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Conservatives still hot over hot-mic story

Karl Rove's attack group, American Crossroads, released a new video this morning, going after President Obama for his hot-mic comments on missile defense, which tops off a week in which the right has been desperate to turn this into a real story.

Rick Santorum said Obama's comments suggest "he's willing to sacrifice American security and willing to sacrifice the security of our allies." Mitt Romney said the president's can't "recover from" such a humiliation. Republican lawmakers are looking for the fainting couch; Republican commentators are apoplectic; and even Jon Stewart was critical.

I still don't see what all the fuss is about. Obama, in Seoul for a nuclear security summit, told Russian President Dmitri Medvedev he's willing to work on missile defense, but the U.S. will need "space" and "flexibility" outside of an election season. Obama was quietly confirming what we already knew -- political environments sometimes restrict foreign policy talks.

So what is it, exactly, Republicans are worked up about? The gist of the argument seems to be that Obama will effectively scuttle Western missile-defense policy once freed from re-election concerns. Fred Kaplan makes a compelling case that the accusations are "totally out of whack with reality."

[I]s there anything to the prediction that Obama will set out to destroy missile defense? If there is, he has a funny way of going about it. The military budget he submitted to Congress last month cuts the allotment for a lot of high-profile weapons projects -- but it requests $9.7 billion for missile defense (with forecasts of $47.4 billion over the next five years). In other words, no cut at all.

And it's not just the money. One item on the agenda at the NATO summit in Chicago this May is the announcement that the missile-defense system will have achieved "interim capability" -- which is to say that, to a limited extent, it's right on schedule.... At the same time, as agreed late last year, an early-warning radar system will be switched on at the Kurecik base in Turkey. Meanwhile, Spain has agreed to serve as the home port for four Aegis cruisers. Agreements have also been signed with Romania and Poland to serve as sites for land-based SM-3s in 2015; already, Polish and Romanian officers have been rotating in and out of a training base for operating the sites.

Now it's true, Obama could junk all these accords after swearing the oath for his second term.... But why would he have gone to the trouble of spending all this money, redesigning all these ships, and arranging all these NATO agreements, if he was just going to scuttle them? It's a lot to scuttle. If his real agenda all along were simply to cuddle up with the Russians, it would have made more sense not to build these projects and make these commitments in the first place; the cuddling wouldn't seem such a conspicuous reversal.

Kaplan's piece goes further, and explains what's likely if Obama gets a second term, but the bottom line remains the same: the hyperventilating in some corners over this is misplaced. I can appreciate why hot-mic stories have an inherent appeal, but the apoplexy is getting a little silly.