Merry Christmas, Comrade Putin

In its Thursday edition, the Washington Times framed its report on the Senate’s ratification of the New START Treaty with two photos. The first was of President Obama doing what he does best – talking – at his press conference marking the end of a lame-duck session in which he and his allies on Capitol Hill secured sufficient Republican support ram through Congress not only a deeply flawed arms control accord but a host of other controversial and expensive pieces of legislation.

The second picture was one in which a black-belted Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is shown throwing an opponent to a mat in a display of what he is good at: deftly parlaying weakness into advantage, where necessary through the skillful application of force.

The dueling images perfectly captured what had just gone down in the U.S. Senate. Thirteen Republican senators – including the third-ranking member of the GOP leadership, Sen. Lamar Alexander, broke ranks with the rest of their party, seduced Barack Obama’s blithe promises. They bought hook-line-and-sinker his riff – backed by the testimonials of sundry former and serving officials (who should have known better) – that this treaty was in America’s vital national security interests. They were also taken in by presidential assurances that he would absolutely, positively modernize the U.S. deterrent and build and deploy capable missile defenses.

As a result, the Senate gave Comrade Putin a marvelous Christmas present. By a 71-26 margin, legislators voted for a New START Treaty that codifies the success of the Russian prime minister in jujitsuing his nation’s strategically inferior position to decisive defeat of the nation he loves to hate: the United States. He was helped enormously in this regard by the haplessness of the American team led by an inveterate champion of U.S. nuclear disarmament, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller.

A prime example of this dynamic is to be found in the treatment of U.S. missile defenses. In several places – from the Treaty’s Preamble to its Annex – anti-missile systems are implicated. This was the result of Moscow’s insistence on language that establishes the “interrelationship” between offensive and defensive systems and limits certain aspects of the latter.

For good measure, the Russians announced at the signing ceremony in Prague in April that they would consider “any qualitative or quantitative improvements” in our missile defenses to be grounds for withdrawing from the treaty. Knowing how attached President Obama is to this accord, such a threat is tantamount to a veto over any further improvements to our capabilities to protect this country and its allies against emerging ballistic missile threats.

In the lame-duck jam-through that passed for Senate deliberation of the New START Treaty, legislators concerned about such a prospect were told, in effect, to get stuffed. An amendment to change the language of the accord was handily defeated. Pentagon officials were trotted out to swear that nothing in the treaty would interfere with their “plans” for missile defenses. And, at the eleventh hour, Obama gave the defecting Republicans political cover on the issue; he wrote a letter that pledged nothing more than what he had already undertaken to do: to pursue the phased deployment of modest anti-missile systems in Europe.

Unfortunately, it now seems likely that the Iranian missile threat against which these systems were supposed to provide protection to our allies will lag the mullah’s menace by approximately five years. And that assumes the Russians don’t object and that we don’t capitulate – as we now know was done last year, when President Obama cancelled the plan his predecessor had forged with NATO in the face of Putin’s thuggish promise otherwise to end all Russo-American cooperation.

An even more immediate demonstration of the folly of the deal cut by Team Obama and now approved by the U.S. Senate seems in the offing from an Iranian missile threat closer to home. As I noted two weeks ago, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez has announced that he is opening his country to the deployment of short-range Scud-B’s and C’s and medium-range Shahab-3’s that will be supplied and manned by Iran.

We have no defense in place at the moment to prevent those missiles from being wielded against our allies and interests in the hemisphere, or to keep their longer-range follow-on’s from threatening us. It is predictable that the Russians will object vehemently to any corrective actions we take.

The truth is that current U.S. plans for missile defense – severely limited capabilities that were acceptable to a President who has made no secret of his ideological hostility to such defenses – are already being shown to be wholly inadequate. My bet is that, even before the Russian Duma gives its final approval next month to a treaty that is so much to the Kremlin’s advantage, Mr. Obama is going to have to come to grips with the threat posed by Iranian missiles coming, in a reprise of the Cuban missile crisis, to a theater near us. If he does not stop their delivery, the President is simply going to have to put in place defenses against them.

At that point, count on Comrade Putin to play the gift card the Senate gave him for Christmas. In that event, we had better pray that the new management that will finally be in charge on Capitol Hill will ensure that nothing is allowed to stand in the way of defending the American people.


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