Bush in "Fantasyland"

Last month's failed missile defense test was categorized as a "No Test" by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The target missile didn't fly into range of the interceptor so it was never launched.

Even though it was deemed a "No Test" by the MDA, an agency spokesman nevertheless claimed that the results of "the failed test underscored the need of the US to install 10 interceptors in Poland and a tracking radar station in the Czech Republic as a defense against potential missile attack from Iran.... It showed that any missiles that Iran launched could similarly go astray and land in Europe even if Europe was not Iran's target."


Welcome to what Joseph Cirincione - senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the new book, Bomb Scare - calls, "This week's episode of President Bush in Fantasyland."

"President Bush is rushing to deploy a technology that does not work against a threat that does not exist," Cirincione says. "Iran is at least 5 to 10 years away from the capability to build a nuclear weapon and at least that far from having a missile that could hit Europe let alone the US. And anti-missile systems are still nowhere near working despite $150 billion spent since the 1983 Star Wars program started and years of phony tests staged to demonstrate 'progress' and 'success.'"

None of this has stopped Bush from continuing to tout his Czech Republic and Poland-based "proposed missile defense system designed to thwart a possible nuclear attack from Iran." Adding to the irony (and the outrage) is the fact that while Bush continues to frame the weapons system as indispensable to democracy - "This is aimed at a country like Iran... so they couldn't blackmail the free world" - the people of the Czech Republic and Poland continue to oppose the plans (as I initially reported here). Recent polls show that over 60 percent of Czechs are opposed and only 25 percent of Poles support the missile defense plan.

The mayor of the Czech village of Trokavec where the radar site would be located recently held a referendum and 71 of 72 votes were cast against the plan. The mayor of Stitov, Vaclav Hudec, and "most of" his village's 58 residents "are bitterly opposed" to the radar site. Hudec wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd outlining the opposition of "nearly two dozen" Czech mayors to the missile defense plan.

"This is a crisis of our own making," Cirincione says. "President Bush so fervently believes in something that doesn't exist that he jeopardizes - again - our real security interests. The fact is the Czechs don't want the radar, the Europeans don't trust his explanations and deplore his unilateralism, the Congress has already cut the funds on purely programmatic grounds. This was a dumb idea before, now it is yet another foreign policy disaster."

All of this for a system Cirincione says isn't important to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who view these programs as "expensive pet rocks."

"The Joint Chiefs were happy to cut this budget as soon as Presidents Reagan and Bush left office," he says. "In 1993 they formally wrote President Clinton and recommended spending only $2.8 billion with $2.3 billion of that devoted to short-range defenses." (We currently spend in the range of $10 billion per year.)

And while many in the mainstream media swallow the Bush Administration talking points on Russian President Vladimir Putin as if once again being spoon-fed pre-war intelligence, other experts on arms control and foreign policy suggest Putin has real reason to worry about the Bush Administration's moves.

In The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy, published in Foreign Affairs last year, Keir A. Liber and Daryl G. Press wrote: "... the sort of missile defenses that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one - as an adjunct to a US first-strike capability, not as a stand-alone shield. If the United States launched a nuclear attack against Russia (or China), the targeted country would be left with a tiny surviving arsenal - if any at all. At that point, even a relatively modest or inefficient missile-defense system might well be enough to protect against any retaliatory strikes..."

Cirincione adds that he thinks Putin's response is a "clever gambit."

"There is a reason Russians are the best chess players - they know how to read the board and exploit their opportunities," he says. "President Putin thinks the US policies represent a new imperialism. Now, he sees President Bush trying to build permanent military bases on Russia's borders. Putin isn't afraid of 10 interceptors but he has to worry about what comes next - any Russian leader would. He doesn't believe President Bush and many Europeans don't either. This issue feeds into the mistrust of America that Europeans feel on a host of Bush Administration policies from global warming to Iraq."

So why is the Bush administration imposing this sucker of a weapons system that nobody wants on an already inflamed relationship with Russia? Why risk sparking a renewed nuclear arms race?

"Politics drives this deployment decision," Cirincione says. "Bush Administration officials are trying to lock in the program before they leave office. They are trying to build bases they hope the next president will find impossible to shut down."

Thank you, Mr. Bush. One more relic from your Fantasyland we could do without.

UPDATE: Today, Putin stated that he would not object if the radar-based system were placed in Azerbaijan instead of the Czech Republic. He didn't comment on the issue of the interceptors being placed in Poland.

Putin noted, "... as soon as a country, for instance, Iran, carries out its first test of its long-range missile... Three to five years will be necessary... until the system is operational. This time is fairly enough to deploy any ABM system. Therefore, no matter how long our talks are going on, we will never be late.... I'm grateful to the President of the United States for a constructive dialogue today."

"Brilliant move by Putin," Cirincione said in an e-mail. "He is basically doing to President Bush what Bush is trying to do to the Europeans on global warming: offer a counter proposal that appears to be constructive but has the effect of delaying the entire process and moving it in a completely different direction. Moving the radar to Azerbaijan both solves some of the Russian military concerns--as the radar will not be able to track Russian ICBMs from that site--and Russian geostrategic concerns by placing any radar in a country much more in their sphere of influence.... Better, the talks about where to site the radar will take months. Putin could well play out the clock on Bush's presidency. But how can President Bush refuse to talk? Isn't Putin doing exactly what President Bush had asked--that is, talk about cooperating on anti-missile systems? If he does refuse, he will look even more the aggressor, eroding what is left of his administration's credibility. President Bush has fallen neatly into Putin's trap. They may have to invent a new name for this gambit."

Katrina Vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.

(c) 2007 The Nation

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