WASHINGTON -- The great horned owl is a magnificent raptor with feathers so soft its prey can't even hear it coming until it's too late. But even this superb hunter has a major challenge to overcome: It cannot move its eyes. To scan forest or field for danger -- or its next meal -- the owl, its eyes fixed straight ahead, must rotate its head. Today, the U.S. national security apparatus is much like an owl with a stiff neck.
For more than three years now, our White House, State Department and Pentagon have been fixated on America's adversaries in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Our preoccupation has been on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. Unfortunately, we seem to have missed what's happening in Russia. Not to carry the wildlife metaphor too far, but "the Bear" is back.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow would build a new air defense radar system in St. Petersburg, to be "the first step in a large-scale program," and that it will be "carried out before 2015." This follows Putin's threat to re-target Russian nuclear weapons on Europe if Washington goes ahead with plans to deploy missile defense radars in the Czech Republic and anti-missile interceptors in Poland. As usual, the Blame America First crowd claims that the U.S. ICBM shield is precipitating a "crisis." Perhaps, but the Euro-critics and our own foreign policy wonks -- like owls that can't turn their heads -- may be missing what's really happening in Putin's world.
In July, the Russian president told newly promoted military and security officers at the Kremlin, "One of our absolute priorities is an all-round strengthening of the armed forces." Putin added, "Both the situation in the world and internal political interests demand that Russia's foreign intelligence service constantly increases its resources, above all in the field of information and analytical support for the country's leadership." And last week, Adm. Vladimir Masorin, Russia's navy chief, declared intentions to "restore a permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea," a capability Moscow has not had since the Cold War.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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