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Georgia Crisis Propels a Bad Polish Deal

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President Bush's new deal with Poland gives that country millions in aid, stokes Russia's paranoia and decreases America's security. It is bad policy.

President Bush has promised Poland tens of millions of dollars in defense assistance to buy its agreement to deploy 10 anti-missile interceptors he says are necessary to counter a future Iranian missile threat. Here is the punch line: the interceptors don't work and Iran doesn't have any missiles that can reach Europe, let alone the United States. Wait, there's more.

After insisting for two years that the anti-missile base had nothing to do with Russia and was all about Iran, missile defense proponents now say it is all about countering Russia. They cite the conflict in Georgia as justification for their rush to deploy a technology that does not work against a threat that does not exist.

The Bush administration had gone to great lengths to assure Russia that the proposed anti-missile bases in the Czech Republic and Poland are not intended to offset a threat from the Kremlin. Director of the Missile Defense Agency, General Trey Obering, said just one month ago.

"Russia's primary concern was that we were exaggerating the Iranian threat and therefore these sites in Europe must be directed at them. That was their primary concern. And we've gone a long way to try to dissuade them of that notion."

Well, forget all that. Citing the looming specter of a reborn Russian Empire, Senator John McCain's foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann told Congressional Quarterly's Josh Rogin this week the bases were necessary to push back against Russia:

"Russia's objections (to the sites) have never been based on anything more than trying to define a sphere of influence in Europe and on the territory of existing NATO members...Senator McCain believes that is unacceptable -- especially in the aftermath of Russia's brutal invasion of Georgia."

McCain supporter Representative Trent Franks (R.-AZ) went further telling CQ:

"This is not just about missile defense; this is about demonstrating to Russia that America is still a nation of resolve . . . and we're not going to let Russian expansionism intimidate everyone."

Apparently tired of bluffing, missile defense advocates feel comfortable with showing their hand now that Russia has exhibited its expansionist tendencies. Their new argument shows both the insincerity of their former position and the simplicity of their view on how to defend America.

They mismanaged the relationship with Russia, passed up Putin's offer to cooperate in missile defenses against Iran, wasted $60 billion over the past seven years on anti-missile weapons that have never passed a realistic test, wasted trillions of dollars and thousands of lives on an unnecessary war in Iraq, yet now they insist that we trust them this time.

The proposed deployment of missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic and the Russian-Georgia conflict are two separate issues. This is not about defending the democracy in Georgia; this is about ideologues trying to save a weapons system they have supported despite mounting evidence of its irrelevance to the threats America faces.

Will this Polish deal somehow convince Russia to back down? Hardly. Leading Russian experts and officials told me in Moscow earlier this year that they were convinced the missile bases were part of US plan to encircle Russia. Linking the bases to US opposition to Russia's invasion of Georgia will cement that view. Russian President Medvedev has already warned of their response:

"Deployment of elements of the U.S. global antimissile system in Eastern Europe only makes the situation worse...We will need to react to this adequately. Our American and European partners have been warned."

With the exception of those who have been drinking the missile defense Kool-aid, experts agree that long-range missile interception does not work. That is why Congress wisely ordered that no funds be spent on these European bases until after realistic tests can show the weapons can work and the Czech and the Polish parliaments approve any deal. Neither is likely before 2010.

We should never back down in the face of Russian aggression against its neighbors. The sovereign rights of Georgia must be respected and defended, but moving forward with the European missile bases will not do anything to help the Georgians, the Poles...or us.