Several U.S. senators have blasted President Barack Obama's decision to
change U.S. missile defense policy in Europe, accusing the president
of "abandoning" U.S. allies there. Senior Pentagon officials and some
other senators defended the new strategy at an Armed Services Committee
hearing Thursday, saying the new plan is the best way to deal directly
with the nuclear threat from Iran.
President Obama surprised the
world last Thursday when he announced plans to cancel a missile defense
system in Europe proposed by the Bush administration.
Bush-era program would have placed ground-based interceptors in Poland
and a radar station in the Czech Republic to counter any long-range
nuclear threat posed by Iran. The Obama administration's plan will
replace Bush's anti-missile plan with a re-designed sea- and
ground-based system, which destroys short and mid-range missiles
instead of intercontinental missiles.
Opponents of the
president's plan expressed outrage at a Senate Armed Services Committee
hearing Thursday, led by ranking member, Republican Senator John McCain
"The decision by the administration to back away
from its missile defense commitment to the Czech Republic and Poland
can only demonstrate to the rest of Europe that the United States is
not prepared to stand behind its friends, that the United States views
resetting its relationship with Russia more important than commitments
made to close friends and allies, and that the administration is
willing to let Russia have veto power over the disposition of our
missile defense architecture," he said.
Senator McCain, who
competed for the White House against then-candidate Obama last year,
also harshly criticized the way the Obama administration announced this
major policy change.
"But a late night phone call wa s all it
took to tell our friends to take a hike," he said. "According to news
reports, the Polish prime minister was called at midnight."
centrist Democrats, such as Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, also
criticized the way the president rolled out the new defense plan, and
some questioned the intelligence behind the change in strategy to focus
more on short and mid-range missiles from Iran.
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan rejected the criticism from McCain and
other Republicans that the decision had "bruised" U.S. ties with
Eastern Europe, saying that NATO already supports President Obama's
decision and that Poland and the Czech Republic are satisfied with
other missiles they have been offered.
Michèle Flournoy is the
Pentagon's top policy chief. She testified at the hearing, calling the
new missile defense plan for Europe a "dramatic improvement" over the
old Bush administration plan, and rejecting criticism that it is a
unilateral concession to Russia.
"In short we are standing by
our allies in Central and Eastern Europe, and we are in fact increasing
our commitment to their defense in very real terms," she said. "While
we certainly welcome Russian interest in the new approach, as well as
potential Russian cooperation in sharing data from their radars, this
is not about Russia, it has never been about Russia."
President Dmitry Medvedev has praised President Obama's plans to scrap
the old missile defense system for Europe, which it bitterly opposed,
calling the move a constructive step in the right direction.