It remains to be seen how the media will cover the explosive revelation from ABC’s Jake Tapper that Barack Obama asked Russian president Dmitri Medvedev to get Vladimir Putin to give him some “space” on missile defense so that he could be more “flexible” with the Russians in a second term. So far, the tepid coverage from National Journal and the Washington Post suggests that the media doesn’t consider a request to another nation to pipe down so an American President can win a second term and deliver more favorable policy to a potential antagonist more than a “gaffe.” They seem to be taking their cue from the White House, which attempted a little misdirection:
A senior administration official told ABC: “[T]his is not the kind of year in which we’re going to resolve (an) incredibly complicated issue like this.”
Except Obama wasn’t caught telling Medvedev that he needed more space because missile defense was “incredibly complicated.” He told Medvedev that he needed more space on the issue — in other words, to have it downplayed as a national-security dispute with Russia — in order to win a second term, so that he could have “more flexibility” to deal with the Russians. Very obviously, Obama gave a strong hint that he could be more favorable to the Russian position, which completely opposes the deployment of a Western missile shield in Europe, when Obama doesn’t have to worry about being more accountable to the voters.
That’s not fooling Rep. Michael Turner, who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, which has direct oversight on missile-defense issues. Turner sent a letter to the White House this morning, demanding answers from Obama on whether he’s planning on defying Congress and trading away missile defense:
Dear Mr. President,
I request your urgent explanation of your comments to President Medvedev in Seoul this morning.
During the New START treaty ratification process, you made specific promises that Russian concerns about missile defense will not be allowed to affect U.S. missile defense deployment plans. You further committed that the United States will make both qualitative and quantitative improvements in its missile defenses. You have already walked away from detailed promises to modernize the U.S. nuclear deterrent; are you now planning to walk away from your promises regarding U.S. missile defense as well?
As you know, in the FY12 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress enacted, and you signed into law, a provision constraining your ability to share classified U.S. missile defense information with the Russian Federation. Congress took this step because it was clear based on official testimony and Administration comments in the press that classified information about U.S. missile defenses, including hit-to-kill technology and velocity at burnout information, may be on the table as negotiating leverage for your reset with Russia. Despite signing the FY12 defense authorization legislation into law, you then issued a signing statement signaling that you may treat that provision protecting U.S. missile defense information as non-binding. This morning’s comments, on top of that action, suggests that you and your administration have plans for U.S. missile defenses that you believe will not stand up to electoral scrutiny.
Congress has made exquisitely clear to your Administration and to other nations that it will block all attempts to weaken U.S. missile defenses. As the Chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, which authorizes U.S. missile defense and nuclear weapons policy, I want to make perfectly clear that my colleagues and I will not allow any attempts to trade missile defense of the United States to Russia or any other country.
Michael R. Turner
Chairman, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
House Armed Services Committee
Shouldn’t the media be asking these same questions?
Update: I’ve added a link to Turner’s letter, and will interview him today on The Ed Morrissey Show. Also, the Russian news site Ria Novosti had an interview with Vladimir Putin from earlier this month in which we might get a glimpse of the “flexibility” Obama was promising Medvedev:
Washington’s talks with Moscow on European missile defense failed because U.S. negotiators were unwilling to put their oral proposals to Moscow on paper, Russian prime minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin has said.
“They made some proposals to us which we virtually agreed to and asked them to get them down on paper,” Putin said during an interview with editors-in-chief of six foreign newspapers in his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow.
“They made a proposal to us just during the talks, they told us: we would offer you this, this and that. We did not expect this, but I said: we agree. Please put it down on paper,” Putin said.
“We were waiting for their answer for two months. We did not get it, and then our American partners withdrew their own proposals, saying: no, it’s impossible,” he added.
He explained that those “proposals” included guarantees that the U.S.-NATO European missile shield would not be directed against Russia. For example, Russian specialists would be allowed to carry out round-the-clock monitoring of the anti-missile components, and their radars systems would be cemented so that they were directed exactly at Iran and “were technically unable to turn towards Russia.”
“This would not change the situation dramatically, but we said: ok, it’s already something, we agree. Put it down on paper. But they refused,” Putin said.
How would we “cement” radars or offer Russia observer status on naval platforms, which is the direction Obama took in canceling the installations in Poland and the Czech Republic? Curious. We’ll ask Rep. Turner about this as well.
Update II: John McCain invokes the image du jour from last week’s political battles and applies it to Obama:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ripped President Obama as “a real ‘Etch a Sketch’ leader for suggesting he could switch his policy on missile defense after the election.
In the midst of an often tense discussion between the US and Russia over plans for a US-led NATO European missile defense system, Obama was heard asking Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for more time on the subject and promising he will have “more flexibility” following the election in November. The comments came across a live mic the two leaders did not appear to realize was on.
“Pres Obama tells Medvedev he’ll be more “flexible” on missile defense – that’s a real “Etch A Sketch” leader!— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) March 26, 2012,” McCain tweeted on Monday.
So far, no one’s bringing up the reset button, but I’ll put the over-under on that one at … 3 pm today.