Friday, November 07, 2008


President Obama's First Test?

President Kennedy had a year and a half to govern before having to face down Russia in the Cuban Missile Crisis. It looks as though the Russians aren't even waiting for President-elect Obama to be sworn in:
MOSCOW - President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that Russia will deploy missiles in territory near NATO member Poland in response to U.S. missile defense plans.

He did not say whether the short-range Iskander missiles would be fitted with nuclear warheads.

In his first state of the nation speech, Medvedev also blamed the U.S. for the war in Georgia and the global financial crisis.


Speaking just hours after Barack Obama was declared the victor in the U.S. presidential election, Medvedev said he hoped the incoming administration will take steps to improve badly damaged U.S. ties with Russia. He suggested it is up to the U.S. — not the Kremlin — to seek to improve relations.
And so it begins... just when we thought that we had only Iran (and perhaps Iraq) to worry about.

This, mind you, amid accusations of belligerence against the United States, and calls to increase power for Russian rulers:
Medvedev said the president's tenure should be lengthened to six years to enable the government to more effectively implement reforms. He said the term of the parliament also should be extended by a year to five years, and that parliament's power must be increased by requiring the Cabinet to report to lawmakers regularly.
When a President calls for a Constitutional change to lengthen his own term of service, that's cause for concern. (President Bush has been accused of this; well, there's very little that he hasn't been accused of in the past eight years. But now the Russian President is actually proposing it, and he seems to be serious about it.)

The Cold War is on, folks. Russia has already gotten away with far more than she should have in Georgia; invasions of other Russian neighbors, I suspect, are not far off, with Russia daring the United States to do anything about it.

Will President-elect Obama show the spine to oppose them? Will he stand up to them, let's say, with the sort of rhetoric he has used with American allies? I hope that he will... but I fear he will not.

It's a dangerous world out there. We must be willing to negotiate with those who have legitimate differences, and who are willing to negotiate in good faith. But we must always keep the military option ready, because there will always be those with whom negotiation is impossible.

Iran has made it abundantly clear where she stands. Now Russia has joined in, clearly stating her willingness to oppose the United States, not just with words (as the EU has been doing), but with missiles.

And Americans may have reason to experience buyer's remorse, sooner than anyone expected. In the opinions of many, a large reason that Barack Obama won over John McCain on Tuesday was because the focus was on the economy (Obama's perceived strength) rather than on foreign policy and war (McCain's strength). Had the Iraq War been a major campaign issue, then the architect of The Surge -- and the one who had called for it before President Bush did, defying his entire party to do so -- might well have had a stronger chance.

Instead, with the Iraq War largely won and out of the headlines, the American economy dominated the election's last weeks -- and Americans voted overwhelmingly on that basis, as though the outside world was no longer a serious concern. But the outside world still poses tremendous challenges for America... and they're about to get more challenging.

Barack Obama is the one we voted for, and he's the one we got. Let's hope he's up to the challenge.

UPDATE: The initial signs aren't encouraging:
President-elect Obama is getting a rude welcome to the world of international diplomacy and the wide-reaching effect his decisions will have:

President-elect Obama has spoken to the president of Poland about relations between the two countries but didn't make a commitment on the multibillion-dollar missile defense program undertaken by the Bush administration, an Obama aide said Saturday.

That contrasts with a statement by Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who said Obama told him the missile defense project would continue. [...]
So here we are with Obama telling a world leader one thing and the public another, very much like his statements on NAFTA during the election where he slammed the treaty on the campaign trail while simultaneously winking at the Canucks and saying it was just for the consumption of the gullible American electorate.

But this is not Canada, this is Russia, the former Soviet Union, the Bear who was our enemy for decades and who will be again soon. Medvedev is the puppet while Putin pulls the strings and Putin is getting a measure of just who Obama is. Russia wants to regain its influence in the region and it starts with Poland, a fierce ally and a nation that dearly needs us to be very clear about our intentions. Instead we get mealy-mouthed rhetoric from Obama.
You're in the big leagues now, Mr. Obama, where your every word is listened to -- and acted upon -- by world leaders everywhere. A careless phrasing from you now can no longer cost you the election... but it could bring your country to the brink of war, or sow the seeds of a future one by projecting weakness.

(Update: John Hinderaker seems to agree.)

Is Mr. Obama trying to assuage Russia by soft-pedaling the Polish missile deal? If so, not only would he be making a grave mistake (by being conciliatory towards a country that is making every effort to act like an enemy); he would also, again, be siding with an enemy at the expense of an ally.

America's allies are not dispensable, the way your former friends Rev. Wright or Bill Ayers or Tony Rezko were... and it's time to stop acting like a campaigner and start practicing to become the Chief Executive of the United States.

Democrats have complained endlessly about President Bush embroiling us in a war on two fronts (Iraq and Afghanistan), with more crises elsewhere (North Korea etc.). President-elect Obama now has storms brewing in Iran and Russia, without having made any progress at all on the existing problems.

Can we start to fear the future now? Yes, we can.


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