All during the recent Presidential campaign, and particuarly in the middle stages of his run for the Democratic nomination, Mr. Obama became famous for subvehicularization: the practice of throwing his friends and associates under his campaign bus the moment they became inconvenient.
Loyalty to your friends can be a two-edged sword - both Mr. Nixon and Mr. Bush tended to cling to their friends past the point of prudence - but you can't get anything major accomplished without gathering a number of people around you who're loyal to you. Mr. Obama's tendency to disown anyone from his own grandmother on down the moment it seems useful to do so is a habit that may come back to haunt him.
The same holds true for nations. One reason that we and the British have a "special relationship" is that we've covered each other's backs when life got tough out there in the fast lane. We've stood by the British when they were in trouble - WWII and, more recently, the Falkland Islands come to mind - and they've stood by us in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Not even a superpower can go it alone; we all need allies, and the better you treat your allies, the better they'll stick with you. The worse you treat your allies, the fewer you'll have and the less they'll help you.
Having observed this relatively obvious fact of life for some years, we were dismayed to read that Mr. Obama has thrown a couple of our allies under his bus. In "U. S. scraps missile defense shield plans," CNN reports:
The Obama administration will scrap the controversial missile defense shield program in Eastern Europe, a senior administration official confirmed to CNN Thursday.
The article explained that the Bush administration had signed a treaty which committed the United States to put a missile defense system in Poland and in the Czech Republic, but the Obama administration decided to abandon the treaty instead of fulfilling our obligations.
A spokeswoman at the Polish Ministry of Defense also said the program had been suspended.
"This is catastrophic for Poland," said the spokeswoman, who declined to be named in line with ministry policy. [emphasis added]
Being located close to the former Soviet Union, Poland is at risk of nuclear blackmail from a resurgent Russia.
This issue was set out clearly by Sky News in its original coverage of the treaty:
Condoleezza Rice has formally signed the controversial missile defence shield treaty with Poland, ramping up diplomatic tensions between Washington and Moscow. [emphasis added]
As the Russians attempt to claw themselves back to their former status as an international power, the last thing they'd want would be a missile defense system which would make it harder for them to lean on nearby powers such as Poland and the Czech republic. Under the headline "Rice Signs Poland Missile Treaty," Sky News reported Ms Rice's reaction to the Russian anger:
Ms Rice said: "Poland is an independent country. And it's an ally of the United States. And it's a democratic country, to whose security the United States is committed."
Ms Rice signed a treaty committing the United States to uphold Polish security; now Mr. Obama throws them under the bus when the Russians object. So much for our treaty obligations!
It's not as if the missile defense stations were any threat to Russia. As their name might imply, they are purely for defense: their sole purpose is to shoot down hostile incoming missiles.
What's more, the technology is in its infancy, able to handle only a handful of inbound targets at a time. Russia has thousands of missiles; should they ever feel like lighting them off, these missile defenses would not cause even a hiccup in the annihilation of Poland. The stations were designed to defend against Iran which will soon have a couple of nuclear missiles but no more.
Nevertheless, the very presence of an American base on a country's soil, regardless of its reason for being there, tends to give potential invaders pause. How would the Americans react if someone invaded near their base?
Having been under the thumb of Communist Russia for half a century, and (in Poland's case) of any number of invaders for centuries further back, it's not hard to imagine why they might be a little paranoid. Any defensive symbolism is bound to make them feel better. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain it's been U.S. policy to give former Russian colonies as much comfort as we can.
In return, we have no more loyal allies than the Eastern Europeans. Despite having absolutely no interests whatsoever in the Middle East and little extra money to spare, Poland and others have sent military forces to fight alongside ours. They have generally supported our position in other international forums, from the UN to NATO to even the EU.
And now, without the slightest warning and apparently without even getting anything in return from the Russians, we stab our allies in the back; they are already screaming that they've been betrayed and sold to Russia. No doubt Japan, Israel, and Taiwan, to say nothing of Iran and China, are watching with keen interest.
The time may come when we really need allies, and they won't be there for us because they can no longer believe we'll be there for them. Is this the change to "greater respect by foreign countries" Obama proclaimed?