Missile defense likely to continue in Obama administration

In keeping with the Geraghty Axiom of Barack Obama, the expiration date of the President-Elect’s opposition to missile defense appears to be January 20, 2009, at least according to Time.  Mark Thompson reports that missile defense has come too far for any President to shut it down, and the Russian challenge will force Obama to show toughness by continuing it:

Missile-defense skeptics yearning for a fresh look at the wisdom of pumping $10 billion annually into missile defense aren’t going to get it from Barack Obama when he moves into the Oval Office. The Russians — along with the two men most likely to end up running the Pentagon for the President-elect — have already made sure of that. It’s a bracing reminder of just how difficult it is to counter momentum once a big-league defense program achieves what aerodynamicists call “escape velocity” — that synergy of speed and gravity that lets a vehicle soar smoothly into the skies. …

If Obama keeps Defense Secretary Robert Gates on, as some advisers are arguing he should, that would come as no surprise. “Russia has nothing to fear from a defensive missile shield,” Gates said Thursday as he argued for extending the system to Europe. The current plan is to place 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a missile-tracking radar in the Czech Republic by 2014. It’s strongly opposed by Russia, which views it as an unwelcome military threat in a region where it has always been pre-eminent. The other leading contender for the Pentagon post is Richard Danzig, a Clinton Navy secretary, who recently told reporters that the Obama team has “a strong view that national missile defense is a rewarding area and should be invested in.”

In fact, during the campaign, Obama said “I actually believe that we need missile defense because of Iran and North Korea and the potential for them to obtain or to launch nuclear weapons.” While expressing concern that such a program might not work, he also has said that it makes sense to “explore the possibility of deploying missile defense systems in Europe,” in light of Tehran’s efforts, his aides have recently suggested he won’t move ahead with the European deployment if the system’s not “workable.”

The challenge from Dmitry Medvedev has made continuing the program all but certain, Thompson says.  Medvedev’s attempts to intimidate eastern Europe, NATO, and the US put Obama in a very difficult position.  He cannot just acquiesce to Medvedev’s demands now and withdraw the missile defense without looking frightened, which would create more problems as Russia continues to assert itself in Europe and Asia.

Obama might decide to simply declare the system “not workable”, as Thompson suggests as an option, but that would touch off a torrent of criticism from the program’s backers.  General Henry Obering, who has run the missile-defense program for the Pentagon for four years, has already launched a volley against naysayers, accusing them of a “2000 mentality” and ignoring advances made since the end of the Clinton administration.  Any attempt to dispute the usefulness of the current system and its likely advancements will almost certainly result in an avalanche of leaks regarding its success and its promise.

This is one Obama expiration date that conservatives will cheer.  Missile defense provides long-tern security against rogue nations with too much cash on their hands.  It may not completely defang them — nuclear weapons could also get smuggled into the country for terrorist attacks rather than delivered by ballistic missiles, and sub launches could get under the umbrella — but a successful missile defense system takes one big potential risk off the table.  In this case, we’ll welcome the Geraghty Axiom.