- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2001

On Thursday, George Bush actually did what he said he would do during the campaign: withdraw from the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1973, which is to the arms control establishment roughly what the Nicene Creed is to an Episcopalian. Bravo Bush: he refuses to yield to liberal hopes that he might "grow" in office.

The ABM Treaty, a conceptual abomination from the start, deserves to die. It serves no logical purpose except to constrain the United States from playing to its technological strengths strengths that are once again being vindicated on a foreign battlefield. Only a week earlier, the Pentagon also managed to do what the critics said couldn't be done: hit a bullet with a bullet in a missile defense test over the Pacific Ocean.

That won't avert the usual caterwauling on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. Critics will point out that it still remains to be seen whether a few successful tests can be translated into a workable system at affordable cost. And one of the messages of September 11 is that Armageddon might not arrive on the tip of a missile. It might arrive in an American Tourister.

But those who say America can't or shouldn't defend itself against both kinds of threats are engaging in a logical fallacy. Nor do they have much credibility. They are, by and large, the same folks who were content to lob an occasional cruise missile at Osama bin Laden in the 1990s and call it a day. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright daintily took to referring to the missile-armed patrons of terrorism Iraq, North Korea, Iran as "states of concern" instead of "rogue states." And Democrats in Congress are driving other spending up by double-digit rates in the current fiscal year.

Russia is aggrieved, naturally, though reaction from Moscow so far has been relatively muted. Vladimir Putin clearly places relations with the West and the trade, aid and access to NATO that go with it ahead of a dusty treaty that sooner or later would be shelved anyway. Fears that he might not cooperate in Afghanistan are absurd: He faces a serious terrorist problem within his own borders.

Nor is Mr. Bush acting as a rogue president here. The treaty itself provides for withdrawal on six months notice by either party. And it had long since become clear that arms control was a one-way street. The United States, being an open society, would always live up to the terms of its treaties. But nondemocratic societies couldn't be trusted to do so as post-Cold War revelations about Soviet biological, chemical and nuclear warfare capabilities make chillingly clear. Arms control gave nothing more than a comfortable illusion of safety.

When Ronald Reagan challenged this illusion with his Strategic Defense Initiative speech of 1983 which didn't so much launch a new program as pull together under one umbrella a number of existing missile defense research programs the arms control ideologues on the left went bonkers.

But not even Bill Clinton, who was nothing if not aware of the public temper, dared get rid of what his friends on the left loved to deride as "star wars." (A serious PR error, I have always felt: the movie "Star Wars" was hugely popular with the American public.) Polls consistently showed the public was shocked to be informed that its government was doing nothing zero to defend against nuclear-armed missiles.

Now George Bush, who is willing to spend his political capital rather than sit on a lead, as his father did, has knocked the last prop out from under the silly notion that people armed with missiles won't use them against us. Or rather, he has pointed out an obvious fact: There really are nuts out there who would like to kill as many Americans as possible. And a nuclear missile is a pretty easy way to do so.

Lots of tough decisions remain ahead. How extensive should a missile defense system be? Should it primarily protect our troops in the field or should we start with a system to protect population centers? Will future generations grow complacent and forget the lessons of Adolf Hitler's end-run around the Maginot Line, the defensive shield of its time? How much should be spent on an ABM system and how much on infantry?

But at least this places the debate where it should be: on American national security, rather than on the delusion that mere scraps of paper can be substituted for real defenses.

Tom Bray is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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