- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

In an obvious and welcome concession to the bipartisan spirit that has engulfed Washington since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the American homeland, Senate Democrats last week retreated from the intense opposition they had previously exerted against President Bush's national missile defense program.

Led by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, the liberal Democrat from Michigan, Democratic senators agreed to restore $1.3 billion in national missile defense funds that they had cut from Mr. Bush's $8.3 billion fiscal 2002 budget request on Sept. 7 in a party-line vote in the committee. Also last week, Senate Democrats agreed to drop from the defense authorization bill a provision that established strict conditions under which the Department of Defense could conduct extremely important anti-missile tests.

The crucial restoration of funding means that Mr. Bush will be able to regain the momentum in the development and deployment of a national missile defense system that his far-less-committed predecessor had squandered during the previous eight years. Dropping the restrictive testing provision will permit the missile defense program to move forward much more rapidly. Indeed, on the heels of a hugely successful anti-missile test in July, the Pentagon expressed its intent to pursue a more ambitious testing program. Unfortunately, the anti-testing provision, which was sponsored by Mr. Levin himself and approved in committee four days before the terrorist attacks, strictly regulated any anti-missile tests that would have violated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Such tests could have taken place only if Congress gave its approval or if Russia and the United States reached an agreement that would have permitted the tests.

Explaining why he retreated on both issues that were so important to him, Mr. Levin, to his credit, said he did so because "an attempt to resolve them now would create dissent where we need unity." Now that the Senate has dropped the noxious provision and restored funding, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be under more pressure to come to terms with Mr. Bush.

Contrary to what many opponents of national missile defense assert, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon actually confirmed the necessity of developing such a system. After all, whoever launched the massive attacks on America and all of the evidence points to Osama bin Laden certainly knows that he will be identified and will surely pay a fatal price. Indeed, nearly 20 suicidal terrorists have already willingly paid the ultimate price in order to slaughter thousands of helpless Americans and hundreds of foreign nationals. So, why would anyone assume that an aspiring bin Laden armed with a strategic ballistic missile and a nuclear, biological or chemical warhead would not unleash such an assault?

Even if Senate Democrats made their concessions in the spirit of bipartisanship, rather than because of a change in position, the fact remains that they still made a major contribution to the long-term defense of this nation.

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