The collossal historical ignorance of telling the Poles this news on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet stab in the back that followed the Nazi invasion of Poland that launched World War II in Europe only highlights the other reason this decision is bad. It weakens our defense link to our newest NATO members in the former Soviet empire.
I can't imagine this retreat will make it easier to convince reluctant NATO allies to fight with us in Afghanistan when they'll wonder if President Obama will bail on this war as easilly as he bailed on our commitment to defend eastern Europe.
Given that many American retreats will affect that calculation, I don't know how we fix that. But perhaps we can minimize the damage to the faith of our newest NATO allies worried about Russia.
As I advocated over a year ago, I think NATO should pre-position brigade sets of heavy armor in southern Poland, in a manner that we did in West Germany with our REturn of FORces to GERmany (REFORGER) program. We kept the equipment for a number of brigades in Germany so all we had to do was fly in the troops of a CONUS-based (continental United States) similar unit. If we, the British, and the Germans participated, it would reassure eastern Europeans that NATO help was close enough to matter. I called it REFORPOL.
We could up the ante by constantly rotating a battalion task force into southern Poland to fall in on that equipment and exercise there the way we did between 1991 and 2001 in Kuwait where we also had a brigade set stored, just in case. We send in small units now to Bulgaria and Romania in a somewhat similar arrangement, but without the prepositioned unit sets.
I don't want a war with Russia. But I think we're more likely to get a war by giving Russians with aggressive tendencies a reason to think they can get away with war. Let's not give them reason to think eastern NATO is outside of our defense perimeter.
After all, our president doesn't believe his retreats will cause a war. He believes just the opposite, amazingly enough. But if our enemies keep pushing us as we retreat instead of acting friendly, our president will likely stop retreating at some point. What happens when our foes keep pushing, unaware that our president finally reached his limit for running away?
I'm not happy, people. Our government has made a huge mistake (unless they really got a massive Russian concession to solve the Iran problem--and then actually stop Iran from going nuclear).
I'm just trying to work the problem.
UPDATE: And have no doubt there is damage to control, with language recalling Moscow's attack on the already reeling Poles 70 years ago:
"Betrayal! The U.S. sold us to Russia and stabbed us in the back," the Polish tabloid Fakt declared on its front page.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski said he was concerned that Obama's new strategy leaves Poland in a dangerous "gray zone" between Western Europe and the old Soviet sphere.
Recent events in the region have rattled nerves throughout central and eastern Europe, a region controlled by Moscow during the Cold War, including the war last summer between Russia and Georgia and ongoing efforts by Russia to regain influence in Ukraine. A Russian cutoff of gas to Ukraine last winter left many Europeans without heat.
The Bush administration's plan would have been "a major step in preventing various disturbing trends in our region of the world," Kaczynski said in a guest editorial in the daily Fakt and also carried on his presidential Web site.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he still sees a chance for Poles and Czechs to participate in the redesigned missile defense system. But that did not appear to calm nerves in Warsaw or Prague.
Kaczynski expressed hopes that the U.S. will now offer Poland other forms of "strategic partnership."
I'm thinking American Abrams main battle tanks in Poland are the only partnership that would ease Polish worries at this point.
Or maybe Secretary Clinton just needs to instruct her eastern European counterparts in the nuances of smart diplomacy so they'll understand how lucky they are.