Once again, the right-wing media are working hard to create a controversy where none exists. This time, they're attacking President Obama for telling Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to negotiate on the issue of missile defense after the November election. In the opinion of these media conservatives, Obama's comments are further evidence that he is “surrendering America.” In fact, according to Obama, he was referring to the fact that anything he could do on missile defense would require bipartisan buy-in, which is not very likely during an election year.
Following a meeting on Monday with Medvedev in Seoul, South Korea, Obama told the Russian president, “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it's important for him to give me space,” adding: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.” Medvedev responded: “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir [Putin].” The comments were intended to be private, but were picked up by a hot microphone.
Cue the outrage. Conservative blogger Doug Powers, writing at MichelleMalkin.com, accused Obama of “capitulation.” Hot Air's Ed Morrissey blasted the incident as proof that American voters “need to fear an Obama second term.” The headline of a post by Breitbart.com's editor in chief, Joel Pollak, read: “Obama to Putin: I'll Surrender America After Re-Election.” Gateway Pundit Jim Hoft wrote that Obama “explained his secret plans to sell out America and her allies” and “told Medvedev to wait until after his reelection to sell out American security.” Fox News contributor Palin wrote of the incident: “Let this exchange be a warning to voters: President Obama will have 'more flexibility' to weaken us if he's re-elected in November.” Fox News contributor and former Bush administration official John Bolton called Obama's comments “a fire bell in the night” and accused the president of “giving way on American missile defense, defending our homeland.”
But Obama explained today that he was talking about the difficulty in an election year of getting the bipartisan agreement necessary to negotiate on important foreign policy issues. Obama said: “This is not a matter of hiding the ball.” He added: “The only way I get this stuff done is if I'm consulting with the Pentagon, if I'm consulting with Congress, if I've got bipartisan support, and the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations.”
And bipartisan buy-in is important. In 2010, the right-wing media claimed that Obama was “compromising our missile defense capabilities” by negotiating the New START treaty with Russia. In fact, military leaders strongly supported New START. At the time, 13 Republicans were willing to ignore the right-wing media freak-out and vote for New START, allowing the treaty to attain the support of two-thirds of the Senate needed for ratification. But instructively, that vote did not happen until a lame-duck session after the midterm elections were concluded. Does anyone believe Obama would get so much Republican support on a controversial issue during an election year?
Moreover, Obama has moved forward on the issue of missile defense during his administration. As The New York Times reported in September 2011, the Obama administration led an initiative that “rejiggered defense of Europe against a potential Iranian missile attack.” Under the deal, Romania agreed to have 24 interceptor missiles “be based there, and Turkey officially agreed to have in its territory a sophisticated American radar system that could be on the watch by the end of the year.” According to the Times, Obama “ordered a significant redesign of the European missile-defense architecture he inherited from George W. Bush, who favored placing interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic,” deciding “to move the system closer to Iran and build it faster, in part because Iran already fields mainly shorter-range missiles.”
It's clear that Obama is not planning on “surrendering America” and that conservative media are simply using his comments to manufacture a new controversy. Let's move on.