The Appalling Timing of Obama's Missile Defense Decision

There’s also a geopolitical aspect to the capitulation. Obama thinks that better relations with Russia in general are well worth letting down a few traditional but small and relatively insignificant allies. As a cynical calculus it is probably correct. Russia, while but a shadow of its former Soviet self, is still a great power with an infinite capability for mischief directed at American interests around the world. Poland and the Czech Republic, not to mention Ukraine and Georgia, have very little to offer America by way of tangible benefits: a few soldiers in Afghanistan, a few extra votes at the UN, and some feel-good pageantry.

All these supposed benefits for America, however, are far less clear-cut once we leave Obama’s fantasy “what-might-be” world and focus on some real-life implications. Above all else, the decision to ditch the shield sends another signal to America’s allies around the world that they cannot really trust and depend on the United States, which will let them hang out to dry whenever it proves expedient. Of course, administrations change, as do priorities and policies, and a bipartisan foreign policy, if it ever really existed, died in the rice paddies of Vietnam. But even granting all that, Obama’s penchant for intentionally or carelessly slapping down America’s long-standing allies for the sake of questionable gains or international applause has became somewhat of a hallmark of his administration. That it’s unfolding against the backdrop of particularly fluid and uncertain times in international relations makes it all the more worrisome a trend.

While the shield was meant to be directed against threats from rouge regimes like Iran, all parties concerned always saw it through the prism of Russia’s relations with its neighbors and former vassals as well as the West. Despite all the grumbling from Moscow that the shield was really an aggressive act directed against Russia, everyone knew that militarily it would have barely mattered in case of any new East-West conflict. Its value was almost purely symbolic -- as a sign that the United States and NATO were serious about the expanded alliance and, specifically, that the Western alliance would not allow Russia to have a veto over the security concerns of the former communist satellites. All that is now up in the air, opening a giant can of worms from the Baltic to the Caucasus. The decision not to proceed with the missile shield will create more instability and insecurity in the region than the shield itself ever would.

A few days ago, I wrote that September 17 is one of those not-very-well-known and hardly-ever-commemorated dates in history. Now, thanks to Obama’s poor timing, the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion is receiving considerably more attention outside of Poland than it would otherwise have -- sadly, for all the wrong reasons. Obama’s decision hardly represents another Munich or Yalta, but America’s staunch allies in Central and Eastern Europe have every right to feel disappointed. The insensitivity of its timing merely adds to the already bitter taste.