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Loud And Clear, The GOP's Message To Obama

(CBS)
At this rate, Barack Obama may have more luck shooting the breeze with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than in seeing eye-to-eye with Michael Steele and the the Republicans. OK, I'm exaggerating for effect - but not by much.

After the White House's missile shield announcement on Thursday, the GOP called the move naive and a sell-out of America's Eastern European allies. For the Weekly Standard, the decision not to put missile interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic was akin to "appeasement" of the Russians. Just to make sure we didn't miss the historical significance, the publication noted the proximity of Obama's decision to the 70th anniversary of the Nazis' invasion of Poland in 1939 which ignited the second world war. (Appeasement. Nazis. Poland. Get it?) That other bookend of establishment conservative thought, The National Review was equally dismissive. Rich Lowry deemed it to be a masterstroke of weakness while the publication's editorial board simply labeled it "indefensible."

And those were among the more thoughtful responses from the right. In the more fevered reaches of the blogosphere and talk radio, the reaction was a collective raised middle finger aimed at the Oval Office. For the record, a major architect of the plan was Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, an establishment Republican who held the same job during George W. Bush's presidency. Also, the plan was drawn up to combat the more pressing threat to U.S. allies by short-and-medium-range missiles? (For more, Arms Control Wonk has a useful discussion of the capabilities of Iran's Shahab missile family.)

Allahpundit was not impressed. The blog shrieked that it marked "capitulation in Eastern Europe." Cut to b-roll of Josef Stalin waving to goose-stepping hordes from his Kremlin perch. Just in time for Don Surber in the Daily Mail to lose it completely as he proclaimed "Prince Barack the Unready" hellbent on surrendering Eastern Europe "to the Russian empire." (Which officially went out of business in 1991.)

The former Polish prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, offered a more sober assessment. He explained to Spiegel Online that when it came to security, "the Americans will come up with a different defense system, one that is more flexible and smarter. In political terms, what's important is that such a system should be better anchored within NATO structures. As members of that alliance this should be important to us."

Kaczynski's comments may be interesting but they aren't enough to help President Obama sell his plan to the other side of the aisle. Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, he does not enjoy the support of a major Republican figure who can help him forge a bi-partisan foreign policy, the way Harry Truman could count on Arthur Vandenberg to build consensus. The White House couldn't do anything about the timing but the brouhaha over missile defense coincides with the growing rage of the conservative faithful. (Their anger, which built up in the spring and summer, was on full display during last weekend's tea party protest in Washington.

By now, the president and his advisors shouldn't have trouble deciphering the message being flashed by Republicans from the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue. If they do, allow me to translate. It reads: "Mr. President: What part of "no" don't you understand?" It so happens that also was the subtext when Republicans rejected the more centrist version of health care reform presented last week. Igor Volsky has a good explainer piece detailing the concessions included in the retooled proposal by the Senate Finance Committee. Still, the GOP deemed the reworked bill to be more of the same and thus, a non-starter. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) went on to describe it as "another example that shows the President cannot deliver on his promises to the American people of bipartisan health care reform."

It's all of a piece with existing conservative fury about the direction that Mr. Obama is taking the nation. Their grievances already include taxes, immigration reform, regulation, fiscal stimulus, bailouts - even the president's reliance on the teleprompter. With an upcoming meeting of world leaders at the United Nations, the White House can bet on the certainty that foreign policy is going to wind up as the next point of friction with the right.

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.