Pentagon hawks don't usually transform into doves. Likewise, US presidents are known for bombing small - if somewhat wayward - countries into a pulp rather than making conciliatory moves. Still, when Barack Obama pulled the plug on the much maligned anti-missile defense (AMD), it wasn't entirely unexpected.
Neither were the reactions. While cries of betrayal haven't stopped echoing through the capitals of Eastern and Central Europe, people from countries without as serious a death wish as Poland have hailed Obama's move. The response from American commentators was entirely on predictable lines - from "Poland for Russia, not a bad trade!" to "OK, we've done our part, now will the Russians please deliver Ahmadijenad's head."
But Russia is unaware of any tradeoff. From their side of the fence the picture doesn't look rosy at all. "By temporarily dropping its missile shield, the US is just trying to sell a dead cat for good money," says Konstantin Sivkov, the Vice President of the Moscow-based Academy of Geopolitical Problems.
Indeed, the US decision not to proceed with building the AMD over Eastern Europe to shoot down Iranian missiles seems to be a strategic retreat.
Strategic retreat represents a partial solution to the bitter-end problem. When confronted with a losing situation, the losing party accepts defeat in a way which allows them to preserve as much of their resources as possible. They then set about the task of building their power base so that they can raise the issue more successfully in the future.
The Russians, masters of strategic retreat, which helped them destroy first Napoleon and later Hitler, recognize Obama's gambit. Adds Sivkov: "The US decision to drop its missile defense plans is positive. But it's not a breakthrough that gives the US and NATO the right to demand military and technical concessions from Russia. One of the new radars and naval missile components could be set up in the Caucasus, anyway. Georgia has already agreed to host the radar."
From the Russian perspective, the American climbdown is inexplicable. Since the voluntary dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US has been doing pretty much what it pleases. It has pulverized Iraq (a former Russian client) not once but twice, bombed Serbia (an Orthodox Slav nation having deep ties with the Russian people), carved out Kosovo, and now roams with impunity in Afghanistan, which was once firmly under Moscow's thumb. Also, going against all precepts of detente, Washington has encroached upon Russia's backyard and brought NATO fighters minutes to Moscow.
So why the sudden American back-paddling on AMD? Viktoria Panova, political analyst at Moscow State University of International Relations, believes by abandoning its initial plans Washington wants to show "the positive way America thinks now."
"America could say: OK, we've done that, but we can reverse it or continue either with this scenario or a slightly modified one," says Panova. "America can push Russia either on Iran or another issue of concern, so it's very similar to what it was during the last days of the Soviet Union when America was playing with the ABM system being developed."