Is the Obama administration's new missile defense initiative a direct response to North Korean threats -- or the culmination of a secretive deal between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin to scale back America's defense apparatus?
According to Congressman Mike Turner, the administration's cancellation of the final
phase of a missile defense system in Europe on Friday is vindication of his
warnings about Obama's "secret deal with the
"We watched the president state to Medvedev that he would have greater flexibility after the election," Turner told Foreign Policy on Sunday night. "Putin later announced the terms of the agreement. You'd have to conclude that there was a deal."
The Ohio Republican was referring to a "hot mic" exchange between Obama and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a nuclear security summit in South Korea last March. "After my election I have more flexibility," the president told Medvedev, referring to ongoing discussions about missile defense. "I understand," replied Medvedev. "I transmit this information to Vladimir."
Since the incident, the administration has steadfastly denied ever plotting a secret deal with Putin. Additionally, on Friday, when the Pentagon announced the cancellation of some Europe-based defenses as part of a reallocation of resources to protect against North Korea, Pentagon spokesman George Little rejected the notion that the plan had anything to do with Russia. "The missile defense decisions Secretary Hagel announced were in no way about Russia," he said.
But Turner said his warnings had been vindicated, and went on to lament that the president's "secret deal," which he referred to matter-of-factly, elicited no apparent concessions from Russia.
"The problem with the president's secret deal with the Russians is we never understood what we were going to get out of it," Turner told FP. "The president clearly has abandoned the shield that the Russians opposed and we're left with the U.S. having greater exposure to North Korea and Iran without any benefit."
In the wake of the hot mic incident last March, a number of Republicans, including GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, joined Turner in criticizing the president. But after a spate of White House denials, the issue died down. On Sunday, Republicans even spoke favorably of the president's realignment of missile defenses against North Korea. "I think it's really good that we're taking those precautionary measures to make sure that they cannot do damage," Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said on Fox News Sunday. Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers told CNN that "this is something that we have to take seriously."
But Turner has never lost sight of the so-called "secret deal" between Obama and Putin.
In June, he delivered an address on the House floor, saying "the issue of the president's secret deal with the Russians is not one open to interpretation." His office then issued a press release featuring a spreadsheet that documented the various events at which U.S. and Russian officials had met, suggesting the continuation of secret missile negotiations.
He also released a video that spliced together clips of himself repeating the words "secret deal" on the House floor.
On Sunday, Turner pledged to "call for hearings in the Armed Services Committee" to increase scrutiny of the "secret deal." When asked if he believed the entire North Korea realignment was a White House red herring to implement the alleged deal, Turner said "it's certainly possible."
Rejecting Turner's allegations, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden reiterated that the president's decisions on this matter had nothing to do with Russia. "They were made based on technological developments and an increased threat of ballistic missiles from North Korea," she said.