Now, the President’s critics claim that he compounded that error by squandering time, energy and money pursuing defenses against a far more distant threat from ballistic missiles.
For example, the Washington Post reported breathlessly last week that in a speech prepared for delivery (but not given) on September 11, 2001, Dr. Rice had planned to discuss the danger the country faced from missiles equipped with weapons of mass destruction. Here, it seemed, was proof that ideologues in the Bush national security apparatus had their eye firmly and exclusively on the wrong ball, leaving the nation ill-prepared to deal with more prosaic threats like hijacked, fuel-laden passenger planes flying into buildings.
Wait a minute. In fact, the undelivered Rice speech makes clear that the Bush administration was quite concerned about the threat of terrorism in the United States and around the world. As she put it: “We need to worry about the suitcase bomb, the car bomb and the vial of sarin released in the subway.”
From their earliest days in office, President Bush and his subordinates were pursuing initiatives carried over from the Clinton Administration, including improved security against truck bombs, shipborne weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and bio-terrorist threats. In addition, the NSC’s Clarke who, it must be acknowledged, during his time as its counterterrorism chief his words “failed” to discern and address adequately the menace of WMDs in the form of hijacked planes, was laudably beavering away at another grave danger: the possibility of cyber-strikes aimed at the computers that enable America’s critical infrastructure.
What Condoleezza Rice argued, however, was that it made no sense to “put deadbolt locks on your doors and stock up on cans of mace and then decide to leave your windows open” to enemy attack. That, she correctly contended, would be essentially the effect if the Bush Administration were to perpetuate its predecessors’ practice of leaving the country undefended against missile-delivered WMD.
In the years that have followed 9/11, President Bush has, to his lasting credit, provided the leadership, resources and latitude necessary to put into place at least limited anti-missile protection. Most importantly, he withdrew the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, an archaic Cold War document that some (notably, Senator John Kerry) foolishly considered to be the “cornerstone of strategic stability” even a decade after the other party the Soviet Union had ceased to exist. Without the myriad impediments posed by the ABM Treaty to the development and deployment of competent missile defenses, getting them put into place became a relatively straightfoward matter of time and technology.
Indeed, the Bush team is now poised to begin fielding, for the first time since 1974, anti-missile defenses for the American people. A relatively rudimentary capability will be brought on-line in coming months as a small number of interceptor rockets become operational at a site in Alaska.
The value of even this limited deployment was brought home to several leading journalists recently when they were allowed to observe a simulated missile defense exercise. They wrestled with the nightmare defenders could face if confronted with an attack involving more incoming missiles than could be intercepted and having to choose which U.S. city would be sacrificed.
Unfortunately, the urgency the Bush Administration properly attaches to getting at least some protection against the one form of terror for which we currently have no defense is now the object of most intense criticism. A left-wing organization, the Council for a Liveable World, circulated an open letter signed by former Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral William Crowe and forty-eight other retired flag officers denouncing the deployment of anti-missile defenses in Alaska without more testing. The signatories claim that the money could be better spent on other anti-terror priorities.
Meanwhile in the Congress, anti-anti-missile defense legislators led by the Armed Services Committee’s ranking Democrat, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, insist that more “realistic tests” be done before defenses are put into place. According to press accounts, Sen. Levin is determined to go after some $500 million in the defense budget associated with the deployment of future anti-missile interceptors.
The reality is that, as Condi Rice intended to say on 9/11, we cannot afford to leave any avenue of attack open to our enemies. The threat of missile strikes could come not only in the future from places like North Korea, or for that matter China, armed with long-range, WMD-equipped ballistic missiles. It could arise at any time from a terrorist group that has managed to strap a short-range SCUD-type missile launcher onto a ship and sail it undetected within a hundred miles or so of an American coastal city.
If fault is to be found with the Bush Administration, it is not that it is doing too much, too fast on missile defense. It is not doing nearly enough to bring quickly to bear other sea-going, airborne and most especially space-based anti-missile systems. Such a diversified approach would not only provide the most robust protection possible against various kinds of missile attack. It would also minimize the danger that a President Kerry will be able easily to replicate an ill-advised action led thirty years ago by his most prominent supporter, Senator Ted Kennedy, who succeeded in shutting down what was at the time America’s single ground-based missile defense site in North Dakota.
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the President of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for the Washington Times.
(This update courtesy of the Center for Security Policy.)