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In the post-attack world, even the Russians have made room for Bush's Star Wars obsession.

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An interceptor launches from Kwajalein Missile Range, Marshall Islands, July 8, 2000, in what turned out to be a failed missile defense test.

The Un-American Missile Shield Boondoggle

by Chuck 45

SEPTEMBER 27, 2001. Just a few days after hijacked planes smashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington leaving thousands dead, and everyone else shocked and grieving, John Bolton, U.S. Undersecretary of State for arms control and international security affairs was in Moscow stumping for the missile defense shield. His rhetoric was almost obscenely unchanged.

"While missile defense would not have prevented this abomination, it does show that the United States faces severe threats from terrorism and from rogue states, and that among the things we have to continue to work on is missile defense," he told reporters.

The string of non sequiturs lacked nothing but logic. True, the attacks had everything to do with terrorism, but little to do with rogue states — assuming Osama bin Laden will be proven the mastermind — and even less missile defense, which is not designed to target hijacked airliners.

But reason seems increasingly irrelevant, especially in Washington. Since the terrorist attack, Democrats previously critical of the shield have changed their tune, agreeing to restore the $1.3 billion of the $8.3 billion in spending authority for developing and testing antimissile systems that they had planned to cut.

Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who had criticized pursuit of the shield as a costly indulgence in unilateralism at the expense of the ABM treaty and an already deteriorating economy, said that he had backed down from the issues because "an attempt to resolve them now would create dissent where we need unity."

The Republican-led House overwhelmingly approved a $343 billion defense bill late Tuesday, though it diverted some money from George W. Bush's prized missile defense program to counterterrorism efforts.

In the post-attack world, even the Russians have made room for Bush's Star Wars obsession. A few days after the disaster, Russian General and deputy chief of staff Yuri Baluyevsky told reporters, "I can assure you that our relations will be continuing regardless of whether the U.S. withdraws from the ABM treaty or not." A U.S. withdrawal, he added, "will not affect these relations of trust."

While I'm all for hanging together, lest we hang alone, it would have been nice for just one or two voices to admit a bad idea three weeks ago is probably still a bad idea now.

The functionality of the missile shield is nothing less than faith-based. While the Defense Department did shoot down a mock warhead over the Pacific Ocean in July in a successful test, two out of the three previous $100 million flight tests had failed.

Tom Collina, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' global security program said even this interception didn't prove the viability of missile-defense technology. "This test was as easy as it gets," he said. Furthermore, the high-tech shield is only effective against high-tech warheads with perfect "spin stabilization," which means wobbling bargain basement warheads, like those of the rogue states we fear, are almost undetectable.

Then there's the ABM treaty that Bush would have to break to pursue his shield. Besides a retreat to an unhealthy unilateralism which may or may not be tolerated in the post-attack milieu, it will likely lead to a new nuclear arms race. The drastic realignment of global interests in which the "with us or against us" United States is making friendly overtures to every state from Cuba to Iran will probably not last. Enemies yesterday, friends today, may be anything tomorrow.

Almost as worrisome as a return to global pariah status and arms race instigator, is the missile shield as a distraction for defense. The real and present danger faced by the U.S. seems to come from relatively low-tech suicide bombers. Six months from now, will the importance of intelligence be eclipsed by the sexy booms of missile tests? Will the basic need for operatives fluent in Arabic and other unpopular languages be ignored in the competition for rocket scientists?

Finally, there's money. The economy, already lusterless before the attacks, is in a recessionary mode. With federal funds now flowing to shore up airlines, build "homeland defense," rebuild the country's financial nerve-center, New York, and wage an as yet undefined but undoubtedly costly and protracted "war on terrorism," spending billions in pursuit of a pie-in-the-sky fantasy benefiting only the defense industry should be denounced now more than ever.

Short of a national apocalypse, the elderly will still need low-cost prescription drugs, our children more and better schools. With retirement funds in the toilet, Social Security is again a vital safety net.

In these days of grief and fear, the United States needs level-headed patriots, not lemmings governed only by the forces of blind unanimity and the price of Boeing stock.

Related links:

For's article, U.S. Ballistic Missile-Shield Program Passes Test.

For the BBC's September 3 article, The threat from wobbling warheads.

For "Why America will have to do it all." Lawrence F. Kaplan in The New Republic defends the need for a missile shield in addition to everything else.

For Complete Coverage WTC Attack

For Complete Coverage of U.S. politics

For Complete Coverage NYC

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