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July 22, 2008

Missile Defense Chess
Posted by Adam Blickstein

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino today addressed the escalating rhetoric between the U.S. and Russia over missile defense, including Russian threats of placing strategic nuclear bombers in Cuba if the U.S. pursues placing missile defense systems in Eastern Europe:

But US President George W. Bush told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev just two weeks ago that the planned US missile shield poses no threat to Russia, spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

"The president repeated that our missile defense system should not be seen as a threat to Russia, we want to actually work with the Russians to design a system that Russia, and Europe and the United States could work on together as equal partners and we'll continue to do that," she said.

Starting long-range bomber flights to Cuba would signal a reawakening of military cooperation by former Cold War allies Moscow and Havana, and recall the 1962 missile crisis that brought Washington and Moscow to the brink of war.

"We seek strategic cooperation with the Russians. We want to work with them on preventing missiles from rogue nations like Iran from threatening our friends and allies," said Perino.

Regardless of how missile defense should be seen by Russia, the Russian's clearly see it as antagonism at best, a tangible threat at worst, with the likely reality being somewhere in between. Nonetheless, it provides Russia the political opportunity to posture strategically against the U.S. and project its image as a power abroad, which is both good for its international standing and the government's domestic appeal with American popularity at such a low.  The problem for someone like John McCain, though, is that he wants to continue the antagonizing rhetoric and policies towards Russia (including kicking them out of the G8) at a time when we desperately need to develop a new Russian strategy in order to tackle struggling strategic concerns for the U.S. such as nuclear proliferation and Iran. Which is why a statement like this is curious:

Russia’s 50% cut in oil deliveries to the Czech Republic after that sovereign country and NATO member signed a treaty to host a missile defense radar is a deeply disturbing example of Russia's efforts to use energy as a tool of coercion and intimidation...U.S.-Russia relations are not, and shouldn't become, a zero sum game. As president, I intend to work hard to identify mutual interests. But this is a two way street, and actions like we see today suggest that Russia has other ideas. I hope that its leaders will understand the need to focus on what brings us together.

McCain made a similar assertion at today's town hall and seems to be wanting it both ways. He wants to pursue a comprehensive missile defense system, but also implores Russia not to react in such an aggressive way against countries cooperating with the U.S. on something they fundamentally object to.  Russia has made it clear that any missile defense in Eastern Europe is unacceptable, and yet we continue to push the anachronistic policy almost unabated and unflinchingly of Russia. We shouldn't be shocked that Russia would react in such a way, but John McCain views the issue through such a rigid prism even though American intransigence and lack of a coherent Russia policy is simply inflaming the situation. Bush and Putin are going to meet in Beijing during next month's Olympics to discuss the unraveling situation, which is a good start. But until the U.S. completely reappraises the efficacy of missile defense in relation to our broader strategic goals, and politicians such as McCain realize that criticizing Russian reaction to something it sees as antagonistic doesn't accomplish anything but perpetuating a stale talking point, real solutions to the greater problems with our relationship with Russia will never be addressed.


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Why doesn't Bush just admit to Putin that missile defense doesn't work, so poses no threat to Russia at all?

After reading Gregg Herken's twenty year old book the "War Counsel", McCain seems to be a throwback to the neoconservatives in Team B and the Reagan administration, who believed that the Russians would give in if defensive systems such as Stars Wars was introduced. McCain is continuing this trend by advocating the placement of a missile sheild in Eastern Europe in the hope that somehow the Russians would back down. McCain's policies could only strengthen those in the Kremlin, who want to build the next generation of ballistic missiles and a new class of missile carrying nuclear submarines.

I'm sorry the title of Herken's book is "Counsels of War," and not the "War Counsel."

If I have to play chess with a nation .. Russia may not be the right choice

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