Obama Nixes Star Wars

[ Posted Thursday, September 17th, 2009 – 16:24 UTC ]

Actually, that's a funny title, since a photo just ran of Obama waving a light saber around. Being a fan of funny presidential photos, I have to say this is my favorite so far from President Obama (feel free to suggest captions in the comments).

But, amusing photos aside, President Obama today announced that he was scrapping George W. Bush's idea of putting a radar system and anti-ballistic missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic. This was the direct descendant of Ronald Reagan's "Strategic Defense Initiative," which was more commonly known as "Star Wars." Hence the title, and hence (in conjunction with that photo) the irony.

Scrapping this idea is a smart decision by Obama, because it defuses a major stumbling block to relations with Russia, and because the system was of dubious strategic value to begin with (if it even worked, which has not been definitively proven). Plus, in both Poland and the Czech Republic, the idea wasn't very popular at all. Nor was it popular with NATO. So taking it off the table results in positive diplomatic gains in more than one direction.

Even the Pentagon itself wasn't fully behind the idea in the first place. The concept was to site ten interceptor missiles in Poland, with a radar system based in the Czech Republic, which would work in concert to spot intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) fired from Iran towards Western Europe, and then to destroy these ICBMs when they appeared in the sky.

But this threat scenario doesn't really exist. The threat from Iran centers more around medium- and short-range ballistic missiles, which Obama said would be countered by defense systems designed for this specific threat. Which makes a lot more sense, in military terms.

Russia's opposition to the antiballistic missile system on their own doorstep was always more symbolic than anything, it should be mentioned. Russia said that it feared the system could be used against their own missiles, but a quick examination of some facts shows how overblown this stated fear was. Russia not only has thousands of ballistic missiles (which is obviously a bit more than ten interceptors could handle), but they also have cruise missiles, which could easily defeat such a system by, quite literally, flying below its radar.

But symbolism is important in such matters. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? President Kennedy got the Soviets to back down from their plan of basing offensive missiles so close to America. Image what our reaction, as a country, would be if Russia today announced it was putting some defensive missiles in Cuba or Mexico, to protect Hugo Chavez against Canada firing ICBMs at them. We would be dubious of such claims, to put it mildly. Reasonable statements like "but there's only ten of them" wouldn't hold much weight with America in such a situation -- that's my guess, anyway.

Even some commentators on the right (the isolationists, mostly) have opposed Bush's Star Wars plan from the beginning. Most prominently, Pat Buchanan called the idea provocative and senseless. He also opposes NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, right up to the front door of Russia, as needless provocation. While I don't agree with his entire isolationist stance, I have to say Pat's got a point. Again, how would we feel about a superpower siting missiles so close to our own borders? That's how the Russians have felt about the idea since Bush first proposed it.

Even the worst-case scenario the plan was supposed to prevent seems a bit farfetched, upon close examination. Bush's argument was that if Iran gets nukes, and if Iran gets real ICBMs, then this system would stop a nuclear-tipped missile attack on Western Europe launched by Iran. As I said, this scenario is pretty unbelievable. Because even if Iran did get a nuke and did manage to design one small enough to fit on such a missile, the chance that they would ever lob it at Western Europe is vanishingly small. Iran, even with a few nukes, is most definitely not a "superpower." If they successfully nuked Europe, they know full well that the United States (to say nothing of Europe itself) would retaliate in such a devastating and downright apocalyptic fashion that there simply would no longer be an "Iran," but rather a stretch of radioactive wasteland where the country used to be. This, during the Cold War, was called "Mutually-Assured Destruction." And, rest assured, we would indeed utterly destroy Iran if they ever launched such an attack. They know this. They are not that stupid.

More plausible scenarios (Iran launching a missile attack at Israel, for instance, or Iran turning a "suitcase nuke" over to a terrorist group) are much more likely. But the Star Wars system would have done absolutely nothing to prevent them. Which is why it would have largely been useless.

