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September 18, 2009

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George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Nyhan's corollary: "Those who remind us of the past are engaged in a substitute for rational thought. Who cares about the past? If a scholar attempts to draw an analogy with the appeasement of Hitler, we shouldn't explain why we think that analogy is inapt, we should simply deplore its use at all."

Brendan asks, "Who cares if it's almost the 71st anniversary of Munich?"

Let's try a different question:

Who cares if it's the 70th anniversary of the Red Army invasion of Poland?

Answer: The Poles.

President Obama's foreign policy has shown a pattern of cooperating with America's foes (e.g. Russia, Iran, Nicaragua, Cuba) and giving the shaft to our friends (e.g., Poland, Honduras, Colombia, Israel.) IMHO our country would be better off if he reversed that pattern.

Rob, I thought it was obvious. Hitler was a murderous dictator who the West thought it could appease via various concessions, including territory. Obama removed ten ground-based interceptors in a move that we don't know the rationale for. Those seem categorically different to me. And even if the move was a concession to Russia, that's hardly worthy of being called appeasement given the differences between Nazi Germany and contemporary Russia. We need language to talk about diplomacy in which every concession isn't labeled as appeasement. It's an intellectually lazy habit. (See my column for more.)

Brendan, you point out that we don't know the rationale for the Administration's move. Perhaps it was diplomacy. Perhaps there were concessions obtained from Russia in return. Or perhaps not. I'm completely fine with those who agree with the move to explain all the reasons why it's great. I'm also fine with hearing why others regard it as a policy of granting concessions to potential enemies to maintain peace, which is the American Heritage Dictionary definition of appeasement.

Sure, Putin isn't Hitler (though in 1938 Hitler wasn't yet the genocidal murderer he became), but the bitter lesson of Chamberlain's failed attempt at appeasement is one that legitimately informs our approach to diplomacy.

I find it really odd not to know the rationale for this move. I'm OK with the President making foreign policy. However, as a citizen, I expect to be told what the policy is and why we're doing it.

The best explanation would be Obama's belief that the missiles don't make sense militarily. Note that even if that's the case, switching policy now has the unfortunate effect of encouraging bad behavior by Russia and discouraging helpful behavior from our European allies. (E.g., Poland and the Czech Republic may be less willing to participate in military efforts in Afghanistan.)

Others speculate reasons that would be more worrisome. Did Obama reverse these missiles simply because Bush favored them? The rationale would be that anything Bush did must be wrong. Was Obama trying to please the anti-war segment of his supporters who have long opposed ABMs? Is our foreign policy being dictated to some degree by Russia or other countries that are not our allies?

I'm not asserting that any of these bad reasons was Obama's motivation, but IMHO it's a concern that we don't know.

I'm a little confused by Brendan's updates. Yes, Congressmen Blunt and Pence used the term "appeasement". However, as Rob pointed out, that term is accurate, or apparently accurate. That is, it appears that this move was done to placate Russia.

I thought Brendan's objection was to the Hitler comparison. However, neither Blunt nor Pence referred to Hitler or Chamberlain or the rise of fascism. They merely said that historically appeasement had not been an effective way to maintain peace.

Yes, we really should put those Russians down now, before its too late.

I am so sick of licking the Russian boot...

Sure, Putin isn't Hitler (though in 1938 Hitler wasn't yet the genocidal murderer he became)

Rob makes an important point. Putin might not be Hitler today, but how knows how he'll feel when he gets out of bed tomorrow? There were absolutely no clues to Hitler's motives before 1938 (such as, you know, the publication of Mein Kampf in 1925), and so history clearly teaches us that a constant state of maximal alarmism is the only prudent course.

Ergo, if Russia wants something, we must make it our top priority to do the opposite thing! At least, I'm pretty sure that was what George Santayana was getting at.

I find it really odd not to know the rationale for this move. I'm OK with the President making foreign policy. However, as a citizen, I expect to be told what the policy is and why we're doing it.

