Friday, December 14, 2001

Damian Penny is agnostic about Missile Defense. Says Damian:
After 9/11, one has to question whether the cost is worth it, considering the methods that were used to bring about the most devastating terrorist attack ever committed on US soil. On the other hand, I have no doubt the US could make the plan work if it put enough effort into it (in 1960, many said it was scientifically impossible to put a man on the moon). And anything that has so many radical left-wingers so upset must have some merit.

Personally, I can't get terribly worked up over the mere act of withdrawing from the ABM Treaty -- about which one can make fair arguments that it was outdated and irrelevant in a dozen different ways. But the Bushies' stated reason for withdrawing -- so that we may test and build a Missile Defense system -- constitutes an abrogation of clear thinking and common sense, and throws back into question whether Bush is really as thoughtful and introspective (i.e., smart) as Ari Fleischer keeps trying to convince us.

I don't even have to read their latest online pronouncements to know that Michael Moore and Ted Rall are in lockstep on the issue -- but neither do I accept your generalization that it is the "radical left-wingers" per se who are the main detractors of Missile Defense. Even so, look at who is in favor of Missile Defense: Incumbent politicians first and foremost; defense contractors, second; then, right-wing media pundits whose carefully-honed public personas are pure showbiz; and finally, ordinary folks who look to incumbent politicians and right-wing media pundits for easy, single-stroke, feel-good solutions to difficult multi-tiered problems.

On the other hand, who comes out against Missile Defense? Not just radical lefties who object to defense spending as a central tenet of their principled beliefs; more significantly, its detractors also include the very programmers, scientists and engineers who would be called upon to build the damn thing! Anyone who has had to really, seriously think about how the system would be implemented must come to the conclusion that it is a wasteful, pointless exercise in futility at best, and a dangerously destabilizing influence at worst.

Your comparison to the daunting technological challenge of the moon landing is too simplistic. Flat-Earthers and the Amish community aside -- surely just about every credentialed member of the scientific community circa 1960 believed a moon landing was realistic and possible. If there was any serious resistance, it was to JFK's ambitious timetable. The proper comparison here would be the Manhattan Project -- but here, again, controlled nuclear fission was theorized and hotly debated as early as 1933. It wasn't just wild speculation of a handful of mad scientists; rather, as Young Doctor Frankenstein said: "IT .. COULD ... WORK!!!"

Whereas, the whole concept of Missile Defense fundamentally fails the "It Could Work!" test on so many levels and meta-levels that it's nigh impossible to defend it intellectually. Robert Wright has written passionately, for Slate, on this topic several times, here, here and here -- but here's his main argument, in a nutshell: Were we actually to spend $150 billion on a "Star Wars" shield that was, by some miracle, 100% reliable, it would simply guarantee that a determined terrorist or rogue nation would deliver their warhead, undetected and undeterred, on a barge from the East River.

Which means one of two things: Either (1) Bush is as smart as Ari Fleischer says he is -- in which case Bush cannot himself seriously believe that Missile Defense will ever serve to protect us from nuclear or biochemical attack -- in which case, he also knows damn well that it's just corporate welfare for the defense industry, and he's lying to the entire world when he says otherwise. Or, (2) Bush genuinely believes that Missile Defense could work if we just throw enough money at it -- in which case, he's actually every bit as shallow and intellectually devoid as the majority of voters in the last election believed he was. I don't know which is worse.

Either way, I simply don't see how anyone can hold it up to the light and still seriously defend Missile Defense from any perspective -- except to the extent that it would make a few people feel more secure in the belief that it might work.

UPDATE: QuasiPundit votes nay on Missile Defense, for this reason: [A]n anti-missile defense isn't a shield, it's a sieve... All it takes to defeat an anti-missile defense system is enough missile that the odds end up in your favor. The danger is that a false sense of security may result in a loss of emphasis on non-proliferation ..."


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