Star Wars, the Sequel

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, October 24, 2007; 12:52 PM

It doesn't work, it's expensive and it's intended for a threat that doesn't exist -- but by golly, according to President Bush, missile defense is absolutely essential.

Andrew Ward writes in the Financial Times: "George W. Bush on Tuesday said a missile defence system was urgently needed to protect the US and Europe from Iran, warning that Tehran could have the capability to strike the US and Europe with ballistic missiles within eight years.

"'The need for missile defence in Europe is real, and I believe it's urgent,' the US president said in a speech to the National Defense University in Washington.

"The remarks signalled US determination to push ahead with proposed missile defence facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic in spite of fierce opposition from Russia."

Steven Lee Myers writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush would like to make missile defense a defining legacy of his presidency, though critics say the initial system, with a limited number of missile interceptors in Alaska and California, remains unproven. Missile defense has been a core of Republican ideology since Ronald Reagan proposed what came to be known as the 'Star Wars' program in 1983, and it remains hugely popular among the Republican candidates vying to succeed Mr. Bush. . . .

"Mr. Bush raised the issue again now, aides said, to fend off Congressional efforts to cut spending, which he said would delay the deployments in Europe 'for a year or more.' Mr. Bush, who the day before asked Congress to approve $196 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other programs, complained that Congress was proposing cutting $290 million from the $8.9 billion he proposed for missile defense in the current fiscal year. . . .

"In speaking at the National Defense University, Mr. Bush was returning to the place where he first pledged to build a national missile defense more than six and a half years ago. But critics questioned the urgency of the threat, and even Mr. Bush said that intelligence agencies did not believe that Iran could build a ballistic missile capable of striking the United States before 2015 -- and then only with foreign assistance."

Michael Abramowitz and Walter Pincus write in The Washington Post about "seemingly contrasting messages" from Bush and his defense secretary: "President Bush said yesterday that a missile defense system is urgently needed in Europe to guard against a possible attack on U.S. allies by Iran, while Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates suggested the United States could delay activating such a system until there is 'definitive proof' of such a threat."

Abramowitz and Pincus also report: "A July report by the Congressional Research Service said that "many experts disagree with the U.S. assessment of Iran's capabilities.

"'The international security policy and ballistic missile proliferation community argue that evidence of an Iranian ICBM program is scant and unconvincing,' the CRS reported. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also expressed skepticism, and the Iranians said they dropped development of an ICBM, the CRS reported."

Bush's Claims

In his speech yesterday, Bush said his administration successfully took steps "to make missile defense operational, while continuing our research and development efforts. Instead of spending decades trying to develop a perfect shield, we decided to begin deploying missile defense capabilities as soon as the technology was proven ready -- and then build on that foundation by adding new capabilities as they matured. By the end of 2004, we had a rudimentary capability in place to defend against limited missile attacks by rogue states or an accidental launch. . . .

"Last month, the Missile Defense Agency conducted its 30th successful 'hit to kill' test since 2001. We got a lot of smart people working on this project, and they're proving that our vision can work. With this most recent success, our military commanders believe we can now have a credible system in place that can provide the American people with a measure of protection against threats emanating from Northeast Asia. The next step is to take a system that has passed demanding tests in the Pacific theater and deploy elements of it to Europe -- so we can defend America and our NATO allies from attacks emanating from the Middle East."

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