Steve Chapman

This choice, however, allegedly betrayed our faithful allies in Warsaw and Prague. But Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defense under Bush as well as Obama -- and who has been critical of Obama on Ukraine -- debunked that notion in 2011.

The deployment Bush envisioned in the Czech Republic, he informed a Senate committee, "was not going to happen, because the Czech government wouldn't approve the radar." Also, he noted, "we still hadn't negotiated the required agreements with the Poles." The Obama version circumvented those obstacles.

In his memoir, "Duty," Gates wrote, "I never understood the fury of the U.S. critics. The new plan would get defenses operational in Europe and for our 80,000 troops there years earlier than the Bush proposal." As for the appeasement charge, he scoffed: "Making the Russians happy wasn't exactly on my to-do list."

Nor was anyone doing end-zone dances in the Kremlin. After Obama announced the new system, the Russians charged that it "undermines global stability and violates the current balance of nuclear forces." What American hawks describe as surrender, Putin depicted as hostile.

There is no reason to think reviving Plan A would alter Putin's strategic calculus, much less freeze him in his tracks. Putting that system together would take years, even if the Poles and Czechs cooperated -- on top of the technical challenges of making it work. Making it work, though, would not impede Russia from preying on its neighbors with tanks and infantry, which are strangely impervious to ballistic missile interceptors.

The stark fact is that Ukraine is not a place over which the U.S. and NATO should be ready to go to war, and nothing short of going to war will change its fate. American hawks imagine that Bush's missile defense would have been an impressive symbol of Western resolve. But Putin is not the type to be scared of symbols.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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