Did Obama Break Promise on Missiles?

I’ve been critical of the optics of President Obama’s decision to abandon missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic on the 70th anniversary of the Russian invasion of Poland. But I disagree with Jim Geraghty‘s assertion that it also represents breaking a promise made in April. Here’s what he said in Prague:

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. [emphasis mine]

He can quite reasonably argue that he’s done precisely that in dropping an expensive and unproven land-based system for a cheaper and proven (albeit  less comprehensive) ship-based system.  While the Poles and Czechs — or, at least, their governments — are far from thrilled (more on that later) Obama may will have been intentionally signaling yesterday’s move in April.

Nathan Hodge has a good backgrounder on the technology.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I think there are three distinct questions in this move that are being treated as a single thing: the technology, the policy, and the diplomacy.

    Whatever the technological and policy merits, unless there’s been some quiet behind the scenes agreements (enforceable?), it’s lousy diplomacy as I think John Burgess noted somewhat obliquely in the previous thread on the this subject.

  2. James Joyner says:

    That’s exactly where I stand, Dave. I think the policy/tech is arguable either way and am leaning slightly in the direction of this being the right call. But the diplomacy would seem to override that unless there’s some outstanding behind-the-scenes deal.

  3. DC Loser says:

    Let’s see what happens in a few months to a year. Are the Russians finally going to go through with the sale and delivery of the S-300 SAM system to Iran? Will they cut off any assistance their people have provided to the Iranian or North Korean missile program? We shall see.

  4. Alex Knapp says:

    I don’t think the diplomatic gains of building an unwieldy, expensive, and ineffective system outweighs the benefits of deploying an effective system.

    Of course, while I’m glad Obama is going with the less expensive, more effective missile defense system, what really bothers me is the fact that, when we’re facing down huge deficits, we’re still wasting money paying for Europe’s defense.

  5. kvc says:

    As we have learned domestically, our allies are learning globally, that the President can talk out of both sides of his mouth. Much like my wife, every answer is a multiply choice answer that can be applied as needed in the future. ( My wife and I do have a discussion on this feature of diplomacy often.)

  6. anjin-san says:

    James, in an earlier thread:

    The problem is that we made a promise to Poland that gave them a heightened sense of security in the wake of the Russian invasion of Georgia. We’ve now abandoned that promise in the wake of clamoring from Moscow, in exchange apparently for nothing.

    And today:

    He can quite reasonably argue that he’s done precisely that in dropping an expensive and unproven land-based system for a cheaper and proven (albeit less comprehensive) ship-based system.

    Which is it James? Or are you now embracing the well worn right wing tactic of just saying whatever happens to work for you at the moment? Very few GOP bloggers are credible to Democrats. I am sorry to see that you appear to be leaving that tiny club…

  7. Dodd says:

    Obama may will have been intentionally signaling yesterday’s move in April

    Of course he was. I knew as soon as I heard him say it in April that the “cost-effective and proven” language was obviously intended to give him a basis upon which to pull the plug.

    Besides, anyone who’s ever listened to the guy knows what “let me be clear” means.

  8. Bill says:

    Whether or not one system is better then the other is a moot point. What our president has done is to bow to pressure from Russia and China. He is making the United States look weak in front of the international community. This man has only been in office for eight months and has already proven he is a failure at foreign policy. He is more concerned about how the international community views him. He is a narcissist of the first order.

  9. Very few GOP bloggers are credible to Democrats.

    Oh my.

  10. anjin-san says:

    Very few GOP bloggers are credible to Democrats.

    Oh my.

    Having a discourse where reasonable people can disagree is pretty central to a healthy democracy. Or do you think our country’s problems will be solved by endless petty bickering?

  11. Fog says:

    “BRUSSELS — The head of NATO called Friday for the U.S., Russia and NATO to link their missile defense systems against potential new nuclear threats from Asia and the Middle East, saying that the old foes must forget their lingering Cold War animosity.”

    How does this factor into the discussion?

  12. DL says:

    Nuance, nuance, nuance! My gosh, with all the millions of words in speeches by TOTUS, do we have to all get Harvard Law School Degrees to understand what he really said. Deception is deception and this man is nothing but one better than Bill Clinton “it depends what the meaning of is, is.”

    We can’t run our country like it is a courtroom where each word needs to be dissected in perpetuity. A man who is president ought ot be able to speak clearly and succintly without wordsmanship, otherwise, we need to limit voters to those trained in cross-examination.

  13. DC Loser says:

    A man who is president ought ot be able to speak clearly and succintly without wordsmanship,

    Well, I guess the previous eight years were for naught..

