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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Clear Case of Misguided Missile Policy

Fifteen years after the Cold War's end, it would seem that everyone should know better. But the tone-deaf plan of President George W. Bush's administration to station parts of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe and Moscow's snarling response show that all sides could use a refresher course in diplomatic sense and civility.

U.S. officials insist that the 10 interceptors it is planning to place in Poland and the early warning radar to be set up in the Czech Republic are supposed to defend Europe from Iran's missiles -- not Russia's. And there is no doubt they're telling the truth. The untested system could be easily overwhelmed by Russia's huge nuclear arsenal.

It is unlikely, however, that more military posturing against Iran will lead it to give up its nuclear ambitions. Russia's reaction to the stationing of even weak missile defenses near its borders (and in its former satellites), while out of proportion, was also utterly predictable. A top Russian general -- who sounded as if he'd slept through the last 15 years -- warned the Poles and the Czechs that if they went along with the U.S. plans, Russia's missiles "will be capable of targeting the facilities."

The mixture of crocodile tears and threats from Russian officials seems overly dramatic -- and very much in character for President Vladimir Putin, who is hoping to divert attention from his own thuggery at home, not to mention his desire to reassert power in Russia's old neighborhood.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who cut her teeth on Kremlinology, should have expected Moscow's reaction. And Rice, who's been counting on Russia to help keep up the pressure against Iran's nuclear efforts, should have known provoking Moscow this way could be counterproductive. Add to that the fact that the move has annoyed "old European" allies, like Germany, which are central to efforts to contain Iran, and it seems like another example of diplomatic negligence.

In any case, this is a fight that should be quickly reined in. Washington has wisely chosen to respond calmly to Russia's vitriol, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has taken some welcome steps to moderate Moscow's stance.

A few interceptors in Europe may or may not work against "rogue states," but they are counterproductive if all they do is to provoke Russia and irk NATO allies.

This comment appeared as an editorial in The New York Times.