Iran is judged today to be a up and coming mad-as-a-hatter soon-to-be nuclear regime with some short and medium range missile capabilities. Back in 2007 the Bush administration had wrangled some ABM bases in Poland with Radar in the Czech Republic which were at that time designed to knock down long range missiles, of which Iran had none, but of course Russia had (and has) plenty. Russia took umbrage to this and rightfully so, just look at a map, unless you have a much much bigger monitor than I do, you don’t see Poland or the CR on that map at all.
Mr Obama it turns out has been not well served by the conservative current events blogs … although his speeches and on this in fact do have some glaring omissions, in the light of which the conservative commentary does make more sense … but only in the light of those omissions. Here is the text from the Obama speech, although I don’t know how accurately this reflects his actual remarks or whether it has been changed to reflect better in the light of later remarks, i.e., Mr Gates this weekend). This was also released on the same day by WH to the press to accompany the speech. The disservice by the conservative press is that this is touted as a withdrawal of a program, which fails to mention that another is proposed in its place. On the other hand, it is also not mentioned that this plan which is put in its place is likely a paper dragon, i.e., worse than useless.
Mr Obama has (in phase 1) suggested that the Aegis Combat systems and land based SM-3 missiles to replace the land based missiles for the first phase of the replacement. The Aegis does not fire the SM-3, but instead SM-2 missiles are fired from that ship. In the second and third phases, which are quite a number of years off (phase 2 is 2015 and phase 3 is 2018). A salient detail is that the SM-2 has a range of approximately 100 miles and the SM-3 about 270.
So, if Iran is the threat, where would these bases and ships go? It is clear that these ships would have to be based in the Black Sea. Now, the US does in fact have ships in the Black Sea, if it these ships are intended to block any Iran->Europe missile threat. Possibilities for land bases include Turkey, Iraq, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania. These countries have quite a variety of closeness regarding their relationships with the US. This would not be just two or three bases, but many dozens perhaps as many as 50 to 100, because to be an effective defense, one would want to deploy in some depth, of two or three layers with overlapping regions of coverage.
The conservative criticism is that this is just rhetoric. That there is no real plan to put up a realistic defense and this is just backing off from what commitments have been presently made, i.e., the bases in Poland, which admittedly were not a likely factor in defending against Iran. This is, in my view, a exaggeration of the plan as presented by Mr Obama and the administration. The plan as presented is very flawed. It is a ABM system in name only, and will almost certainly be insufficient to counter any missile threat targeting Europe. Mr Obama presents no argument for the small scale nature of the deployment as well as the slow unveiling of its protection. For example, there is no reason why a screen of Aegis vessels might not be stationed between Georgia and Istanbul along the Turkish coast and into the Aegean. Land bases in Mosul, Baghdad, and other Iraqi cities would complete the shield. All that could certainly be completed before the end of 2009.
Why would the US want to protect Europe from a regime as described in the opening paragraph? One reason is that if one desires the EU to comply with any economic embargo or sanctions against Iran that will be untenable if Iran is threatening nuclear devices at a vulnerable Europe. If the US puts a credible and working ABM shield, they would be able first convince Western (and Eastern) Europe that the Iranian nuclear threat was contained … by the US. Both factors of that sentence might carry weight, i.e., the protection and by whom.
It is pretty clear from the unveiling of this plan however, noting the sketchiness of the details as well as indications that this plan is really an ABM system in name only, i.e., it is insufficient to really stop any sort of attack. It is a maxim of knife care and use that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one. For similar reasons one might argue that a paper or truly undermanned understaffed ABM deployment is also akin to a dull knife. You might feel safe, but in fact that places you in more danger, trusting to a protection which does not exist.
Here is another viewpoint on this affair that is worth looking at as well.