Autumn in Washington is often cruel. The heat and the humidity have lifted, and Congress returns more or less refreshed from summer vacation, but the pressure cooker continues to cook politics. Conversations about health care legislation and the economy continue to get top billing on the Hill and elsewhere, but Barack Obama is playing football with foreign policy. It's the season of the gridiron, after all.
The president threw a long pass over the heads of the lads from the Czech Republic and Poland, and Vladimir Putin, Moscow's very defensive back, intercepted easily. He naturally looks forward to more such floaters. "I do anticipate that this correct and brave decision will be followed by others."
The president's announcement that the United States would not deploy long-range missile defenses in Eastern Europe after all was astonishing because George W. Bush had negotiated so patiently with the Czechs and Poles, who took considerable risks in cooperating with Washington. The astonishment and anger in the West was not necessarily duplicated in Eastern Europe, accustomed as the Europeans in the East are to a role as pawns. Saving face is not necessarily a skill practiced only in the Orient.
Vaclav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic, insists he was never persuaded of the value of the long-range shield, anyway. "I do not think it necessary to demonize it," he told The Washington Times. He feels more fear of the Brussels bureaucrats of the European Union than of aggressive Russians without communism.
"Of course," Aleksander Kwasniewski, the president of Poland, tells the German newsmagazine der Spiegel, "there are a lot of disappointed people. But I would warn them not to overdramatize this decision from Washington. In terms of security, the Americans will come with a different defense system, one that is more flexible and smarter."
Perhaps. The Poles, Czechs and everyone else must hope that Obama got something from Russia in return. For now, the president looks more chump than champ. The president's men made him look like a rube just off the turnip truck for how he gave the word to the Polish and Czech presidents, treating them to a midnight telephone call the night before he announced his decision. It looked like an afterthought, and probably felt that way, too.