In June 2008, Senator Chuck Schumer penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal stating that, in order to enlist Russia’s help in shutting down Iran’s nuclear program, the United States should appease Vladimir Putin in his designs on Eastern Europe. “Mr. Putin is an old-fashioned nationalist who seeks to regain the power and greatness Russia had before the fall of the Soviet Union” Schumer wrote. “To bring Putin’s Russia on board we must make it an offer it cannot refuse.”
Schumer’s proposed offer had three parts:
First, we must treat Russia as an equal partner when it comes to policy in the Caspian Sea region, recognizing Russia’s traditional role in the region. Second, we must offer to make Russia whole if it joins in our Iranian boycott and forgoes trade revenues with Iran. That will cost the U.S. roughly $2 billion to $3 billion a year, about what we spend in Iraq each week. Third, we should tell Mr. Putin we will cease building the ineffective antinuclear missile defense sites in Eastern Europe in return for him joining the boycott.
Schumer elaborated on the last point:
Two years ago, under NATO auspices, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania agreed to build an antimissile defense site to thwart the threat of a nuclear missile attack by Iran. The threat is hypothetical and remote, and the Bush administration’s emphasis on pursuing the antimissile system, without Russia’s cooperation, still baffles many national security experts.
It also drives Mr. Putin to apoplexy. The antimissile system strengthens the relationship between Eastern Europe and NATO, with real troops and equipment on the ground. It mocks Mr. Putin’s dream of eventually restoring Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe.
Dismantling the antimissile site, economic incentives and creation of a diplomatic partnership in the region – in exchange for joining an economic boycott of Iran – is an offer Mr. Putin would find hard to refuse. It is our best hope to avoid a nuclear Iran, because a successful economic boycott would certainly force the Iranian regime to heed Western demands more than anything attempted so far.
The idea that a top-ranking Democratic Senator would openly propose that the Soviet Union be rebuilt sent shocked members of America’s Eastern European community. It elicited a stinging rebuke from the Central and East European Coalition (“CEEC”):
For decades Central and East Europeans had been oppressed by Russia, whose “greatness” you suggest that Mr. Putin restore. The 1932-1933 genocide in Ukraine, the incorporation of the Baltic countries into the Soviet Union, the brutal crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968, the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981, the blatant and continuing denials of fundamental freedoms in Belarus are all examples of the tragedies that ruined millions of lives in the countries of a region which had been ill-advisedly relegated to the Russian sphere of influence in the twentieth century.
After untold suffering, these nations have regained their freedom and sovereignty. And now you suggest that Russia once again be allowed to dominate the countries of Central and East Europe in order to pursue policies whose effectiveness is a matter of conjecture at best.
Your recommendations are especially distressing, considering the disturbing trends in Russia, including the intimidation used to silence the press and critics of the government, rising anti-Semitism and intolerance toward minorities and attempts to use energy as a means to divide Europe and unduly influence Central and East European governments. Your proposal, in effect would validate these disturbing trends in the eyes of Moscow and pander to Russian nostalgia for imperialism.
Predictably, this became the Obama administration’s policy. In the first few weeks of his administration (February 2009), Obama sent a secret letter to the Russians offering to scrap the missile defense shield in return for pressuring Iran to stop it’s nuclear program. The letter was leaked by the New York Times, and the offer was publicly rejected by the Russians. Schumer, being Schumer, ran to the cameras to proclaim how brilliant he and Obama are: “The president’s gesture to Russia is the kind of smart, targeted diplomacy our dangerous world needs.”
Charles Krauthammer saw it differently:
We end up being humiliated. We look weak in front of the Iranians and we have left the Poles and Czechs out to dry in return for nothing.
The Czechs and the Poles went out on a limb, exposed themselves to Russian pressure and we have shown that Eastern Europe is not as sovereign as it appears if the Russian influence is there and we will acquiesce in what they consider their own sphere of influence.
This administration has prided itself, flattered itself on deploying “smart diplomacy.” Smart diplomacy is a meaningless idea, but if it has any meaning at all, it is not ever doing something as humiliating, amateurish and stupid as this.
Obama pressed ahead anyway, canceling the missile defense shield project on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. We got nothing out of that gesture at the time, but now the administration now has a “deal” with Iran: we loosen sanctions, they take the money and keep building nukes. And here we are, with the Evil Empire being rebuilt right before our eyes.
Ion Mihai Pacepa is fond of saying: “When You Appease Tyrants, They Just Hate You Even More”. Some people, it seems, are too corrupt or too stupid to realize it.