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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Political IQ Test

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Intelligence is limited by reality, but stupidity knows no bounds. For that reason, it can be quite creative, conjuring up all sorts of things that should never have existed in the first place. U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to counter an Iranian threat by placing missile interceptors in Poland falls squarely into that category.

Yes, a deranged Iranian leader could conceivably launch a nuclear first strike. That act would, however, be the apex of Shiite self-immolation if it were launched against Europe, the United States, Israel or Russia. Iran's main interest in acquiring nuclear weapons is to deter attack (and to pressure its neighbors). The world's attention is now focused on U.S. ineptitude after its defeat of Saddam Hussein. But what impressed Iran most was how quickly and easily the United States defeated an enemy that Iran fought for nearly a decade.

The interceptors are unlikely to work in the first place. The technology has not proved very promising. In a New York Times op-ed piece on Wednesday, technology and security expert Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology advocates the United States and Russia joining in an anti-Iranian missile shield program but admits his truest feelings in parentheses: "(Let's leave aside, for the moment, the question of whether missile defense will ever be very effective, something I'm quite skeptical about.)" In other words, the U.S. and Russia will counter a low probability threat with an even lower probability defense system.

Any anti-missile system can only detect missiles fired from land. No Star Wars would stop Russian subs in the Atlantic from striking New York. And the Iranian navy has at least three Russian-made subs, possibly with terrain-skimming Novator 3M-14 missiles, which can be nuclear tipped and are immune to radar jamming in their approach phase. Their target presumably would be Tel Aviv.

Politically, Poland was a poor choice of venues for the placement of the interceptors. Not only have the former Warsaw Pact nations been absorbed into NATO -- against assurances to the contrary throughout the 1990s -- but now Warsaw itself is going to allow U.S. rockets on Polish soil. These rockets will not be aimed at Russia, but it is uncomfortable having rockets in its neighbor's yard, especially if relations with that neighbor have not been overly amicable. And what if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suddenly started lobbying to place anti-anti-missiles outside Minsk?

How genuine is Russian anger over the anti-missile system and how much of it is political? To some degree, the outrage is a real reaction to yet another humiliating move by the West. This was bad enough when Russia was weak and had to swallow everything, but intolerable now that it has regained power and prestige.

President Vladimir Putin's response was to offer to share a radar facility Russia rents in Azerbaijan (and one under construction in the Krasnodar region.) The dramatic and unforeseen move elicited admiration from aficionados of international events. It put the United States on the defensive while it acknowledged its right to build such a system. The United States sputtered: We'll consider the possibility but without giving up our original intentions. A first deputy prime minister and 2008 presidential contender, Sergei Ivanov, grossly upped the ante, threatening to base new missiles in Kaliningrad if the Americans didn't cooperate.

Pundits weighed in from both sides. Sergei Markedonov of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis saw joint use of the Azeri facility as a way of "preventing another Cold War." Postol agreed, "Cooperating with Russia on missile defense is the perfect way" to prevent another Cold War.

It would be a pleasant irony if one of the many ineptitudes of the Bush administration did in fact lead to better relations between the United States and Russia, but I wouldn't bank on it.

Richard Lourie is the author of "The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin" and "Sakharov: A Biography."