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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg May 19, 2014

Cheney: At "mere request of Putin," Obama ditched Eastern Europe missile defense plan

As the unstable situation in Ukraine continues, former Vice President Dick Cheney was asked Sunday what he thought of President Barack Obama’s handling of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

Cheney said Putin has taken advantage of what he sees as weakness in Obama, and that Obama had sent the wrong signals as early as 2009.

"At the mere request from Putin, President Obama withdrew the plans for a missile defense program based in Poland and the Czech Republic," Cheney said on Fox News Sunday.

Here, we’re fact-checking whether Obama withdrew plans for a missile defense program at Putin’s request.

The Bush plan

In 2006, on advice from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, President George W. Bush pushed for an initiative to install 10 interceptor missiles on the ground in Poland and an advanced radar system in the Czech Republic, to counter the potential threat of long-range missiles from Iran. Russia did not like the idea one bit.

Russian defense minister Sergei Ivanov told the Russian news organization Ria Novosti that Russia was opposed and that the plans did not make "political sense, much less military sense."

During the 2008 election, candidate Obama said he supported the installations in Poland and the Czech Republic but also said he was open to rethinking them.

When Obama took office in 2009, he spoke of making U.S. relations with Russia less confrontational. The symbol of this was a photo-op of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presenting her Russian counterpart with a  "reset" button.

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Three years after Bush announced his missile defense proposal, Obama changed course. On Sept. 17, 2009, Obama announced that the United States would pursue a new missile defense policy focused on knocking out short- and medium-range Iranian missiles. The new plan relied on missiles based on American warships and eventually sites closer to Iran.

The response at home and overseas

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, released statements suggesting that Obama was being soft and letting down American allies. Pundits like John Bolton, whom Bush had appointed as ambassador to the United Nations, said Russia and Iran came away as "big winners" in a "bad day for American national security."

Meanwhile, Israel and most NATO countries in Western Europe approved of the move, news stories show, because they thought the missile system provoked Russia. Polish and Czech leaders expressed disappointment.

Obama left it to Defense Secretary Robert Gates to explain the shift. In a New York Times op-ed, and later in his 2014 book Duty, Gates said that Defense Department officials realized the Iranian government was putting more stock into building short- and medium-range missiles over long-range ones. The agency wanted to uproot the old plan to better counteract that threat, and the new tactic Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended to Obama was cheaper and took less time to implement.

Lance Janda, chairman of the Department of History and Government at Cameron University, added that the full U.S. strategy included deploying potentially hundreds of interceptor missiles in Eastern Europe starting in 2018. Lost in the GOP fury, Gates wrote, was that the Russians found Obama’s new approach to be even more worrisome than the Bush-era plan.  They worried that those missiles could easily be configured to thwart them as well as Iran.

Our ruling

Cheney said Obama dropped a missile defense plan based in Poland and the Czech Republic on the "mere request" of Putin. While Putin strenuously objected to the plan, a Pentagon reassessment of the nature of Iran’s capabilities was the actual reason for the change. The Pentagon saw a greater danger from Iranian short-and-medium-range missiles than the long range missiles that were targeted in the original plan.

NATO allies and Israel also favored the new approach, which included steps to install a missile defense system in Poland in 2018.

So, Obama did forgo the Bush-era plan, but he didn’t do it at the "mere request" of Putin. We rate the claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Fox News, Fox News Sunday, May 18, 2014

PunditFact, Romney: Obama stopped missile defense shield 'as a gift to Russia', March 23, 2014

Email interview with Lance Janda, Cameron University Department of History and Government chairman, March 23, 2014

PolitiFact, "Cheney accuses Obama of telling allies about cancelled projects in ‘midnight’ calls ," Oct. 23, 2009

PolitiFact, "Did Obama flip on whether he would continue to pursue a missile shield in Poland?" Sept. 22, 2009

Ria Novosti, Russia against U.S. missile defense plans for Europe, Dec. 22, 2006

New York Times, Op-Ed: A Better Missile Defense for a Safer Europe , by Robert M. Gates, Sept. 19, 2009

The Guardian, "Obama abandons missile defence shield," Sept. 17, 2009

Center for Strategic and International Studies, "Is Obama throwing Eastern Europe under the bus?"

New York Times, "US mulls alternatives for missile shield," Aug. 26, 2009

New York Times, "US is proposing European shield for Iran missiles," May 22, 2009

New York Times, Op-Ed: A Better Missile Defense for a Safer Europe , by Robert M. Gates, Sept. 19, 2009

New York Times, "White House Scraps Bush’s Approach to Missile Shield," by Peter Baker, Sept. 17, 2009

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence Web site, Press relesase: Pence Condemns Administration's Decision to Abandon Missile Shield , Sept. 17, 2009

AP, "Eastern Europeans see shield-dropping as a slight," by Karel Janicek and William J. Kole, Sept. 18, 2009

President Barack Obama, " Remarks by the President on Strengthening Missile Defense in Europe ," Sept. 17, 2009

Robert Gates, "Duty", January, 2014

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Cheney: At "mere request of Putin," Obama ditched Eastern Europe missile defense plan

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