Which is why Obama was right to consign this idea to the scrapheap.


-- Chris Weigant


9 Comments on “Obama Nixes Star Wars”

  1. [1] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Missile defense has always struck me as a whiz-bang Maginot Line: an expensive waste of time and money that achieves little more than a false sense of security.

    That said, Obama's not actually giving up on missile defense programs; he's just canceling this particular plan to build bases in Europe. There will still be a missile defense program to eat up taxpayer billions.

    (Full disclosure: I live in a region that would be hard-hit if missile defense programs were canceled entirely.)

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    Actually, that's a funny title, since a photo just ran of Obama waving a light saber around.

    This is a much better one.. :D

    As to the meat of your article, many in Eastern Europe AND in the US aren't as pleased with the broken promise as you would think.

    For people in the US, this is nothing but appeasement to the Russians for very little, if anything, in return. Russia will never substantially pressure Iran.

    For leaders in Eastern Europe this is nothing but a broken promise. The leadership there simply views this as the US throwing the free countries of Eastern Europe to the (Russian) wolves.

    Since they know now that the US is afraid of Russia, you will start to see a shift in allegiances as more Eastern European countries start to make nice with the Kremlin because they know they US won't be there for them.

    You heard it here first..


  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    "So let me be clear: Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.) If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed."
    -President Obama 5 Apr 09

    Then: The words of a warrior

    Now: The smell of fear

    What a difference a few months make...

    Obama is on one of the biggest losing streaks I have ever seen. The last thing he did right was to give the GO order to the Navy SEALS against the Somali pirates..


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    Hmmmmmmm I believe I just said that.... :D


  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    This just goes to show that all good things come to those who wait...

    And, what a good feeling it is to see Obama-Biden doing just what I fully expected them to do...on a number of foreign and defense policy fronts.

    It's what I have been so looking forward to since the last White House crew left town...actually, way before that. It's just too bad that so much time and effort has had to be spent on fixing the financial system and saving the economy...though, I must say, that has been fun to watch, too...and I mean that in the very best way!


  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    Ya know what I find really scary?

    All the traditional enemies of the US have the same euphoric attitude about Obama that is prevalent from the Left.

    And all the traditional ALLIES of the US have a WTF?? attitude about Obama and his administration.

    Doesn't this concern anyone??


  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I don't know where you're finding your information these days but, you may want to consider changing sources. Seriously!

    The traditional enemies of the US may be feeling euphoric but that's just because they think they see weakness when in reality it is strength they are dealing with now.

    I'm not concerned at all - what you are seeing is a team in the White House that is the personification of the nth degree.

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:


    What exactly do you call into question??

    How is it NOT weakness when the US capitulates to Russia in the hope, HOPE of getting some help from Russia on Iran.

    How is it NOT weakness when Obama sides with the likes of Chavez and Castro over Honduras.

    You are correct in one point, though. All the traditional enemies of the US are seeing weakness in the US. What if they are right??

    As for competence in the administration? I would have to question YOUR sources..

    From Cash/Clunkers to ACORN to the DunselCare debacle.. The only "competence" visible is in the administration's ability to be incompetent over and over and over again.

    As I said.. Obama et al haven't shown any real leadership since mid to late April. Hell, many on the Left agree with that point.. :D


  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    OK, people...

    Here is a very VERY rare 'mea culpa'... Enjoy it, cuz it don't happen often... :D

    Reading an interview with Obama's NSA, it appears that there are legitimate strategic and tactical reasons for forgoing the European Missile Shield..

    Having said that, I still have four beefs..

    1. This should have been made clear when the announcement was made.

    2. It still smacks of appeasement to Russia for absolutely NO gain.

    3. Our allies are rightfully pissed. We should not have broken faith with them. The US will pay for that down the road.

    4. Obama still talked out both sides of his ass with his 5 Apr speech and what he is saying now...

    But regardless, it appears to be a sound military decision to drop the European Missile Shield.


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