Strategy of a thousand cuts
9/5/2001 12:00:00 AM - Frank Gaffney
It is probably, as the Communists are wont to say, "no accident, Comrade"
that every day brings some news of yet another reason why President Bush is
wrong to try to defend America against ballistic missile attack. After all,
this initiative -- like President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative
which preceded it -- is absolutely anathema to the Left in this country and
Consequently, as Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin
prepares this week to try to eviscerate the President's request for missile
defense funding and Rep. John Spratt plans a similar effort on the floor of
the House of Representatives for later this month, anti-anti-missile
invective is spewing forth from every conceivable outlet. Consider the
following sampler of what might be called a "strategy of a thousand cuts":
Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other left-wing
organizations have launched a lawsuit aimed at compelling the Bush
Administration to "reassess...the potential environmental damage" to be
caused by its planned test facility in Alaska and provide...for public
comment." An Anchorage activist with Greenpeace confided to the New York
Times the real purpose: "[Our] hope is that delay will lead to cancellation,
that's what we always hope for in these suits."
The problem is that the Clinton Pentagon actually did produce a
comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement for an Alaskan missile defense
system -- albeit one far larger (intended to house up to 100 interceptors)
than the modest test facility President Bush proposes to build (involving
only 5 interceptor silos). It is hard to imagine how the latter could
create more "environmental damage" than the former, which was deemed
acceptable even to the green weenies of the Clinton Administration.
Dr. Theodore Postol -- the MIT PhD who has become the scientific
poster-child for the stop-missile-defense crowd -- has recently added a new
item to his litany of debatable technical critiques of the Clinton and Bush
programs: scare-mongering transparently intended to inflame allied
opposition. He asserts that even if a missile interceptor succeeded in
effecting a boost-phase "kill" on an incoming missile (that is during the
early stage of its trajectory when it is moving relatively slowly, easily
identified and vulnerable to destruction), its warhead might continue on and
land in friendly territory with devastating effect.
Of course, it is not possible to say with precision exactly what the target
of a missile in boost-phase might be; perhaps allied cities were intended to
be ground zero anyway? It is also true that intercepting a missile during
that stage could cause any debris to land on the launching country since, by
and large, for these weapons tend to be deployed deep in the interior of
such states. Even Dr. Richard Garwin -- whose decades-long record of
techno-naysaying on defense programs makes Postol look like a piker -- is
quoted in the August 29 edition of the New Scientist magazine as
pooh-poohing his colleague's warnings: "If it hit land, the warhead would
most likely hit a relatively uninhabited area and kill far fewer people than
intended, says veteran physicist Richard Garwin....That fact should deter
nations such as North Korea or Iraq from launching a missile at the US, he
says, if they were ever tempted to do so."
The latest "cut" was precipitated by a New York Times report on Sunday to
the effect that the Bush Administration will tell China in the course of
consultations about the President's missile defense plans that the U.S. has
"no objections to [the PRC's] plans to build up its small fleet of nuclear
missiles." This unattributed statement was subsequently disavowed on the
record by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who acknowledged the
reality that the Chinese "modernization is underway" -- whether the United
States build a missile defense or not -- but made clear that "We're not
going to acquiesce in it."
The original Times article, nonetheless, created an opportunity for a fresh
round of hand-wringing and chest-beating by the President's opponents. We
should not be encouraging China to build more missiles, increasing the
threat to us and triggering an arms race in South Asia, they say. In fact,
our deployment of missile defenses should actually discourage such actions.
Nonetheless, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden
ventilated that the Administration's "headlong, headstrong, irrational and
theological desire to build a missile defense sends the wrong message to the
Chinese and to the whole world." One wonders what message the Chinese took
from Sen. Biden's his recent visit to Beijing, in which he made clear that
he shared their determination to stop Mr. Bush in his tracks?
It is ironic indeed to hear the critics denounce the President's commitment
to defend America as "theological." In fact, there is no greater leap of
faith, no more unshakeably theological conviction than the belief Messrs.
Biden, Levin, Postol and others appear to share -- namely, that the United
States will be perfectly safe if only it remains perfectly vulnerable to
ballistic missile attack.
Unfortunately, in their adherence to the outdated, not to say morally
problematic, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) theology of a by-gone Cold
War, the opponents' "thousand cuts" strategy could well precipitate the very
outcome they claim to fear most. If enough legislators are rattled or
bamboozled by the cacophony of arguments against missile defense, they may
vote to cut or otherwise hobble Mr. Bush's missile defense program.
That would have a decidedly pernicious effect on the Russians. As former
SDI director and arms control negotiator Amb. Henry Cooper has noted, the
Kremlin will have no further incentive to agree jointly to end the 1972
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty regime that precludes development, testing and
deployment of effective U.S. missile defenses. This would compel the
President to proceed, as he has vowed to do, unilaterally.
The moment of truth on missile defense has arrived. Congress should not be
distracted from the historic task at hand of defending America by those
whose efforts to bleed the Bush anti-missile program to death risk a far
bloodier fate for all of us.