Saturday, September 19, 2009

Obama Cuts Expensive Missile Defense Plan

Many of the biggest boondoggles in American history have not come from Democrats. Repeated tax cuts for the rich has to qualify as one type of Republican boondoggle, particularly since those tax cuts undermine Medicare and Social Security. However, the most widely acknowledged boondoggles in the last thirty years have been a long string of unnecessary military contracts. Of the latter group, one of the oddest boondoggles has been the "Star Wars" missile defense program and its various permutations.

Ronald Reagan rode a wave of Republican conservatism in 1980 to win the White House. Of course Reagan's conservatism wasn't nearly as extreme as what we've seen since 1994. But Reagan got talked into a missile defense shield that was never completed and that has never worked reliably enough in the testing stage to give anyone confidence that such a system could take out a significant number of ICBMs. As a program, it has undergone many modifications, is largely a bust and has wasted billions of dollars. It didn't work in the early 1980s when it was first proposed and despite advances in computers and nuclear technology it still doesn't work. In addition, even if it did work, it would be fairly inexpensive to foil.

The whole concept of the original "Star Wars" idea seems largely to have come from Edward Teller, the father of the H-Bomb. Either Teller did not understand as much about physics and technology as he thought he did or he told a big whopper to the president of the United States. One of the problems with secrecy in Washington is that stupidity occurs over and over. To this day, much of the "Star Wars" project remains shrouded in murky details.

When George W. Bush became president, he brought with him a number of Cold War warriors, including such people as Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice and Paul Wolfowitz. One of the things that has become obvious about the younger Bush's presidency is that he had a number of advisers who were still fighting old wars. The current war in Iraq is in some way old business from 1991. Despite Bush's claim of seeing into Putin's soul, the deteriorating relationship with Russia during the Bush years had a number of roots, not all coming from the U.S. side. A significant factor, though, was the Cold War mentality that kept surfacing in our relations with Putin.

In addition, "New Europe," consisting largely of former members of the Eastern European communist bloc, has been a pet project of elite Republicans looking for cozy financial and political relationships. Putting defense missiles in Eastern Europe was just as much about irritating the Russians (despite the claim of defending against Iranian missiles) as it was solidifying a relationship with more conservative elements in places like Poland (remember that Western Europe was not in favor of the missiles).

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal carried a story on Obama's new policy:
The White House will shelve Bush administration plans to build a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, according to people familiar with the matter, a move likely to cheer Moscow and roil the security debate in Europe.

The U.S. will base its decision on a determination that Iran's long-range missile program has not progressed as rapidly as previously estimated, reducing the threat to the continental U.S. and major European capitals, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Additional details suggest a more modest, largely navy-based missile defense program would be developed closer to Iran. I'm not entirely sure what all this means. In a sense, Americans have had a defense perimeter around Iran for the last seven years, even before the official start of the war in Iraq.

Of course, after the news about shelving the missile program, it didn't take long for the neoconservatives and various Republicans to do their screaming and hollering. What is noteworthy is how much Republican criticism of Obama is about appeasing Russia and how little of it is about Iran. That, of course, is something of a giveaway.

Here's Romney and Santorum:

"President Obama has made a dangerous and alarming decision to shelve our missile-defense system in Europe," Romney said in a statement. "His decision is wrong in every way, despite his rationale."

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, said the president is spurning European allies in order to "appease" Russia — "a potential foe."

More was also said by others. Is there something to what they're saying? Maybe not. Here's a interesting response by Russia:
In the first tangible response to the US decision to scrap its planned shield in Eastern Europe, an unnamed military source told the Interfax news agency that the Kremlin had frozen plans to deploy truck-mounted Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad and would not now site nuclear-capable T-22 strategic bombers there either.

Of course, not much has actually happened. Our imaginary missile defense is being scrapped so Russia appears to be scrapping its imaginary response. But President Obama will be meeting with Medvedev next week. There's one further item to note:
The Russian foreign ministry on Saturday condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for saying the Holocaust was "a myth," calling his statement "totally unacceptable."

Russians are tough customers but they haven't got much to gain by too much tension in the world. The reality is that a healthy world economy is good for Russia's oil prices. And that requires a healthy U.S. economy.

Poor Republicans. Relations with Russia just ain't what they used to be.

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