Many mornings you can hear Boeing boasting over the Washington airwaves about how its ground-based missile system is protecting the United States. From what? There is no nation primed to attack the U.S. with I.C.B.M.s — or even close to it — in any military significant way. Yet we’re spending billions of dollars annually against a virtually non-existent threat.
But even that is not good enough for some lawmakers. Five of them lobbed a missile (sorry) at Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Thursday, urging him to do more to protect the homeland from missile attack (the use of the word homeland when discussing national security tends to be a red flag that basically means: hold on to your wallet).
The lawmakers, led by Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, and four other GOP members of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, cite unspecified “new intelligence” and an old warning from former defense secretary Robert Gates that North Korea may become a threat.
I watched Ronald Reagan unveil his Strategic Defense Initiative nearly 30 years ago, and have climbed into the massive radar pyramid at Nekoma, N.D., that was home to the nation’s original missile defense site for six months in the 1970s – at a cost of $25 billion.
There seems to be this Pavlovian need in some quarters of this nation to try to build invulnerable shields to missiles purportedly being built by foreign madmen. The challenge of constructing an ocean-spanning missile carrying a warhead big enough to do real harm – and getting it to land where it’s aimed – is immense. The notion that Pyongyang could do it – and hit an American city, or anything else of value – borders on the preposterous.
Kim Jong-Il is no doubt reading Thursday’s letter from the lawmakers and chortling over how he is helping to bankrupt America. You can almost peek into his Pyongyang lair and hear echoes of Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil:
Dr. Evil: Let’s just do what we always do. Hijack some nuclear weapons and hold the world hostage. Yeah? Good! Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that a breakaway Russian Republic called Kreplachistan will be transferring a nuclear warhead to the United Nations in a few days. Here’s the plan. We get the warhead and we hold the world ransom for…one million dollars!
Number Two: Don’t you think we should ask for more than a million dollars? A million dollars isn’t exactly a lot of money these days. Virtucon alone makes over $9 billion a year!
Dr. Evil: Really? That’s a lot of money. OK then, we hold the world ransom for…one…hundred…billion dollars!
Hmm… That’s about what we’ve spent on missile defense since Reagan’s 1983 speech. Yes, the Dr. Evils of the world represent a danger, and must be dealt with. Pre-emptive strikes – and a clear warning they will be carried out, if needed – make much more sense, both fiscally and militarily. This costly — and, apparently, never-ending — quest to build an impenetrable shield doesn’t highlight our strength, and technological prowess, nearly so much as it signals a willful blindness to the real threats, military and otherwise, facing the U.S., and an irrational fear.