Then perhaps you should read the speech the President gave on this matter, since he lays out the rationale for the change.

To boil it down:
1. Effectiveness - the claim is that this new system will be more effective than the one the Bush administration was intent on putting into place (which is decidedly possible since that system hasn't actually had a lot of sterling successes]

2. It's cheaper;

3. It reassures Russia (although this one is a bit more subtext)

4. It protects Europe better from Iran

I'm not entirely sure why you believe, then, that the President hasn't no rationale has been given. Or perhaps you believe a secret one is actually behind it all...but then that changes the burden of evidence for the argument. Either way, the President has laid out arguments for this move publicly, whether of good merit or not.

A secondary point, but one worth noting: public opinion in Poland and the Czech Republic were pretty much against the Bush plan. See:
http://www.themonkeycage.org/2009/09/more_on_the_missile_shield_why_1.html ]

The President's speech:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-on-Strengthening-Missile-Defense-in-Europe/

This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems, and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 European missile defense program.

This decision was guided by two principal factors. First, we have updated our intelligence assessment of Iran's missile programs, which emphasizes the threat posed by Iran's short- and medium-range missiles, which are capable of reaching Europe. There's no substitute for Iran complying with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program, and we, along with our allies and partners, will continue to pursue strong diplomacy to ensure that Iran lives up to these international obligations. But this new ballistic missile defense program will best address the threat posed by Iran's ongoing ballistic missile defense program.

Second, we have made specific and proven advances in our missile defense technology, particularly with regard to land- and sea-based interceptors and the sensors that support them. Our new approach will, therefore, deploy technologies that are proven and cost-effective and that counter the current threat, and do so sooner than the previous program. Because our approach will be phased and adaptive, we will retain the flexibility to adjust and enhance our defenses as the threat and technology continue to evolve.

To put it simply, our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter, and swifter defenses of American forces and America's allies. It is more comprehensive than the previous program; it deploys capabilities that are proven and cost-effective; and it sustains and builds upon our commitment to protect the U.S. homeland against long-range ballistic missile threats; and it ensures and enhances the protection of all our NATO allies.

This approach is also consistent with NATO missile -- NATO's missile defense efforts and provides opportunities for enhanced international collaboration going forward. We will continue to work cooperatively with our close friends and allies, the Czech Republic and Poland, who had agreed to host elements of the previous program. I've spoken to the Prime Ministers of both the Czech Republic and Poland about this decision and reaffirmed our deep and close ties. Together we are committed to a broad range of cooperative efforts to strengthen our collective defense, and we are bound by the solemn commitment of NATO's Article V that an attack on one is an attack on all.

We've also repeatedly made clear to Russia that its concerns about our previous missile defense programs were entirely unfounded. Our clear and consistent focus has been the threat posed by Iran's ballistic missile program, and that continues to be our focus and the basis of the program that we're announcing today.

Josh R., yes, those were the reasons the President gave, but they were not convincing to most observers. I agree with you that the existing system is not terrifically effective, However, the idea that a not-yet-developed technology will protect Europe better seems like wishful thinking. Furthermore, the to-be-developed system will be installed considerably later, if ever, thus leaving Europe unprotected for years longer.

Even Brendan seemed not to fully believe the President. Despite the President's speech, Brendan said we don't know the rationale for Obama's decision.

Adam, doesn't it seem odd that Russia opposes a Polish missile defense system? That system couldn't be used to attack Russia. It's defensive. The US surely wouldn't mind if our neighboring countries could better defend themselves.

One possible reason for Putin's opposition is that he may want the option of some day using Russia's missiles as an implicit threat against Poland or other European countries. I'm concerned that Putin appears to have expansionist intentions, particularly in the light of Russia's attack on Georgia last year.

Unfortunately, President Obama's weak stand regarding Poland's missiles has done nothing to discourge the expansion of Russian influence. Rather, it has probably encouraged it.

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