The Parallax Brief


Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

Krauthammering Away At Russia, Missile Shield

Charles Krauthammer is clearly a smart guy, which makes the Parallax Brief wonder seriously why he penned last week a combination of flab and fallacy on US-Russia relations, titled Obama’s Supine Diplomacy, for the Washington Post.

Krauthammer justifies the titular accusation thus: that Russia has already provoked the US on several fronts:

Consider the long list of brazen Russian provocations:

(a) Pressuring Kyrgyzstan to shut down the U.S. air base in Manas, an absolutely crucial NATO conduit into Afghanistan.

(b) Announcing the formation of a “rapid reaction force” with six former Soviet republics, a regional Russian-led strike force meant to reassert Russian hegemony in the Muslim belt north of Afghanistan.

(c) Planning to establish a Black Sea naval base in Georgia’s breakaway province of Abkhazia, conquered by Moscow last summer.

(d) Declaring its intention to deploy offensive Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if Poland and the Czech Republic go ahead with plans to station an American (anti-Iranian) missile defense system.

And in the face of these provocations, Obama has simply backed down.

The Obama response? “Biden Signals U.S. Is Open to Russia Missile Deal,” as the New York Times headlined Biden’s Feb. 7 Munich speech to a major international gathering. This followed strong messages from the Obama transition team even before the inauguration that Obama was not committed to the missile shield. And just to make sure everyone understood that the Bush policy no longer held, Biden said in Munich that the United States wanted to “press the reset button” on NATO-Russian relations.

President Bush’s response to the Kaliningrad deployment — the threat was issued the day after Obama’s election — was firm. He refused to back down because giving in to Russian threats would leave Poles and Czechs exposed and show the world that, contrary to post-Cold War assumptions, the United States could not be trusted to protect Eastern Europe from Russian bullying.

Quite apart from the chauvinism on display when he rages at Russia and Central Asia for seeking to beef up their security by strengthening military cooperation (how dare they! The provocative swine!), Krauthammer uses a kind of circular reasoning so infantile that we must assume it deliberately disingenuous: the threat to place Iskander missiles (pictured below) in Kaliningrad was clearly a response to the US decision to install a missile shield in Eastern Europe that Russia perceived a threat, yet Krauthammer uses the response as justification for the action.

That is really very poor.

The second part of Krauthammer’s argument – spineless response – fares little better. How, exactly, does the missile shield protect Poland and the Czech Republic from Russia? Answer: it does little economically and nothing militarily to protect these countries. In fact, it makes life worse, because it damages relations with a natural trading partner – notwithstanding recalibrated nuclear missile targeting.

The real way to strengthen America’s new Eastern European allies is to tighten military cooperation,  to provide funding, advanced weaponry and expertise to facilitate modernisation of their armed forces and their integration into NATO.

That process is not mutually exclusive to withdrawing from the massively expensive, unlikely to work missile shield. And Krauthammer knows it, but is willing to make the missile shield instrisic to astern Europe’s ability to avoid vassal status if it helps defend his position – in other words lie and deliberately misdirect.

Harsh language? Well, the Parallax Brief would like to direct you to Krauthammer’s crushing conclusion that “Not surprisingly, the Obama wobble elicited a favorable reaction from Russia.”

And that’s true. Russia has provided logistical access through Russian territory to Afghanistan, put on hold the sale of SAM batteries to Iran (hugely important), and genuinely made the kind of noises that they are willing to play ball.

Krauthammer needs to have a long, hard look at himself and reassess his position on Eastern Europe diplomacy: really, what kind of person criticises a policy for being successful?

Filed under: Defence, Foreign policy, Russia, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses

  1. Robertmf says:

    Whew – I read the title too quickly … With “Krauts hammering away at Russia” … I thought the Germans had invaded, again :-0

    The NY Times is reporting that O’bama offered a “secret” deal with the Russians:

    WASHINGTON — President Obama sent a secret letter to Russia’s president last month suggesting that he would back off deploying a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons, American officials said Monday.

    • parallaxbrief says:

      Thanks for that. Extremely interesting. I’ve been reading about this tonight. Of course, nothing is solid yet, but this is imporant. The key to understanding the dynamic here is understanding that Iran is the key foreign policy challenge of the Obama administration, not Russia. Having Russia onside achieves two things: First, it means that Iran is all the more isolated (at a time of dwindling petrochemical revenues) and therefore negotiating from a postion of further weakness in the forthcoming talks.

      Second, it means that Russia isn’t selling Iran sophisticated SAM batteries and anti-ship missiles — very important bearing in mind we’re approaching the day when it is likely that America may well have to bomb Iran in order to stop further progress on its nuclear program.

      And, as if that wasn’t important enough, Obama gets to save a whole bunch of cash (billions) that would ordinarily have been spent on something that probably doesn’t work.

  2. Robertmf says:

    I should think the USA will have to wait in line behind Israel to bomb Iran should the Iran nuclear program continue to progress.

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