Barack Obama open mic gaffe with Dmitry Medvedev does not tarnish his character


National security has always been a hot topic in the United States. Feeling secure has been one of the largest aims of our presidents from the creation of the atom bomb, through the Cold War, and especially after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. However, the small incident with an open microphone President Obama had this past week at the Nuclear Safety Summit in Seoul, South Korea, has left many skeptics wondering what the president’s intentions really are.

While the dialogue between President Obama and Russian President Medvedev seems questionable at first, the circumstances behind the gaffe must be considered before definite conclusions can be made. Moreover, Obama has not changed views on nuclear missile defense since 2009 when he entered the presidency. By reviewing statements made by Obama in the past, it is clear that there very few reasons for critics to worries about “hidden agendas."

The exchange was brief, but it was a strategic move by Obama to informally address the warnings Russia issued over U.S, missile defenses in Europe. The main worry stressed by Medvedev is that the defense system meant to defend against Iran will be aimed towards Russia in the future. During the open mic incident, the exchange went as follows:

Obama: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it's important for him to give me space.”

Medvedev: “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you...”

Obama: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”

Medvedev: “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”


Obama understood that the tensions that exist because of the creation of missile defense in Europe needed to be addressed. Obama and Medvedev, along with President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan were making joint remarks about their work “to rehabilitate the territory around the Semipaltinsk [nuclear] test site.” The summit seemed successful and Obama took a moment to reach out to Medvedev to show that he recognizes the issue and that there will be more talks about it once things are more settled. It is a matter of building trust, which is essential with relations like the one we have with Russia. Some disagree with the president’s way of handling the situation, though.

Ken Blackwell from the Huffington Post writes, “President Obama's willingness to conspire … with Dmitry Medvedev at a secret meeting raises the most serious questions about his character and his policy. This should not be a one-day story. This should be an issue of the highest concern to all Americans, regardless of party or politics.” Blackwell also argues that Obama was “confiding information to Vladimir Putin,” that there is no need for flexibility. Russia has a past with aiding nations like Syria and Iran, and that Russia has given no reason to treat them as friends. These are all serious claims, and are worth stating.

However, would it be wise for Obama not to create mutual cooperation between the United States and Russia? With our long history with Russia, through the Cold War and beyond, trying to build a better relationship for national security is the better option.  This was not Obama trying to “conspire” with Medvedev. Claiming such is jumping the gun; they did not set a secret meeting and are not scheming against our nation. Yes, Russia has not been the friendliest nation, and sometimes their actions seem out of line with our beliefs. Making them a priority enemy is not a solution either. We could very quickly slip down a path similar to the Cold War.

Obama has not given any reason to doubt him, although organizations like the Republican National Committee try to prove otherwise. Soon after the incident, the released a video that claims, “What else is on Obama’s agenda after the election that he isn’t telling you?” What this video does not take into account is that the president has stuck to his sentiments on missile defense systems since entering office in 2009. Taking a few steps back throughout the Obama administration, it becomes clear that all these assumptions are not as plausible as critics are making them seem.

On September 17, 2009, Obama made remarks on strengthening missile defense in Europe. In this speech, he claims, “As I said during the campaign, President Bush was right that Iran's ballistic missile program poses a significant threat. And that's why I'm committed to deploying strong missile defense systems, which are adaptable to the threats of the 21st century.”

The systems that he specifically talks about as the speech goes on are systems in Europe. This sounds all too familiar, as Obama once again tries to employ these same ideas once again. Iran has remained a threat all this time, and he has not changed his opinion on how to handle the matter now in 2012.

The very next year, in 2010, Obama released a statement of support for missile defense. In this letter he stated, “... As long as I am president, and as long as the Congress provides the necessary funding, the United States will continue to develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect the United States...My administration plans to deploy all four phases of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA)..." After a year in presidency, Obama is still determined to create effective missile defense programs for our nation and allies, which still aligns with what he is doing today. 

There was no mention of ending the four phases, which are broken down by time frame and lists the specific goals that need to be met by then. Russia also agreed to cooperate with this in 2011. This has been a work in progress throughout the Obama Administration, and Russia may need to be reminded that they have already cooperated with the United States and European allies. This is something that Obama has worked on steadily, and even increased budget for missile defense in 2011 by $500 billion.

Now, in 2012, we have come full circle again to the same issue. Iran is a lingering threat that continues to worry the United States and European allies. Obama is once again trying to work with NATO to create an efficient missile defense system to help ease these problems. Russia however, seems to be reluctant about working alongside the U.S. to end tensions that exist in Europe. Obama has been here before. This isn’t anything new to him. He handled the situation as he saw fit to convince Russia to cooperate with his attempts once again. He did not mean for the world to hear it, but that does not automatically mean that he is plotting some sort of secret agenda. We have not been in his shoes and cannot say that we have talked with Medvedev before. This is the way to create cooperative bonds between the United States and Russia so that we can reach our goals in the best fashion. However, it is campaigning season, and with elections right around the corner, there may not be time to formally sit down and chat just yet.

Obama’s character should not be called into question just yet. His intentions did not seem to be malicious, and as history proves, this cause is something that he has steadily supported since his campaign in 2008. Perhaps it is time for Obama to make a formal statement about the tensions that exist so that no skepticism lingers among critics and doubters. This would help ease any questions they have, and will also allow for that “flexibility” he is searching for when trying to balance a presidency and campaign season. Until then, maybe just reading through the facts may help ease those with questions about our president’s alliance.