William Katz:  Urgent Agenda








Posted at 8:58 a.m. ET

One of the main arguments used by John F. Kennedy in his 1960 campaign was that there was a "missile gap" separating the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., and that we were at the wrong end of it.  It later turned out not to be true, but it certainly was effective during the campaign in placing Kennedy squarely in the hawk camp.

Not so with Barack Obama, and here again the issue is missiles.  During his campaign Obama raised questions about America's missile-defense program, and he certainly wasn't suggesting that it be strengthened.  Now he must face the issue as president, and the Wall Street Journal is not encouraged by the signs thus far:

Iran's launch last week of a satellite using a homegrown rocket is another reminder of why Europe needs a missile defense -- and needs to start building it now. Combine Iran's improving missile technology with its nuclear aspirations, and it's a lethal mix. This is especially timely given the debate inside the Obama Administration over whether to walk away from the U.S. promise to provide a defense shield for our European allies.

The term "walk away" is not meant as a compliment.  The Journal notes Iran's progress in missile and nuclear technology.

That's why the Bush Administration pushed forward with a Europe-wide missile defense system to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic and built over the next six years. It's also why every NATO country has endorsed the U.S.-led effort...

...The question now is whether the Obama Administration will stand by its predecessor's promise or, as is widely anticipated, suspend the European program. On the campaign trail, Barack Obama suggested missile defense was either ineffective or too expensive, or both.

What if we suspended the program?

Suspending the program would have serious consequences. It would send a signal of American weakness to Iran, which the Obama Administration says it wishes to engage. If the mullahs watch the U.S. back down on confronting its missile threat, who could blame them for assuming it will also back down over its nuclear aspirations?

That is absolutely correct.  Enemies might not have to do much to the West if we do it to ourselves.

A suspension would also send a message of American irresolution to Russia, which opposes deploying the antimissile system in countries it considers part of its sphere of influence.


Hillary Clinton's State Department may hope to get more Russian cooperation against Iran in return for disavowing its commitment to Europe. But that's not worth the message it sends about the U.S. willingness to cave in the face of Russian intimidation. Russia may be prepared to cooperate on a modest scale on Iran -- but only if the U.S. forgoes the defense of Europe. That's no bargain.

It's not even close to a bargain.

The biggest fallout of a suspension would be among America's allies in Europe. Poland and the Czech Republic agreed at some political risk to host missile interceptors and a radar. If the U.S. reneges now, these newly free countries will have reason to doubt that they can trust any U.S. security commitments. Other NATO nations are also watching to see if the U.S. will remain a reliable partner against Russia.

There used to be a cynical saying that held that the worst thing you can be in this world is a friend of the United States...that we too often undercut our friends.  We hope that saying doesn't make a comeback.

Friend and foe alike are trying to take the measure of Mr. Obama, and to test him. Mr. Obama made the nurturing of U.S. alliances a major campaign theme, and, along with trade, the missile defense pact with Europe is the first test of whether he meant it.

We'll watch and report.

February 9, 2009.