In what has become a dizzying display of the diplomatic Hokey Pokey, the US has reached an agreement with Poland to install land-based missile interceptors. Vice President Joe Biden went to Poland to smooth ruffled feathers and apparently to execute a second reversal in the last six months from the Obama administration:
The Obama administration reached a new agreement Wednesday with top Polish government officials to place a new generation of missile interceptors on Polish soil, a surprising turnabout from just a few weeks earlier when it had appeared the U.S. was ready to abandon its missile defense program in Eastern Europe.
Vice President Biden and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk emerged from a lengthy private discussion to announce that Poland’s participation in the missile defense system was, essentially, back on — though in a new format that involves delivering a smaller number of defensive weapons in 2018.
Mr. Tusk said through a translator that he considered the revised proposal “a very interesting idea.” “We are ready to participate in this project,” he said.
The hastily arranged vice presidential trip, which will also include stops in Romania and the Czech Republic this week, was intended to soothe relations and reassure the fledgling NATO members that the missile program was not being scrapped, and that the evolving policy should not be viewed as a snub and a weakening of U.S. defense security commitments in the region.
In April, Barack Obama offered his support for missile-defense systems in eastern Europe, especially based in Poland and the Czech Republic. Last month, without warning American allies, Obama reversed himself and said the US would not be pursuing land-based missile defense systems in eastern Europe. The White House then hailed Russian remarks that appeared to indicate that Moscow would take a harder line on Iran, saying that their concession on missile defense had improved relations with Russia and allowed for more cohesion on a national security issue.
However, Russia reversed itself last week, calling further sanctions “unproductive” — or more accurately, never reversed its earlier position on sanctions on Iran. Russia has a badly stumbling economy, and they need trade with Tehran. That means more to them than “reset buttons” from Hillary Clinton, so they are not about to impose pain on themselves, regardless of what Obama does with missile defense.
And now it appears that the US has reversed itself again. The Obama administration insisted that they would opt for sea-based interceptors as a more feasible and less costly method of protecting against Iranian missile strikes, which got the support from some in the military community. Those supporters have to wonder what the White House is thinking now, or what rationalization they’ll offer for another flip-flop from Obama.
Update: Polish newspapers report that Biden offered to build a US Army base in Poland as a security guarantee. Not sure if that was in place of missile interceptors, or in addition to them.