    “Oftentimes, we live in a processed world, you know, people focus on the process and not results.”

    “The law I sign today directs new funds… to the task of collecting vital intelligence… on weapons of mass production.”

    “It will take time to restore chaos and order.”

    “They have miscalculated me as a leader.”

    “Natural gas is hemispheric… because it is a product that we can find in our neighborhoods.”

    “I am mindful not only of preserving executive powers for myself, but for predecessors as well.”

    “We need an energy bill that encourages consumption.”

    “We are making steadfast progress.”

  14. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    James that system you say is ineffective has proven itself on numerous tests. A very lot of money was spent developing that system. Obama always says something is broke or will not work when he changes course. The system he intends to put in place is the unproven system. Unwieldy. Now there is a term that certainly does not fit this system. It is not mobile as it is a theater defense system designed to defend against a specific threat coming from a undeterred belligerent. If you want Iran to develop and threaten with a nuclear missile capability, our government is supporting your idea.

  15. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    DC Loser, I like the loser part. The list of lies Obama has told is so long that it would be easier to write and quote what he may, by accident, told the truth about. He does not want to own an automobile company, bank, or dictate of the private sector. No free healthcare for illegal aliens. If his lips are moving he is lying. George Bush may or may not have been clumsy when it came speaking but he was not lying. Prove me wrong.
    Wait, the British said they had proof, Bush quoted the British.

  16. Alex Knapp says:

    Zelsdorf,

    Accoring to the Department of Defense’s own numbers, the shield that was going to be placed in Poland has a 61% accuracy rate assuming that there are no countermeasures in place.

    By contrast, the SM-3 interceptors have been around longer and have a much better interception rate, and they are better at evading countermeasures.

  17. James Joyner says:

    Which is it James? Or are you now embracing the well worn right wing tactic of just saying whatever happens to work for you at the moment? Very few GOP bloggers are credible to Democrats. I am sorry to see that you appear to be leaving that tiny club…

    Sorry – been swamped with my day job. The Scowcroft post I just posted may help clarify.

    In short, though, I don’t see a contradiction in those statements. The Poles believe, correctly or not, that a system on their soil makes them more secure, either for technical reasons or because it puts U.S. skin in the game. Obama can reasonably argue that the sea-based system is cheaper and proven, which is what he promised in April.

  18. Our Paul says:

    Once again proving that in libertarian / conservative criticism clear thinking rules, to wit:

    That’s exactly where I stand, Dave. I think the policy/tech is arguable either way and am leaning slightly in the direction of this being the right call. But the diplomacy would seem to override that unless there’s some outstanding behind-the-scenes deal. (James Joiner | September 18, 2009 | 10:42 am)

    To paraphrase: Cancellation of a foolish expensive foreign policy that probably will fail to work as defensive measure should never be done unless there’s some outstanding behind-the-scenes deal.

    So much for fiscal restraint and open government…

    Pssst: It may be a function of my rum sodden brain, but as I recall there was some issue as to whether this Bush policy rose to the level of a treaty status, requiring Senate approval. But that is a different issue which would require input by “strict constructionists”, preferably without too many comments by a soft hearted “wise Latina”.

  19. James Joyner says:

    To paraphrase: Cancellation of a foolish expensive foreign policy that probably will fail to work as defensive measure should never be done unless there’s some outstanding behind-the-scenes deal.

    I’m not sure how you get that from “I think the policy/tech is arguable either way and am leaning slightly in the direction of this being the right call.”

    I recall there was some issue as to whether this Bush policy rose to the level of a treaty status, requiring Senate approval. But that is a different issue which would require input by “strict constructionists”, preferably without too many comments by a soft hearted “wise Latina”.

    I’m amenable to an argument that Congress should have some say-so beyond backdoor fiscal lockouts but the ability of presidents to negotiate deals of this sort via executive agreement has been SOP since, oh, the Jefferson administration.

  20. Alex Knapp says:

    I’m amenable to an argument that Congress should have some say-so beyond backdoor fiscal lockouts but the ability of presidents to negotiate deals of this sort via executive agreement has been SOP since, oh, the Jefferson administration.

    In fairness, Jefferson actually did believe that what he was doing was unconstitutional and that the Constitution should be amended. Of course, that didn’t stop him from “buying” Louisiana anyway.

  21. James Joyner says:

    In fairness, Jefferson actually did believe that what he was doing was unconstitutional and that the Constitution should be amended. Of course, that didn’t stop him from “buying” Louisiana anyway.

    Yup. Presidents, even honorable ones, tend to think that “doing right by the country” by their lights trumps the pesky legalities of the Constitution.