Obama's Missile-Sized Conflict

Iran test launched salvos of missiles capable of reaching most of the Gulf region, Israel, US forces in the region and parts of Europe last week. Senator Obama was asked if he were President and such rockets were shot off what he would do. He explained Bush era failures accounted for the aggressive Iranian action, He then said he would gather intelligence. Then he would reach out, and engage in “tough diplomacy” with Tehran. So there it was, blame America first.

But some went beyond the “whose to blame” story and asked a rather reasonable follow-up question. Wouldn’t the Iranian missile launches give credence to the idea of building a missile defense against such attempts at coercion and blackmail? Time Magazine said Senator Obama supports missile defense, despite the charge of the McCain campaign that the putative Democratic Presidential nominee was “soft” on the issue. It is true that Obama supports the Israeli Arrow ballistic missile program? How nice; the Arrow is already deployed in Israel. He also supports further cooperation with Israel on missile defense. In fact the current defense budget moving through Congress contains funds for further US-Israel missile defense work, but to defeat relatively short range rockets being fired into Israel by Hamas and Hezbollah, from Gaza and southern Lebanon.

The Illinois senator has also said he wants to eliminate missile defense programs that don’t work. It appears if he had been in Congress in the 1980s when Arrow was first being developed he would have eliminated the program. The first dozen tests were failures to one degree or another. The Reagan administration had difficulty persuading Congress that the program needed to go on. The father of the program, Dr. Uzi Rubin, now retired from the Israeli Ministry of Defense, says then it was really touch and go. Years later the program proved itself. There have now more than a dozen test successes in a row.

Obama then says we should only deploy a missile defense system if it works and it doesn’t “divide” anyone. We can’t know what this means, because — like so much Obama says — it defies definition. Presumably, a defense “divides” the defending nation from an aggressor. Perhaps that’s what makes Obama uncomfortable. But his words may refer to the planned Polish and Czech deployment of interceptors, (still under negotiation) and a tracking radar, (now agreed to) both to be done in cooperation with the United States and fully supported by NATO. This is really ironic because with nuclear weapons, the Senator is opposed to testing them but he assumes they will work.

On whether the European deployment divides anyone, should no US military policy be undertaken unless it receives the blessing of the foreign diplomatic community? Isn’t this an echo of the “international test” so cherished by Senator John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential campaign? Think back. There was widespread opposition to President Reagan’s deployment of Pershing and GLCM missiles in Europe in response to the Soviet deployment of SS-20s. Not only was the opposition widespread, the Soviets put some $300 million into the campaign to stop the American and allied efforts. If we had used Obama’s test, the Cold War would still be going on.

There is a real problem with saying unless a US policy meets with the approval of the nuanced-minded diplomats, say in Europe, it does not go forward. This isn’t just out-sourcing your foreign policy: it’s surrendering sovereignty to others. And how unanimous does the approval have to be? Do China, Russia, Iran and Zimbabwe get a vote? In short, Senator, why does US defense and military policy require the moral approval of such ethical giants as Iran and North Korea, or say a France under Chirac or Russia under Putin?

Let’s just connect the dots here: Russia shared missile technology with North Korea and Iran. The technology gets produced in the form of rockets such as the Shahab 3, recently tested, with a range in the neighborhood of 2000 kilometers, putting even Europe in the rockets’ range. The Iranians have further tested a new multi-stage solid fueled rocket with a range that may approach 4000 kilometers, to say nothing of the BM-25, also indirectly from Russia, which Iran has but has not deployed which has a similar range. This is what missile defense “critics” call “a threat that doesn’t exist”.

Obama wants us to test any defense before it is deployed and make sure it works. Fair enough. But then he wants it to make everyone happy, an artifact of Rodney King diplomacy: why can’t we all just get along? Well, if there was ever a lesson from past presidents, it is certainly that you can’t make everyone happy and it is definitely not the job of the US President to do so. It is a tough job because it requires tough decisions. And the decisions are tough because there is widespread disagreement.

Since Iran is deploying these rockets for purposes of blackmail, coercion and top-cover for its terrorism, the next US President should have a plan to protect America’s security and those of our allies. Part of that plan is the deployment of needed missile defenses. The Bush administration has now deployed multiple hundreds of such interceptors here and abroad. By the middle of the next decade, that number should reach close to two thousand. Senator McCain has steadfastly supported these efforts from his first days in the Congress. Obama keeps trying to spin things to blame America first. How about, for a change, protecting America first?