In 1991, at the height of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated president of the United States. He immediately heightened tensions using belligerent rhetoric attacking the Soviet Union as “The Evil Empire” while authorizing an enormous military buildup against “the focus of evil in the modern world.”
A significant number of Americans were worried about the harsh negatives of the Reagan initiatives. One manifestation was the Nuclear Freeze Movement that sought to decrease tensions as well as the nuclear buildup by limiting all nuclear arsenals at current levels as a first step toward their eventual elimination.
Reagan showed his annoyance criticizing “the placard carriers”, giving little credence to the groundswell of support for the freeze campaign that swept America in 1981 – 82. This grass-roots uprising was a major factor behind Reagan’s March 1983 speech that initiated the missile defense program (SDI) that continues to waste billions of dollars in the military budget.
Among the protesters supporting the Freeze was Columbia University senior Barack Obama, who in 1983 published a plea in a campus news magazine for “a nuclear free world” opposing SDI and military industrial interests “with their billion-dollar erector sets.”
Reagan’s attachment to the concept of missile defense started a very expensive research program that has produced meager results while leading to continued wrangling with non-communist Russia over their installation in Eastern Europe. Reagan’s SDI simply will not defend against a sophisticated missile equipped with decoys.
Obama recently announced that he was canceling the missile defense shield installations in Poland and Czech Republic. He has been severely and incorrectly criticized by military hawks for this “unilateral” concession, but it wasn’t unilateral and it was a deal, not a concession. The SDI system was always a bargaining chip and Obama was the first president who knew how to use it.
He eliminated the ineffective shield in Eastern Europe in exchange for much more valuable Russian concessions and cooperation on a variety of issues. Here are some of the particulars:
1. Russia allows U.S. military flights over its territory, planes carrying soldiers and equipment to Afghanistan.
2. Russia allows Kyrgyzstan to give the U.S. an important military base on the Russian border.
3. Russia acquiesces to the U.S. training local troops in the state of Georgia, with which Russia is at odds.
4. Russia promises that it will not help Iran develop an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the U.S.
5. Russia agrees to support the U.S. position on North Korea.
6. Russia acquiesces in the expansion of U.S. influence in the Ukraine.
These are the Russian concessions we know about. There may be more. The media has failed to make the connection and to evaluate their importance in the continuing U. S. wars in Southeast Asia. At the same time, this change in U.S. policy gives a significant political victory to Russian leaders Putin and Medvedev, strengthening their positions at home and around the world.
When will Obama take political advantage of his coup? Probably during his 2012 reelection campaign when his record will be before the electorate and he will boast of his accomplishments on health-care and obtaining Russian cooperation. At the same time, Obama has fulfilled the promise he made at Columbia in 1983 to change policy on missile defense and to work for a world without nuclear weapons. Obama has proven that he knows how to play political hardball-at least with the Russians.
This post originally appeared on The Relentless Liberal on October 9, 2009.