"On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it's important for him to give me space. ... This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility."
- President Obama to Dmitry Medvedev
You don't often hear an American president secretly (he thinks) assuring foreign leaders that concessions are coming their way, but that they must wait because he's seeking reelection and dares not tell his own people.
Not at all, spun a White House aide in major gaffe-control mode. The president was merely explaining that arms control is too complicated to be dealt with in a year in which both Russia and the United States hold presidential elections.
Rubbish. First of all, to speak of Russian elections in the same breath as ours is a travesty. Theirs was a rigged, predetermined farce. Putin ruled before. Putin rules after.
President Obama spoke of the difficulties of the Russian presidential "transition." What transition? It's a joke. It had no effect on Putin's ability to negotiate anything.
As for the U.S. election, the problem is not that the issue is too complicated, but that if people knew Obama's intentions of "flexibly" caving on missile defenses, they might think twice about giving him a second term.
After all, what is Obama doing negotiating on missile defense in the first place? We have no obligation to do so. The ABM Treaty, a relic of the Cold War, died in 2002.
We have an unmatched technological lead in this area. It's a priceless strategic advantage that Russia has been trying to get us to yield for three decades. Why give any of it away? In 2009, to placate Putin, Obama abruptly canceled the missile-defense system the Poles and Czechs had agreed to host in defiance of Russian threats. Why give away more?
It's unfathomable. In trying to clean up the gaffe, Obama emphasized his intent to "reduce nuclear stockpiles" and "reduce reliance on nuclear weapons." In which case, he should want to augment missile defenses, not weaken, dismantle, or bargain them away. The fewer nukes you have for deterrence, the more you need nuclear defenses. If your professed goal is nuclear disarmament, as is Obama's, eliminating defenses is completely illogical.
Nonetheless, Obama is telling the Russians not to worry, that once past his "last election" and no longer subject to any electoral accountability, he'll show "more flexibility" on missile defense. It's yet another accommodation to advance his cherished Russia "reset" policy.
Why? Hasn't reset been failure enough?
Let's do the accounting. In addition to canceling the Polish/Czech missile-defense system, Obama gave the Russians accession to the World Trade Organization, a START treaty that they need and we don't (their weapons are obsolete and deteriorating rapidly), and a scandalously blind eye to their violations of human rights and dismantling of democracy. Obama even gave Putin a congratulatory call for his phony election victory.
In return? Russia consistently watered down or obstructed sanctions on Iran, completed Iran's nuclear reactor at Bushehr, to this day provides Syria's Bashar al-Assad with huge arms shipments used to massacre his own people (while rebuilding the Soviet-era naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus), conducted a virulently anti-American presidential campaign, pressured Eastern Europe, and threatened Georgia.
On which of "all these issues" -Syria, Iran, Eastern Europe, Georgia, human rights - is Obama ready to offer Putin yet more flexibility as soon as he gets past his last election? Where else will he show U.S. adversaries more flexibility? Yet more aid to North Korea? More weakening of tough Senate sanctions against Iran?
Can you imagine the kind of pressure a reelected Obama will put on Israel, the kind of anxiety he will induce from Georgia to the Persian Gulf, and the nervousness among our most loyal East European friends? Having already been left out on a limb by Obama once, Eastern Europeans are now wondering what new flexibility Obama will show Putin - the man who famously proclaimed that the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century was Russia's loss of its Soviet empire.
They don't know. We don't know. We didn't even know this was coming - until a microphone was left open. Only Putin was to know. "I will transmit this information to Vladimir," Medvedev assured Obama.
Added Medvedev: "I stand with you." A nice endorsement from Putin's puppet - enough to chill friends and allies, democrats and dissidents, all over the world.
Charles Krauthammer is a Washington Post columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.