Tuesday, March 03, 2009

No Haggling

Barely two weeks ago, we noted that the Obama Administration was working on some sort of "missile swap" with Russia. At that juncture, no would would confirm the deal, which was criticized in the U.S. (and abroad) as dangerously naive. But, senior officials never bothered to deny the report, so the rumor clearly had credibility.

Now, The New York Times has confirmed that the U.S. did, indeed propose a deal, identical to one outlined in mid-February. In a letter to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, Mr. Obama said our proposed missile shield in Eastern Europe would be "unnecessary," if Moscow would pressure Tehran to halt its nuclear weapons and missile development programs. In other words, the U.S. was prepared to abandon missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, in exchange for Russian assistance with those troublesome Iranians.

The Times' account of the secret letter, delivered to Mr. Medvedev three weeks ago. also reveals Moscow's response: a resounding nyet.

“If we talk about some bargain or exchange, I can say that the issues were not raised in this way, because it’s counter-productive,” Mr. Medvedev said at a news conference in Madrid, where he was meeting with the Spanish prime minister.

“What we are getting from our U.S. partners shows at least one thing, that our U.S. partners are ready to discuss the issue,” he said. “That’s good, because only a few months ago we were getting different signals — that the decision has been made, there is nothing to talk about, that we will do everything as it has been decided.”

Officials on both sides tried to paint the letter as more of an incentive, and less of a deal. In a meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Mr. Obama also suggested that the NYT had mis-characterized his message to the Russian president.

That, of course, is little more than spin. The "incentive" is clear enough; if the Russians can lean on Iran, we'll forget about installing that BMD radar in the Czech Republic, and those interceptor missiles in Poland.

Moscow has long opposed the missile shield, viewing it as a direct threat to its strategic forces. So that begs an obvious question, namely, why would Russian turn down such an offer?

Their rationale is equally apparent. Mr. Medvedev and his "controller," Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, want to have it both ways. Or should we say three ways?

Given its druthers, the Kremlin wants to retain Iran as a client state, maintaining big-ruble projects like the Bushehr nuclear reactor, which was completed and started with Moscow's assistance. And Moscow wants to sell more military hardware to Tehran, including the S-300 air defense system. That deal alone is worth a reported $800 million. Follow-on sales and support contracts will push the total price tag into the billions.

Additionally, Russia wants the U.S. to give up those BMD sites in Europe. That's why the Obama letter probably brought cheers from Russian leaders. For a little "pressure" on Iran, Moscow would achieve one of its primary security and foreign policy goals. There was no criteria for how such pressure would be defined (or applied), and how we would measure the success of Russia's diplomatic efforts.

Still, the Russians turned us down. Moscow clearly believes it can have its way with Mr. Obama, and give up almost nothing in return. The Russians have watched the new administration react with indifference to their assistance at Bushehr, and (reported) plans to export the S-300 to Iran's military. Why extend a helping hand to such a passive American administration, one that is clearly unprepared to hold Moscow accountable.

The Kremlin also understands that the Obama team is prepared to scale back--or even cancel--missile defense programs on its own. Vice-President Biden's offered only a tepid "endorsement" of BMD in a recent speech in Germany, and Congressional Democrats are talking about establishing unrealistic performance standards for future tests of the missile shield. On its present path, it's not unrealistic to think the Obama Administration will get rid of the European sites and other missile defense programs.

Call that a win-win-win for the Russians. No wonder Mr. Medvedev says there won't be any "haggling" over the Obama letter.


PCSSEPA said...

The "Annointed One" has no clothes. At best, he is an empty suit. At worst, his missteps and poor judgment will cost tens of thousands of lives. He has no clue when it comes to foreign policy, the economy, or anything beyond lawyering. He is a stain on the fabric of America.

RPB said...

Its rather obvious that Obama wants to prevent Israel from attacking Iran. That give him a conniption fit as both branches of his left wing supporters would demand conflicting action. Its a game of accomplishing nothing so that he does not rock the boat. Iran will have its weapons and its missile shield while Israel will be able to nothing but stand by and watch. And besides, I sincerely doubt that Iran will risk retaliation to use its nukes. Nuclear weapons are incredibly difficult to use offensively if your opponent is liked armed. Perhaps they could use "Salami" tactics and seize parts of Iraq, but a trip wire force would halt such attempts. While I do not doubt our benign intent, remember that Iran is now sandwiched between the most powerful army in the world on two sides, and a unpredictable nuclear foe to the north. Consider their perspective.

Meanwhile, the real nuclear dilemma, rhythms with Fakistan, will fall into chaos. I pray to God that we have their nukes in our possession. It is only a matter of time and I have doubts O'bama will choose to do anything.

eatyourbeans said...

But is it really about Iran? Isn't it true that our major supply route for the troops in Afghanistan runs through Pakistan and that the only alternative is through Russia? So if Pakistan falls apart, then we are totally dependent on the good will of the Russians to avoid a Stalingrad.

So when they said no haggling, they meant that our opening offer wasn't high enough. Throw in a tacit recognition that Georgia and Ukraine belong to Russia and likewise the Baltics, and maybe little obama will get a better reception.

Unknown said...

If this crap keeps up, we might want to learn to speak Russian. Obama is bending the country over, and is singlehandedly sending it straight to helena handbasket. He's so bound and determined to make good on all these campaign promises, that he'd nearly surrender to the Ruskies to accomplish it. And nobody in Washington will listen to those who know foreign policy. I don't see a re-election next term.