The missile defense shield is a major sore point with the Russian government, who see it as easily convertible to an offensive threat to their national security; therefore, President Medvedev has announced a buildup and repositioning of Russian nuclear forces to counter the threat. Medvedev has also threatened to nullify the New START treaty reached with the Obama administration.
Critics of Obama have focused on the wrong issue: the anti-missile shield is a carryover from the George W. Bush delusional belief that if Iran develops a nuclear missile capability, it might fire missiles toward Eastern Europe. The only change that Obama has made in the Bush initiative is that he has changed it to a defense against short-range, not long-range missiles.
It was a mistake for President Obama to have adopted a much more modest version of Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars fantasy. He should begin a retreat from his embrace of anti-missile missiles. If he can get concessions from Russia that would be in the foreign policy interest of the United States, that would be supportable, but the important needed change in policy is to begin to prepare the political ground for the removal of the Eastern European shield and to stop the waste of money on anti-missile missiles.