Since September 11th, some congressional Democrats have imitated
chameleons, altering their observable ideological coloration for tactical
political advantage. Like their reptilian counterparts, the motivation has
been simple: Survival. The transparent calculation has been that if they
marched in lock-step with a popular Republican President on national and
homeland security matters, while highlighting disagreements over domestic
policy, Democrats would get credit for bipartisanship while denying the GOP
the benefits of its most potent wartime appeal.
Until now, the strategy has largely worked. Early on, President
Bush showed his appreciation by publicly embracing Senate Majority Leader
Tom Daschle. Democrats have approved nearly all of the funding sought by
the Bush Administration for the war effort and for rebuilding/transforming
the U.S. military. And, Democrats have assiduously sought to portray
themselves as more committed to homeland defense even than Mr. Bush,
championing for months the Cabinet-level agency reorganization he embraced
two weeks ago and trying to add billions of dollars more than he deems
needed for new spending in the name of protecting the Nation and its people
here at home.
Within hours of this writing, however, Senate Democrats will be
forced to show their true colors. Republicans are expected to offer a floor
amendment to the Fiscal Year 2003 defense authorization bill (S.2514) that
would undo the damage done last month at the instigation of Senate Armed
Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin to President Bush's effort to protect
the American homeland against ballistic missile attack -- the one real and
growing threat against which we are currently absolutely defenseless.
Specifically, over unified Republican opposition, Sen. Levin
persuaded the Committee's Democratic majority to cut $814 million -- more
than 10% of the total request for missile defense. The latter also imposed
legislative language that will make it difficult, if not as a practical
matter impossible, to use the money they did approve in such a way as
actually to develop and deploy effective anti-missile systems. As one of
Sen. Levin's staffers recently boasted to a colleague, the objective is
clear: "We killed Brilliant Pebbles [a promising, space-based missile
defense program pursued by President Reagan]. Now we will kill this [one]."
Lest there be any doubt as to the effect of the Levin gambit, the
head of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, Lieutenant General Ronald
Kadish, warned that the bill now before the full Senate would "fundamentally
undermine the Administration's transformation of missile defense
The GOP amendment to restore full funding and strip out the
hamstringing Levin language will offer Senate Democrats an opportunity to
show what they are really made of. Are they as determined as President Bush
and others in his party -- if not more so -- to secure our homeland against
those who wish to do us harm? Or are they really most interested in
protecting themselves politically?
Democrats cannot have it both ways. Either they are serious about
affording the public and our country with the means to counter enemy attacks
-- whether undertaken with fuel trucks, ship-borne containers, commercial
airliners, crop-dusters or missiles -- or they are not. Their true colors
will be apparent to all if their ideological opposition to missile defense
is seen as trumping their purported commitment to defending the homeland.
Incredibly, the Levin gambit would also seriously interfere with the
President's efforts to provide protection to our troops overseas and allies
-- many of whom are currently under direct threat of missile attack. Before
September 11, even Democrats who opposed anti-missile protection for the
United States claimed that they strongly supported so-called "theater"
missile defenses. So why would responsible members of the Democratic Party
agree to legislation that would, in Gen. Kadish's words, "eliminate the
opportunity for the earliest possible contingency against medium-range
ballistic missiles abroad"?
Some Democratic Senators may try to justify their vote for Sen.
Levin's position on the grounds that -- now that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic
Missile Treaty is no longer an impediment to development and deployment of
effective missile defenses -- they are worried that Gen. Kadish may use too
streamlined an R&D, acquisition and management approach. How dare he use
such time-tested business techniques as "spiral development" and
"capabilities-based acquisition" to ensure that something actually comes
from the billions spent on missile defense?
Before going with this particular color scheme, though, such
legislators should be aware of a letter written to members of the Armed
Services Committee on May 6, 2002 by President Clinton's Under Secretary of
Defense for Acquisition, Jacques Gansler. In it he endorsed Gen. Kadish's
approach saying "To minimize risk (and cost) but have an early deployed
deterrence, the use of spiral development and capability-based acquisition
is definitely appropriate -- from both a management and a military
In short, Senators like Jean Carnahan, Zell Miller, Joseph
Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Daniel Inouye and Fritz Hollings have a chance to
demonstrate whether, for them at least, the pledge of bipartisanship in the
face of a common and resourceful enemy and the profession of a shared
commitment to do what we must to prevail in the war on terror is a
subterfuge or the real thing. For those of us whose fondly remember the
courageous leadership within the Democratic Party on such matters of the
late Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson, we can only hope that his genuine
commitment to bipartisanship in the service of the national security will be
shown to live on in the hearts and minds of his counterparts in the Senate
today. If not, they will hand Mr. Bush and others who share his
determination to deploy missile defenses "as soon as possible" a winning
issue for the elections ahead.