With the U.S. still searching for ways to convince Russia to deescalate a crisis in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, a number of prominent Republicans are calling on President Obama to revisit his 2009 decision to scrap a proposed Bush-era antiballistic missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The Bush program, which would have placed 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland along with a radar in the Czech Republic, was replaced with a system of smaller interceptors to better deal with short- and medium-range missiles that the administration believed Iran had made more progress developing. The final stage of the replacement program was cancelled last year to place more interceptors in Alaska to deal with threats from North Korea.
Mr. Obama's move away from Bush's program in 2009 was largely perceived as a concession to pressure from Russia to cancel the program, something the U.S. denied. And now, pressure is mounting to return to the system as a way to flex U.S. military might without putting troops on the ground in Eastern Europe.
On CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, former Vice President Dick Cheney said the president shouldn't be taking any options off the table in the Ukrainian conflict.
"My answer is reinstate the ballistic missile defense program and policy. [Russian President Vladimir Putin] cares a lot about that. Conduct joint military exercises with our NATO friends close to the Russian border. Offer up equipment and training to the Ukrainian military," he said.
Such moves would help reinforce the U.S. commitments to allies in that region, Cheney argued.
Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was also a chief of staff to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, suggested the move deserved consideration, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said that the president should "definitely" revisit the missile defense system because it "would be a very strong signal" to Russia.
There was broad agreement that the situation is delicate and will take careful maneuvering.
"This has all the potential of spinning out of control. It is clearly the most serious East/West confrontation since the end of the Cold War. And for someone who was the last U.S. Secretary of State during the Cold War, it's very disappointing to me that we're moving now from cooperation with Russia to confrontation again. That's very, very disappointing," Baker said.
James Jones, the former National Security Advisor to President Obama, said the situation could escalate if any country makes "precipitous moves" that leave one party feeling boxed in with no options to step back from the crisis.
"This is a point right now where Mr. Putin has to understand that if he doesn't figure a way to get out of this, that the long-term consequences for him and for Russia could have serious consequences in terms of the economic relationships and the isolation of Russia with regard to Europe."
He warned against a "knee-jerk"reactions like "tit-for-tat gestures that only tend to exacerbate the situation."
"This is a strategic question I think that has long-term strategic consequences. And it's more about economies and about the future of the region than it is about troop displacements right now," Jones said.
The president finds himself facing yet another major national security challenge, which has left him open to yet another round of charges that he has projected weakness on the world stage.
While Cheney said he believed the president was taking the appropriate diplomatic steps, he said that Mr. Obama "hasn't got any credibility with our allies." He cited conversations with members of the European Parliament who say it is more difficult to get the entire country to cooperate on sanctions against Russia after the president's handling of the crisis in Syria last year, when he had to back off his support for military intervention in Syria and pursue diplomatic options instead because of minimal support in Congress
"We have created an image around the world not just for the Russians, of weakness, of indecisiveness," Cheney said.
But Baker disagreed that the president is perceived as weak in light of his administration's success in tracking down and killing Osama bin Ladin, but did say that the president might be seen as "inconsistent" abroad.
"I support the idea of moving prudently here, moving carefully," Baker said. "There's a lot at stake and I just don't think we can let the rhetoric get out in front of reality."
Baker said the burden of deescalation lies with Russia because they were the ones that sent troops into the Crimean Peninsula in the first place.
"They'll say they weren't Russian troops. But if you believe that, you believe in the tooth fairy. I mean, these troops were driving Russian vehicles with Russian plates, armored vehicles with Russian military plates on them. And normally an indigenous militia doesn't drive around with armored vehicles with Russian military plates on them," he said.
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