- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

Granted, Tuesday's terrorist assault on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon could not have been prevented by a robust national missile defense system. Most assuredly, however, it does not follow that the nation's obvious vulnerability to conventional terrorist attacks precludes the need for defense against a ballistic-missile attack. In fact, the opposite is true.

Thus, it was particularly disappointing that Senate Democrats recently sought to emasculate President Bush's plan to develop and deploy an effective national missile defense system. On a 13-12 party-line vote, Senate Armed Services Committee Democrats slashed $1.3 billion from Mr. Bush's $8.3 billion anti-missile funding request for FY 2002. Moreover, committee Democrats also prevailed on a party-line vote that would prohibit any anti-missile test that would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty unless Congress voted to permit the test, or Russia and the United States reached an agreement by which the test would not be a violation.

No doubt, Russian President Vladimir Putin was delighted with the Senate Democrats' actions. After all, the Democrats have placed Mr. Putin in a win-win position. On the one hand, as long as Mr. Putin refuses to come to terms with Mr. Bush, the Democrats will support him. On the other hand, if Mr. Bush seeks to exercise the sovereign right of the United States to withdraw from the treaty after giving the requisite six months' notice, Democrats would attempt to block Mr. Bush from conducting any tests that would have violated a treaty that would no longer be in effect.

As it happens, the Armed Services Committee's votes could not have been more poorly timed. Giving comfort to Russia, the committee votes also took place on the very day that the CIA released a report identifying Russia, China and North Korea as "key suppliers" of missiles and weapons of mass destruction to unstable areas around the world. In particular, the report asserted that Russian firms "continued to supply a variety of ballistic missile-related goods and technical know-how to countries such as Iran, India, China and Libya."

If there is any real meaning to the spirit of the foreign policy bipartisanship that has ostensibly arrived in Washington in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks, then Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and his Democratic colleagues will swiftly reverse their irresponsible committee votes.

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