When President Bush announced the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty five years ago, Democrats howled. Pulling out of the treaty to roll out missile defense would, they predicted, lead to a new arms race, undermine American security and in any case was unnecessary. "This premise, that one day Kim Jong Il or someone will wake up one morning and say 'Aha, San Francisco!' is specious," Senator Joe Biden told AP in May 2001.
Apparently no one bothered to translate "specious" into Korean.
Precious. But Biden, supposedly one of the 'saner' Democrats isn't alone.
All of which makes the U.S. political debate over missile defenses worth revisiting, not least because some Democrats are still trying to strangle the program. In the House, John Tierney of Massachusetts this year proposed cutting the Pentagon's missile-defense budget by more than half. His amendment was defeated on the House floor, but it won the support of more than half of his Democratic colleagues, including would-be Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Meanwhile in the Senate, Carl Levin (D., Mich.) offered in June to cut off funds for the ground-based interceptor program that Mr. Bush recently activated in Alaska in anticipation of the North Korean launch. Mr. Levin wants to stop new interceptors from being built, but Senate Republicans wouldn't bring his proposal up for a vote. Mr. Levin has been waging his own private war against missile defenses for a generation, to the point of outflanking Russian objections on the political left.
But missile defense makes sense.
No missile defense is perfect, but even our current rudimentary shield has proven to be strategically useful these past few weeks. The Navy had at least one ship-based Aegis missile-defense system deployed off the Korean coast, with a potential to shoot down a North Korean missile. The Aegis cruisers have successfully shot down missiles in seven of eight tests in recent years, and could become an important player in protecting allies and U.S. forces against regional missile threats.
The Pentagon now spends nearly $10 billion a year on missile defense and is developing several promising new technologies. These include sea-based defenses and low-orbit satellites that help track incoming missiles, as well as the Thaad program designed to knock out long-range missiles as they are heading to Earth. Thaad had a successful test over New Mexico last week.
Meanwhile I keep hearing Ned Lamont on the radio trying to run desperately Left of Joe Lieberman and is leading in the latest primary poll.