Romney and Polish Missiles

Last week at the RNC, towards the end of a speech filled with bullshit, Romney produced this line:

He abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defense commitments, but is eager to give Russia’s President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election.

I’ve seen all the other lies in the speech dissected, but not that one. So, I guess I’ll have to do it. It’s a complex one with extended history, so stick with me on this one.

The missile defense commitments Romney is talking about are about stationing a ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. This plan was part of Bush’s “New Europe” thing after he got pissy because “Old Europe” tried to stop him from invading Iraq, and came with other explicit and implicit promises, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, let’s start with something far more basic: Romney makes it sound as if these missiles were something promised to Poland because they were something that Poland wanted, but now Obama won’t give them what they asked for. That’s not how this worked, way back in 2007/2008 when discussions between Bush and Polish and Czech representatives were happening. At one point, 57% of Poles opposed the plan, and only 25% supported it; in the Czech Republic, it was 68% and 26%, respectively. This was not something the people of either country wanted, and politicians in both countries were skeptical of such installations, given what their existence would do to these two countries’ relationships with Russia. The Polish Defense Minister at the time said that his country would have to be convinced that these missiles would be a good idea for Poland1. In fact, especially after the 2007 elections in Poland in which a very USA-friendly PM was voted out, negotiations about these missiles toughened and Poland insisted that it wouldn’t let the USA place them there unless they got a security guarantee like the USA has with Israel, and unless the USA agreed to pay for a modernization of the Polish military2. Less explicitly, Poland (and the Czech Republic) were being given promises about closer relations with the USA as part of the aforementioned “New Europe” thing Bush was doing for a while. Investment by US companies was one; another was acceptance of these Eastern European countries into the visa-waiver program that allows citizens of the country to travel to the USA without having to apply for a visa first. The Czech Republic got into the program at the end of 20083, but Poland has been strung along on a promise to be included sometime soon ever since (the latest being a promise to do it this year, but the bill only got as far as being assigned to a committee), and is now, absurdly, the only Schengen* country not included4, 5. Point being, this entire missile defense thing was something the US wanted, not something that Poland asked for.

And then there’s the part where, supposedly, Obama has “abandoned” Poland and “walked away” from commitments. This, too, is crap. Obama cancelled the original agreement to place long-range missiles (including ones capable of delivering nuclear warheads) in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic, but that agreement was replaced with another, which would instead supply short and intermediate range interceptor missiles and a computer center. And while the Czech Republic decided that the loss of the radar meant that the deal was no longer worth it for them6 (especially since they got their visa waiver already), Poland has accepted the new deal just fine, seeing as apparently their main concerns in terms of security were for one, to actually get American troops stationed in Poland pretty much regardless of what toys they would bring7, and two, the promised modernization of their troops, which Obama transferred from the old plan to the new one. The actual drama between Poland and the US had nothing at all to do with the content of the new treaty, but rather with the way the PR on it was handled back when it happened8, and the fact that a bunch of assholes in the US pretended as if it were only Obama who considered Russian hostility to the long-range missiles to be a problem (thus being able to make it look as if he backed down on a promise out of fear), while in reality both Poland and the Czech Republic were considering Russia as the main concern in their negotiations about this defense system.

In other words, Romney’s claim that Obama somehow broke a promise to deliver weapons systems that Poland wanted from the US is bullshit. It’s bullshit because Obama didn’t break any promises, and it’s bullshit to make it sound as if these missiles were something Poland wanted or needed, when really it’s something the USA wanted.
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*the article I’m using as a citation says “Eurozone”, but that’s of course nonsense. It’s supposed to say Schengen Area. See: