by David Meir-Levi
Well, now we know what the “hot mic” incident was all about. The Wall Street Journal’s “Moscow Raises Alarm over Missile-Defense Plan for Europe” (Friday, May 4, 2012), makes the connection.
At an international conference on Thursday, May 3, organized at Russia’s initiative, the Russian delegates showed computer-generated images of a hypothetical Russian pre-emptive missile attack on segments of a missile defense shield and early warning system that the US and NATO want to put in place in Turkey, Rumania and Poland. Quite a scary threat from the former USSR’s 900-pound gorilla and one-time global nuclear super-power.
NATO says that the missile defense system is meant to counter Iran’s threats of a WMD Shi’ite Armageddon. However, the Russians are not comforted, because they fear that the NATO anti-missile missiles could also be used to shoot down Russian nuclear-armed missiles aimed at the West; and such a potential threat from the west could “undermine their country’s nuclear deterrent[.]”
The Russians organized the Thursday conference in order to place their threat on the table, loud and clear, and make public their demand that they get a written agreement that the West will never use its missiles against Russia. Currently, the USA and NATO have refused to put such a promise in writing, although Russia-NATO agreements on missile defense cooperation date back to 2010. The timing of this meeting is important. It comes shortly before a NATO conference due to take place in Chicago later this month at which NATO will publicize its success in getting its missile-defense system up and running. Russia’s pre-emptive threat of a missile war against the West if the West does not agree to its demands puts a big kink in the Chicago conference.
But according to the Wall Street Journal article, Russia’s alarming saber-rattling is really a façade to hide a “tacit agreement to put off serious talks until next year,” by which time Obama, if re-elected, could “clear the way for a deal” and work on Russia’s behalf against NATO to find ways to accommodate the Russian demands. The Russian presenter on Thursday was direct and unambiguous that Russia prefers to work with Obama as a second-term president, and to cooperate with his vision of a “reset” in the USA- Russia relationship, rather than to joust with Romney whose election they feel will make things “surely … more difficult.”
So what the Russians have actually said is: if you want to keep the Russian bear from getting aggressive, elect Obama, not Romney. This is an unusually overt attempt by a foreign power to influence American elections, but it is not surprising since Romney has been harshly critical of Obama’s “reset” vision.The Wall Street Journal made the obvious connection between this impasse and the “hot mic” incident in March where Obama told Russian Prime Minister Medvedev to tell Russian soon-to-be President Vladimir Putin to temporarily back off regarding this issue since Obama would have “more flexibility” to deal with it after the November 6 elections.
As reporters gathered for a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, Obama leaned over to his Russian counterpart. Without realizing a microphone was open, he said: “This is my last election and after my last election I have more flexibility,” …referring to his ability to reach a deal with Russia on missile defense. Medvedev replied: “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” a reference to the incoming Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Obama attempted to weasel out of the implications of his gaffe by explaining to reporters in Korea that arms control negotiations are extremely complex and require bipartisan cooperation in the U.S.; so they cannot be a public issue just months before presidential and congressional elections. But “I don’t think it’s any surprise that you can’t start that a few months before a presidential and congressional elections in the United States,” simply does not address the core problem. His intention to hide his willingness to be flexible toward Russia about Russian demands couched in cold-war terminology relating to the possibility of nuclear war bespeak his awareness that these intentions will not be acceptable to the American voting public; and this is all the more reason to make them public.
Romney said it was alarming that Obama was “looking for greater flexibility where he doesn’t have to answer to the American people in his relations with Russia … [Russia is] without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world’s worst actor. The idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed.”
The New York Times version of this issue made no mention of the “hot mic” incident but did point out that Russian leaders have refused Obama’s request that the Kremlin pressure Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to comply with the UN’s cease-fire plans. The Times also noted that Obama himself stalled the progress of the NATO plans for the early warning and missile defense system because he sought a “reset” in the USA’s relationship with Russia, and Russian concerns about the NATO early warning system were a stumbling block to Obama’s plans. Obama’s willingness to be flexible toward the Russian demands may stem in part from the desire to co-opt the Kremlin into pressuring Assad; but it also seems clear that Obama, not knowing that he was speaking to Medvedev in front of a hot microphone, did not want to let the American electorate know of his intentions for flexibility toward Russia regarding the NATO missile defense system impasse. In other words, his flexibility toward Russia, if it were made public, might hinder his re-election.
And the Russians are not ungrateful. Obama’s pay-back for his willingness to be flexible next year is Russia’s endorsement of his re-election by telling the world, at this conference, that if the USA elects Romney, there might be war with Russia.
An American special envoy to the Russian conference indicated that the American delegation was not sympathetic to the Russian demands and unwilling to offer the limitations that Russia wants. She stated: “There’s nothing I can imagine that will stop us making these deployments on time.”
Well, actually there is: Obama’s re-election.David Meir-Levi
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