President Barack Obama just received a double slap in the face. Russia’s paramount leader, Vladimir Putin, in a display of steely contempt, has said “nyet” to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s entreaties to sanction the Iranians for developing nuclear materials for weapons use. Furthermore, Reuters reports that the Russians will not preclude the use of nukes preemptively — nearby or far away.
However the White House or Foggy Bottom spins it, Putin’s boorish refusal to play ball must be a jolt to our Nobel Laureate president, who, but a few short weeks ago, came to Putin lugging a hefty olive branch.
To Putin and, incidentally, to his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev, the president gave the gift of the pulled plug — on elements of a land-based missile defense in Eastern Europe. Nothing expected in return — well, not entirely. There are always strings. But Mr. Obama expected nothing tangible in return. Not the relinquishing of one megaton of destruction. Not even a squirrelly pledge from Putin to keep his hands off the Ukraine or Georgia. Not even a bowl of Borscht.
What the president expected, one guesses, was consideration and cooperation. Giving the heave-ho to the Poles and Czechs was supposed to thaw Putin’s icy veins.
When Mrs. Clinton came a-knocking on behalf of Mr. Obama in a spirit of one-worldliness, Putin was supposed to demonstrate a readiness to put the kibosh on the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions.
Instead, Putin flatly refused. Talks with the Iranians, he argued, were underway. Sanctions would be premature. Let’s not act so precipitously, he counseled.
By refusing to join hands with Mr. Obama, Putin gave a big gift to the mullahs: the gift of time. More time to develop nuclear materials, leading to nuclear weapons capability. It’s the Putin Grand Stall; a gift that he may just keep giving to the Iranians if he can pull it off. By a degree of separation, though, it was really Mr. Obama’s gift to the Iranians. The president’s unilateral capitulation on missile defense telegraphed to Putin that he’s a Grade-A patsy. All Putin did was re-wrap Mr. Obama’s offering.
So, what President Obama is getting in return isn’t cooperation from the Russians, but a lesson in the often merciless law of unintended consequences. His ill-considered gesture toward the Russians makes a nuclear-armed Iran more likely, not less.
And following the logic, the more imminent Iranian nuclear weapons capability is, the more likely Israel is to strike Iran preemptively — and unilaterally if necessary.