Strategy of a thousand cuts

Posted: Sep 05, 2001 12:00 AM
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 abroad. 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.