Moment of clarity on missile defense
Obama slip-up reveals he’ll bargain away crucial systems for a Russia ‘reset’
Sometimes, unguarded moments provide the most profound political insights. That was certainly the case this week at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, where President Obama’s sidebar conversation with his outgoing Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, offered a telling glimpse of what the administration truly thinks about missile defense — and just how far it is willing to go for good relations with Russia.
The candid exchange, captured on microphone and subsequently carried by various news agencies, entailed an appeal by Mr. Obama for more “space” and “flexibility” from Russia on the missile-defense issue until after the U.S. presidential election in November. At that time, presumably, Mr. Obama — having secured a second term — would be able to strike a more sweeping bargain on missile defense with Moscow than currently possible.
The revelation is deeply worrisome. When Mr. Obama was elected back in 2008, missile-defense stalwarts were concerned that his administration would be quick to demolish the anti-missile capabilities that had been erected during the George W. Bush era. These included the deployment of ground-based interceptors in California and Alaska, significant work on an array of theater systems, and major advances in sea-based defenses.
The Obama White House stopped short of doing so outright, but it did make significant changes to the focus of American missile-defense efforts. The new missile-defense agenda unveiled publicly by the White House in September 2009 replaced the “spiral development” of the Bush era in which multiple, overlapping systems were developed and fielded when they matured, with a weighted four-phase plan.
The near-term focus of this “phased adaptive approach” was overwhelmingly on the defense of American allies abroad (most directly in Europe) from rogue- state threats such as Iran. Serious investments in missile defenses to protect the U.S. homeland were put off until 2016, when Mr. Obama’s second term — assuming he secures one — would be over. By doing so, the plan created a clear delineation between the defense of allies and of the U.S. homeland — and sent a clear signal that the former was acceptable while the latter was not.
That focus, of course, tracks closely with one of the administration’s most cherished foreign policy initiatives: a “reset” of relations with Russia. Launched with considerable fanfare by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in March 2009, that effort has sought renewed diplomatic and political engagement with Moscow through a range of initiatives, arms control chief among them.
Yet even the lopsided approach to missile defense embraced by the White House has drawn the Kremlin’s ire. Over the past two years, U.S. and NATO plans for the deployment of a limited missile shield in the eurozone have created tremendous friction with Moscow, which adamantly opposes the deployment of any such capabilities on its periphery.
Washington, to its credit, has forged ahead regardless, working with NATO to establish early-warning radars in Turkey and bringing Romania on board as a basing site for antimissile interceptors. But the lure of better diplomatic relations with Moscow remains seductive and — as Mr. Obama’s comments in Seoul suggest — missile defense could easily end up becoming the currency that America pays in its dogged pursuit of the “reset.”
So what might American “flexibility” on missile defense entail? Since the start of the “reset,” the Kremlin has leveled a slew of demands at the White House pertaining to missile defense. They have included, among other things, a legally binding agreement to limit missile defenses; deployment restrictions on U.S. sea-based ballistic-missile-defense systems; joint control over launches in response to ballistic-missile threats; and even restrictions on America’s own interception capabilities vis-a-vis intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Any one of those demands, if acceded to by the White House, could be crippling to our ability to defend against ballistic-missile attack. If all of them are enacted, the results would be ruinous: an evisceration of existing U.S. anti-missile capabilities, and a neutering of our future ability to deploy more.
That Mr. Obama has so clearly signaled he is willing to contemplate them is a sign of just how fragile and reversible his administration’s commitment to missile defense truly is. It is also a testament to the White House’s dogged determination to diplomatically engage the Kremlin, no matter how steep the cost.
As America rings up another $3 trillion-plus budget — almost a historic peacetime 25 percent of gross national product (GDP) — and borrows another $1.3 trillion to pay for it, one should not be surprised that the usual mob of special pleaders is fuming at anyone who has the temerity to suggest a sane alternative. These are the new Democrats, and they do not mind putting us on the road to Greece.
Thus, they howled when House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan proffered a budget to avoid the Greek tragedy. His budget contemplates spending reductions of more than $5 trillion over the next decade, cutting deficits by more than $3 trillion, taxes by $2 trillion and the national debt by more than $1 trillion. It is all part of Mr. Ryan’s strategy to lead us to a prosperous and secure future. Mr. Ryan intends that these cuts lead to growth, growth more robust than the anemic 2 percent President Obama would be perfectly comfortable seeing.
Yet now from the right comes opposition. The right thinks Mr. Ryan has not cut enough. He has slain no government bureaucracies. Some on the right even want him to prove that he is sincere about budget cuts by lopping off a few percentage points more at the Pentagon. Two Republicans, Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, actually voted against Mr. Ryan in committee, leaving him with a 19-18 squeaker. If they are joined by enough like-minded Republicans when Mr. Ryan’s budget comes to the floor, the Democrats and Nancy Pelosi will be happy. Those Republicans will have proved that their party cannot govern.
Mr. Ryan is a supply-sider. He advocates one of the few economic innovations in years. He realizes that the budget cannot be balanced without faster economic growth. Sure, it would be nice to balance the budget in five years, but not with tax increases. Tax increases would only slow growth. So his budget balances out in 2039, though possibly sooner. Some of the Republicans think future Congresses cannot be trusted to carry out the cuts that Mr. Ryan proposes, certainly not through all the vagaries leading up to 2039. Well, for my part, I think they can. The country has changed dramatically. A new majority of Americans composed of conservatives and independents understands that we have been spending ourselves into the poorhouse.
The defeat the Democrats suffered in 2010 was just the beginning. They will lose more seats in 2012 and the White House.
Yet, even if I am wrong, we do not have to wait until 2039 for a balanced budget, according to an alternative scenario released by Mr. Ryan subsequent to his budget. His critics, who claim the budget will not be balanced until 2039, are using the Congressional Budget Office estimates arrived at by static scoring. This assumes there will be little public response to lower taxes and people will continue to act the same with lower taxes as with higher taxes. But history has shown they act differently. With lower taxes, you get growth.
According to Mr. Ryan’s alternative scenario, using dynamic scoring, lower taxes and other inducements to growth will speed up the economy, increasing GDP by as much as 1 percentage point a year. Thus, the Ryan budget lowers the debt-to-gdp ratio from where it stands now, at 74.2 percent of GDP, to 50 percent of GDP in 10 years. The budget could be balanced not in 2039 but in the early to mid-2020s. The Republican critics need not worry. Add to that the likelihood that the Ryan budget gets the federal take of the economy down from 24.1 percent of GDP to 19.8 percent in 2021, and you see real change. America need not end in Greek tragedy. All Republicans and many Democrats need to get aboard the Ryan budget.