Obama, Gates defend move to scrap Bush missile shield
President Obama and defense secretary Robert Gates fired back at conservatives and security hawks who have decried the decision as a dangerous capitulation to Russia.
2011 Reflections: Suddenly, a new era in the Middle East
2011 Reflections: the end of a landmark year for Latin America
2011 Reflections: Africa rises, taking charge of its affairs
How the 'Year of the Protester' played out in Europe
In Prague, a tale of communism past
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Although Mr. Bush argued that his plans to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic were aimed at preventing threats from Iran, Moscow repeatedly said it was aimed against Russia, and has lauded Obama's decision.
Conservatives and security hawks have decried the move as a dangerous capitulation to Russia.
"This decision calls into question the security and diplomatic commitments the United States has made to Poland and the Czech Republic, and has the potential to undermine perceived American leadership in Eastern Europe," Senator McCain said in a statement. "Given the serious and growing threats posed by Iran’s missile and nuclear programs, now is the time when we should look to strengthen our defenses, and those of our allies."
McCain also said the change in US direction is "seriously misguided" and a "victory for [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin."
Gates answers critics
But it's the critics who are misguided, according to an opinion piece by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that ran in Saturday's New York Times.
Mr. Gates, a Republican who served in senior positions during both Bush presidencies, lashed out at anyone seeking to portray the move as a concession to the Russians.
"I believe this is a very pragmatic proposal. I have found since taking this post that when it comes to missile defense, some hold a view bordering on theology that regards any change of plans or any cancellation of a program as abandonment or even breaking faith," Gates wrote.
"We are strengthening – not scrapping – missile defense in Europe," Gates wrote, noting that the previous program would not have been operational until at least 2017 at the earliest and insisted the shift provided "greater flexibility to adapt as new threats develop and old ones recede."
Under the new plan, the US would initially deploy ships with missile interceptors and later would field land-based defense systems. The change in plans follows a shift in intelligence assessments that concluded that Iran's short- and medium-range missile arsenal is a greater threat than its yet-to-be-developed long-range missiles.