While his influence on domestic politics is waning, President Obama's latest foreign policy blunder–the dangerous new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia–may have opened the floodgates to similar capitulation to Moscow in Europe by putting America's imprimatur on an unprecedented volume of concessions.
The START treaty, signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April and passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sept. 16, plays right into Russia's hands. And though it hasn't yet been approved by the full Senate, Europe wasted no time in following Obama's self-proclaimed "renewed American leadership."
"If we manage to create an inclusive missile defense system, it can reinforce a virtuous circle," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a speech in Rome the morning after the Senate committee passed New START. "If Russia and other countries feel like they are inside the tent with the rest of us, rather than outside the tent looking in, it will build trust."
If that phrase, "build trust," in the context of including Russia in a missile shield sounds familiar, it should.
"President Medvedev and I have been able to build up a level of trust," Obama said at the signing ceremony. Obama added that the treaty contains a verification regime "which allows us to further build trust."
It seems we trust Russia more than they trust us. That should raise a bright red flag.
Rasmussen continued along this scope, practically begging Russia to participate in the next NATO summit in Lisbon in November. There, in addition to missile defense, he plans to increase Russian participation in NATO missions in Afghanistan and the war on terror.
"The writing's on the wall. Without America and American defense expenditures NATO wouldn't be nearly what it is today. So if all of a sudden the language coming out of Washington is 'we expect you to cooperate with Moscow,' then everybody else is going to follow the line," Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council and adjunct professor at the National Defense University, told me.
Berman believes America's attitude toward Moscow will shape the attitudes of many of our allies, especially those predisposed to cooperating and negotiating with Russia but have been tentative to step out on their own. And New START will act as another card in Russia's hand.
Moscow has effectively halted NATO's eastward expansion for now, and Medvedev will use the Lisbon conference and missile defense to make that permanent.
He has two ways to do that: claim that NATO has no place in Russia's near abroad, and, as Berman puts it, "to try to draw closer to NATO and thereby to co-opt from the inside. And the missile defense is, I think, a really good way to do that in the sense that there are legitimate threats that are shared by NATO members; unfortunately, one of the biggest happens to be Russia."
New START does not deal with tactical nuclear weapons, which means the treaty solidifies Russia's broad numerical advantage and puts NATO countries at even greater risk.
The treaty would hamper our own missile defense by restricting our ability to convert offensive silos to defense sites, and by enabling Russia to effectively walk away from the treaty if Moscow is dissatisfied with our compliance on missile defense.
And alarmingly, "trust but verify" has become simply "trust"; the inspections and monitoring procedures have been gutted.
Although the Senate has not yet voted on the treaty, much of Obama's aims have been accomplished by signing the treaty and then obtaining the Foreign Relations Committee's approval: the U.S. has made a statement, and our European allies are following suit, weakening both of us in the process.
And Moscow is laughing all the way to Lisbon.