Obama's Evolving Stance on Missile Defense

Earlier this year Barack Obama made a few promises to the Priorities Action Fund, a left-wing organization devoted to cutting the Pentagon’s budget by 15%:

  • “I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems.”
  • “I will not weaponize space.”
  • “I will slow our development of future combat systems.”

Obama’s rhetoric sent shock waves through the missile defense community. After years of budget cuts and setbacks during the 1990s, the Pentagon is once again making significant strides on missile defense. Since September 2005, the Missile Defense Agency has successfully conducted 29 of 30 hit-to-kill intercept attempts for near-perfect results.

That didn’t seem to matter to Obama — at least up until Russia’s war on Georgia and the resulting U.S.-Poland missile defense agreement. In an interview with NBC’s Richmond affiliate, Obama struck a different tone (emphasis added):

Q: I want to ask you a little about missile defense. Obviously, there’s been quite a bit of proliferation of activity in Eastern Europe. Condoleezza Rice today talked about supporting Poland’s efforts to get missile defense. You in the past have talked about being opposed to missile defense programs.

A: Uh, I don’t think that’s accurate.

Q: Well, tell me, what is your stance? Do you think it’s a good idea?

A: Here’s what I said. I think it makes perfect sense to deploy a system that works. But we have to make sure that the technology works. And without having reviewed the technological capabilities of the system that’s being deployed in Poland, I’ve said that Congress should review it. But there is no doubt that after the Russian invasion of Georgia that NATO allies like Poland need to know that they are going to be protected if there is encroachment on their territory.

Q: Are you more concerned about Russia’s opposition to a missile defense program or just the technology?

A: I just want to make sure if you put up a missile defense system, then it better defend against missiles. If it doesn’t, then that creates greater insecurity and instability, not more.

Q: Do you think the continued investment is a good idea for the United States?

A: I think there’s no doubt we should make the investment. I think the capacity of Iran or North Korea to send a rogue missile is one that we have to take very, very seriously. And that’s why we want to make sure that we develop this missile defense system. But, as I said before, we want to make sure the capacities work.

Let’s recap:

  1. The system being tested by the Missile Defense Agency does work. It’s hard to dispute the near-perfect results since 2005.
  2. Punting missile defense to Congress shows a lack of leadership and sets up the program for failure. Ardent liberal opponents would no doubt attempt to strip the agency of funding—the ultimate goal of left-wing organizations.
  3. Obama’s support for making “the investment” in missile defense stands in stark contrast to his hostile tone from earlier this year. I won’t call it a flip-flop, but clearly he’s shifting his stance.

After inking the deal with Poland last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice summed up its importance: “Missile defense, of course, is aimed at no one. It is in our defense that we do this.” Obama would be wise to follow that logic and build on the success if elected president.