How Moscow changed pub­lic opin­ion in Poland

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

It was one of the fastest turn­arounds on record. For a year-and-a-half pub­lic opin­ion polls showed that less than half and at times as few as 30 per­cent of the Pol­ish peo­ple sup­ported putting a U.S. mis­sile de­fense site in their coun­try. Then Rus­sian tanks rolled into the Repub­lic of Ge­or­gia. Al­most overnight the polls changed. In a sur­vey af­ter the Rus­sian in­va­sion 58 per­cent of Poles said they now fa­vor U.S. mis­sile de­fenses on Pol­ish soil. Congress also should turn around and fully fund the mis­sile de­fenses in Europe.

The Pol­ish gov­ern­ment, which had been hag­gling with Wash­ing­ton for months, acted quickly to sign an ini­tial agree­ment with Un­der­sec­re­tary of State John Rood just two days af­ter the Rus­sian in­va­sion. Then, less than a week later, Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice was in War­saw sign­ing the for­mal agree­ment.

For months the Pol­ish gov­ern­ment had been ask­ing for bil­lions of dol­lars in aid. But this was quickly for­got­ten when Rus­sia in­vaded Ge­or­gia. Prime Min­is­ter Don­ald Tusk ra­tio­nal­ized the turn­around by say­ing Wash­ing­ton met Poland’s “key de­mand,” to add a bat­tery of Patriot air and short­range mis­sile in­ter­cep­tors. The Pa­tri­ots, manned by the U.S. Army, will be in Poland next year.

Even more im­por­tant for Poland is the strate­gic co­opera- tion agree­ment signed by Miss Rice and For­eign Min­is­ter Ra­doslaw Siko­rski that commits the U.S. to close co­op­er­a­tion if Poland is threat­ened by a third party. Any doubt who that third party is was dis­pelled on Aug. 15 when Gen. Ana­toly No­gov­it­syn, deputy chief of the Rus­sian Gen­eral Staff, sug­gested in a press con­fer­ence that the mis­sile de­fense site in Poland would be a “first pri­or­ity” tar­get in a con­flict.

All this talk of fu­ture war with the United States and Europe shows that Rus­sian Prime Min­is­ter Vladimir Putin and Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev, de­spite their de­nials, re­main wed­ded to Cold War think­ing and con­fronta­tion with the West. This year’s huge in­crease in oil and gas rev­enues en­ables Mr. Putin to pur­sue his goal of restor­ing Rus­sia as a great power, in­clud­ing reestab­lish­ing a Rus­sian em­pire.

Mis­sile in­ter­cep­tors in Poland and a high-pow­ered radar in the Czech Repub­lic will pro­tect Europe and the east­ern U.S. against mis­siles from Iran, Pak­istan and else­where in the Mid­dle East. But it also ce­ments the close re­la­tion­ship be­tween the U.S. and coun­tries for­merly un­der Soviet dom­i­na­tion. With U.S bases in those coun­tries it will be more dif­fi­cult for Moscow to pres­sure and in­tim­i­date them, which is why Rus­sia’s leaders so strongly op­pose such bases.

Now that both the Czech and Pol­ish gov­ern­ments have signed agree­ments to host U.S. mis­sile de­fenses there no longer is any rea­son for Congress to with­hold the funds to be­gin construction of the bases. The 2009 de­fense autho­riza­tion passed by the House cuts $232 mil­lion from the amount re­quested for the in­ter­cep­tor site in Poland, an­other $140 mil­lion is cut from construction funds, and use of the funds is lim­ited by a num­ber of con­di­tions.

Even though Iran con­tin­ues to de­velop longer-range mis­siles and Pak­istan, al­ready equipped with nu­clear-armed mis­siles, is in po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, some Democrats still want to de­lay putting mis­sile de­fenses in Europe. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, chair­woman of the House Armed Ser­vices Sub­com­mit­tee, used to say that mis­sile de­fenses in Europe would be desta­bi­liz­ing. Now that Rus­sia has taken far more desta­bi­liz­ing mil­i­tary action, she ar­gues for de­lay on grounds that the in­ter­cep­tors based in Poland must be ex­ten­sively tested, even though they will be sim­pler 2-stage ver­sions of a well-tested and de­ployed 3-stage in­ter­cep­tor.

The Se­nate is ex­pected to de­bate the de­fense autho­riza­tion this month, but Congress will be go­ing home early this elec­tion year so there may not be time to com­plete action. But if the bill is con­sid­ered in the Se­nate it will pro­vide a chance to re­move the cuts and re­stric­tions in the House ver­sion. The sep­a­rate de­fense ap­pro­pri­a­tion bill has not been passed by ei­ther cham­ber and may not be, con­sid­er­ing the short time left be­fore re­cess.

In­stead, de­fense fund­ing prob­a­bly will be in­cluded in the catchall con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion Congress must pass to keep the gov­ern­ment op­er­at­ing when the new fis­cal year be­gins on Oct. 1. But what­ever the course of the 2009 de­fense bills, Congress should re­move any im­ped­i­ments and fully fund the mis­sile de­fense sites in Europe so construction can get un­der­way.

Moscow has shown its determination to in­tim­i­date the coun­tries it used to con­trol. The Pol­ish and Czech gov­ern­ments have shown their determination to con­front the Rus­sian bear. Now Congress should show its determination to de­fend both this coun­try and our al­lies in Europe.

James T. Hack­ett is a con­tribut­ing writer to The Wash­ing­ton Times based in Carls­bad, Calif.

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