WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration's remarkable inability to say or do the right things to aid our sinking economy, stay the collapse of our equities markets, or even build a competent Cabinet is now the stuff of cartoons, talk show fodder and late-night comedy. Who hasn't heard the one about how "this year's IRS 1040 allows every taxpayer to claim one Geithner or a Daschle, depending on how much tax you don't want to pay"? Humor may help us deal with our current financial travail, but national security is no laughing matter.
Unfortunately, this week has proved that the new administration may be no better at protecting us from incoming Iranian nuclear warheads than it is at creating jobs. It started last Sunday, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on NBC that Iran isn't "close to a stockpile. They're not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time." That same morning, on CNN, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, was asked whether Iran has enough fissile material to make a nuclear bomb. "We think they do, quite frankly," he replied. The admiral added, "Iran having a nuclear weapon … is a very, very bad outcome for the region and for the world." Somehow, it doesn't seem that both Pentagon leaders can be correct.
By Tuesday, it was worse. That morning, The New York Times reported that three weeks ago, Mr. Obama wrote a confidential letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev suggesting that European-based ballistic missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic will not be deployed as planned if Moscow helps keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. This revelation generated an international media feeding frenzy.
Hours later, during a White House press availability with visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Mr. Obama claimed that his missive had been "mischaracterized" and denied that it was "some sort of quid pro quo." He insisted that it was merely "a very lengthy letter talking about a whole range of issues, from nuclear proliferation to how are we going to deal with a set of common security concerns along the Afghan border and terrorism." He also noted, "The missile defense program, to the extent that it is deployed, is designed to deal with not a Russian threat, but an Iranian threat."
During a visit to Madrid, Medvedev maintained, "No trade-offs have been discussed; I assure you." It didn't help.
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.