Real Genius
Saturday, April 03, 2004
My Two Cents
Folks, amidst all the talk about what the administration was up to and what they were not on and before September 11, 2001, I thought I should remind everyone of some things that I just remembered today, thanks to Senator Biden's appearance on Air America Radio.

Both the legal and budgetary implications of the NMD (National Missile Defense) program were being debated in the months leading up to September 2001. Everyone can and will remember the budget talks, NMD funding, etc.

Does everyone also remember how eager the administration was in their plans for deployment in the coming years? Good.

Does everyone remember the ABM Treaty complications they were trying to take care of?

I didn't, until Google took me to a news article by the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers on the Council for a Livable World's website. And here, friends and foes, are a couple of remarks on the administration's NMD passion:

Sen. Joseph Biden (DE), Ranking Democrat, Foreign Relations Committee, May 1, 2001:

We should not head down the "Star Wars" road again. The fundamental question regarding a national missile defense system is whether it would make us more secure or less secure. We must decide if the investment of tens of billions of dollars in what the Pentagon thinks is the least likely threat to our security - an ICBM attack by another nation - is appropriate, or whether we should defend ourselves against the threat of terrorists, who have the ability, for example, to inflict devastating damage by placing a "dirty atom bomb" in the hull of a ship in New York harbor.

Sen. Dick Durbin, Select Intelligence Committee, May 2, 2001:

The Pentagon itself has said that a missile strike with a "return address" from a rogue state is among the least likely threats it faces. Worse, such a system could give us a false sense of security - our own Maginot Line - and be completely ineffective in countering threats that simply go around it - like the terrorist with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. It could be totally overwhelmed by intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) held by Russia.

Now fast forward to September 11...

I recall having a hard time trying to keep worried, e-mailing friends overseas up-to-date on what was transpiring here in DC on that fateful day, communicating with my mother on Yahoo Messenger and with my then-girlfriend in New York on MSN, who was filling me in on what was going on in Manhattan.

One of my first reactions was: "This was done [by the terrorists] as if to say to this administration: 'No matter what kind of shields you surround yourselves with, we will find a way to penetrate them and hurt you.' " (For all the idiots who want to misinterpret my self-quotation: I did not mean that al-Qaida attacked as a response to the NMD efforts or talks or that the plans for the attacks could have been conceived during that brief time period. Notice the "as if"? Sorry everyone else, I'm still adjusting the magnitude of my own Doctrine of Pre-emption.)

And then I found an e-mail --a forwarded article-- that I'd sent those friends as a little note about NMD, that made me think that perhaps that was why the NMD issue was so fresh in my mind. I called it their "NMD passion" a moment ago; on September 5, 2001, MoDo had called it His Magnificent Obsession:

It is hard to fathom most obsessions from the outside.

Why did Proust's Swann swoon over the sharp-featured Odette, when he knew he was wasting years of his life longing for a woman "who didn't even appeal to me"?

What made Aschenbach follow a blond boy in "Death in Venice" in such a state of distraction that "he could no longer think of anything except this ceaseless pursuit of the object that so inflamed him"?

Why did Humbert Humbert devour himself over the sulky "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul"?

Why did the otherwise cool Oscar Wilde wreck his life over the callow Lord Alfred Douglas so that, as he wrote in "De Profundis," "I became the spendthrift of my own genius"?

Why did the whale engender a "special lunacy" in Ahab that "stormed his general sanity, and carried it and turned all its concentrated cannon upon its own mad mark"?

And why can George W. Bush think of nothing but a missile shield? Our president is caught in the grip of an obsession worthy of literature.

W. seemed like a simple man, who did not get ardently aroused over anything except Little League, clearing Texas brush and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

But it turns out that he is darker and more complex than we thought. He is seized by a desire that defies the laws of politics and physics, a hunger that fills him with elation and despair, a thirst for an attainment that seems so close and yet so far.

While we may not understand W.'s urgent, self-destructive craving for his ineffectual missile shield any better than we understand Scarlett's urgent, self-destructive craving for her ineffectual Ashley, we must stand in awe before the purity and grandeur of his obsession. He would rather risk the world being destroyed than slow his race to build something to protect it.

Consider the hurricane of global emotions that W. has whipped up to construct The Defense That Doesn't Work against The Threat That Doesn't Exist.

The White House has signaled China that it's O.K. to build up its nuclear arsenal if it makes China feel better about W.'s Junior Star Wars. And if this leads to China's improving its nuclear warheads and to a renewal of nuclear testing, well, the obsession can justify that. And if this leads to India's and Pakistan's accelerating an arms race, well, the obsession can justify that, too. And if American kids have to go back to duck-and-cover drills, well, same deal. And if W. squanders $60 billion that could have been spent on education on technology that doesn't work - because our sophisticated antimissile interceptors can't stop primitive, wobbly missiles from rogue nations, much less germ warfare from terrorists - ditto.

W. is now at a "Blue Angel" Lola Lola level of obsession, but instead of his blood running fast for Marlene Dietrich, it's running fast for a missile doily.

He has made the Europeans angry and alarmed. He has made Vladimir Putin and Jiang Zemin much closer, and Russia is once more playing the China card. He has driven Russia and Germany closer, a pairing that caused, as his father would say, "a splash" of trouble in the past. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are furious that W. wants to downsize the services and use that money for his missile shield. Colin Powell, who is in no rush to throw weapons into space, has been sidelined in favor of Rummy and Condi and others who feed W.'s ecstatic fantasy.

Because W. has restructured the entire international security system - reviving scary alliances and threats that had faded - we may end up needing a larger military, not a smaller one.

The last time a president became infatuated with Star Wars, the obsession was easier to understand. Ronald Reagan was by temperament a utopian. He believed that the unattainable was attainable. He confused real life with the movies.

But W. - whence his magnificent obsession?

I can only speculate that it's filial, stemming from his fear of repeating his father's fatal mistake of alienating the right wing.

As much as it is reassuring to see the usually disengaged president become so deeply engaged in an issue, the world might be a safer place if W. stuck with his other obsession: demanding that the White House mess offer up three kinds of jelly with its pb&j's.

What do you think? One more paragraph before I close for the night; this one from David Corn's The Dark Smoke, from the October 1, 2001 issue of the Nation. You may remember that plain but striking black-and-blue cover with the Twin Towers:

Do not be surprised if the national security establishment even tries to accelerate its push for Star Wars II before the debris is cleared. The event tragically demonstrated the limits of a national missile defense system. (And consider how much worse the day would have been had the evildoers smuggled a pound of uranium onto any of the hijacked flights.) But the loudest theme in American politics--perhaps the only audible theme--in the time ahead will be the quest for security. With those drums beating, the fans of national missile defense will continue to argue that this remains a dangerous world full of suicidal maniacs wishing the United States harm and that all steps must be taken as fast as possible.

Now pretty much everyone knows --or thinks-- they were only interested in toys that one can show off --no matter how unusable-- and not real work against terrorism, concededly because they just didn't think it was that important; and they will continue asserting that they did take it seriously and did real work and planning. Which leaves one burning question...

Why do they seem to have convinced everyone so solidly that NMD was all that they cared about?

Allocated funds, published articles, speeches... All point to one and only one obsession they had, which, um, wasn't exactly fighting terrorism.

Hence, ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to suggest a new phrase that can hereinafter be used for their ambitious efforts which seem to be nowhere except in their recent claims: Faith-based Counterterrorism Initiative

Anyone with a better idea, or evidence that this idea is not new, please let me know.

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