Obama Reignites 25-Year-Old Debate
By Ben Pershing
President Obama won decisively in November by promising a firm break from the policies of the Bush administration. But when it comes to national security issues, Obama hasn't necessarily steered a much different course than that of his predecessor -- until Thursday.
In a political environment consumed by health care, with occasional references to Afghanistan, Obama's move to halt a missile defense porgram in Poland and the Czech Republic temporarily refocused the commentariat on the chess match of foreign policy, and renewed a 25-year debate between liberals and conservatives on the subject. "Obama's decision to abandon a Bush-era plan for a missile defense system in Europe and establish a partly ship-based shield against Iranian rockets could tighten U.S. pressure on the Islamic republic and ease a simmering rift with Russia," the Washington Post writes. Those twin goals -- turning the heat up on Iran, and down on Russia -- are the primary motivation for Obama's move, along with the administration's argument that the new system will simply be more effective than the old one.
But intentionally or not, Obama also reignited a philosophical and strategic fight that began during the Reagan administration. The new plan, the New York Times observes, "turns Ronald Reagan's vision of a Star Wars system on its head: Rather than focusing first on protecting the continental United States, it shifts the immediate effort to defending Europe and the Middle East." In a tough editorial, National Review writes Obama "knows how to put a smile on faces in Tehran and Moscow," and trashes his decision as the latest volley in liberals' long campaign against missile defense. The piece concludes: "The president has sent a chilling message about American resolve in the face of Russian saber-rattling. Georgia, Ukraine, and the rest of the world have learned a disturbing lesson." The Wall Street Journal editorial board hits the same themes: "Don't expect either [Poland or the Czech Republic] to follow America's lead anytime soon."
Posted at 8:25 AM ET on Sep 18, 2009
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