Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

March 29, 2014

Fact Check: Was defense shield dropped 'as gift to Russia?'

By PunditFact

President Barack Obama mocked Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign for calling Russia “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”

Now, as the country’s relationship with Russia worsens over Ukraine, Romney is getting the chance to take a few political swipes himself.

Romney appeared on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday and said Obama has been naive about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions all along. Romney said Putin has blocked Iran from harsher sanctions, stood with dictators in Syria and North Korea, and provided Edward Snowden a safe haven.

Romney said he would have handled things differently.

“For instance, you reconsider putting in our missile defense system back into the Czech Republic and Poland, as we once planned,” Romney said of steps he’d take if he were in the White House. “And as you recall, we pulled that out as a gift to Russia.”

PunditFact has heard several Republican politicians and pundits bring up the missile defense system in recent weeks, so we wanted to look back into the program and why it was scrapped.

The missile defense system

The missile defense issue represented the first significant break from President George W. Bush administration policy in Obama’s first year in office, so it attracted a lot of attention.

Bush, taking advice from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, pushed for an initiative to install 10 interceptor missiles on the ground in Poland and an advanced radar system in the Czech Republic to fend off long-range missiles from Iran.

American officials saw the Europe-based plan as improving their ability to deflect long-range missiles launched by Iran (not Russia) to Europe or the U.S while strengthening military partnerships with countries in Eastern Europe. Some interceptors had already been built on America’s West Coast to protect against nuclear attacks from North Korea. The interceptors in Europe would not be ready until at least 2017, Gates later wrote.

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