Obama's missile-defense dodge alienates Lieberman

It didn’t take long for Barack Obama and Joe Lieberman to come to cross purposes again.  After Lieberman endorsed and campaigned for John McCain in the general election, Democrats stiffly welcomed him back to the fold when McCain lost to Obama.  Lieberman’s hawkish principles have been restirred, however, with Obama’s apparent abandonment of missile defense:

Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) has tried to mend his relationship with President Obama in recent months but their reconciliation hit a snag Monday over ballistic missile defense.

Lieberman, the self-described independent Democrat who questioned Obama’s credentials to serve as commander in chief during the 2008 campaign, has panned the Obama administration’s proposal to cut the nation’s missile defense shield. …

“Cooperation on missile defense is now a critical component of many of our closest security partnerships around the world,” Lieberman wrote in a letter to the president. “We fear that cuts to the budget for missile defense could inadvertently undermine these relationships and foster the impression that the United States is an unreliable ally.

“Moreover, sharp cuts would leave us and our friends around the world less capable of responding to the growing ballistic missile threat.”

Lieberman, a longtime supporter of a robust missile defense program, is the lead signatory on the letter.

Byron York argues that Obama has abandoned missile defense while generating a dishonest front to make it seem as though America will continue efforts to defend itself from rogue nations.  What he said in Prague is not as important as what Obama said in Iowa:

Candidate Obama made a video in response to Caucus4Priorities.  “I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems,” Obama said.  “I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems…”

To Democrats on the left side of the spectrum, “unproven missile defense systems” had a specific meaning. “Our position would have been that, at least at the time, any kind of missile defense system was unproven,” Peggy Huppert, who was Iowa state director for Caucus4Priorities, told me. “We thought it should be discontinued, that it was not a fiscally responsible program — ineffective, not proven, too expensive.”  Therefore, when Obama told Democrats that he would stop “unproven missile defense systems,” he was saying he would stop all missile defense systems.

When Obama won the party’s nomination for president, his platform promised he would “support missile defense, but ensure that it is developed in a way that is pragmatic and cost-effective, and, most importantly, does not divert resources from other national security priorities until we are positive the technology will protect the American people.” Worded the way it was, Obama’s pledge could have meant anything from robust, across-the-board support of missile defense to a complete abandonment of the program.

Now Obama is president and faces two problems for which missile defense is a possible solution.  The first is North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile which might someday carry a nuclear warhead.  The second is Iran’s continuing effort to build a nuclear weapon.  With that in the news, Obama pledged in the Czech Republic that, “as long as the threat from Iran persists,” the U.S. “will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven.”

In light of Obama’s history on the subject, what was he saying? Why would he go out of his way to tell an audience in the Czech Republic that a missile defense system must be cost effective? And since he said that he will go forward, but only with a system that is “cost-effective and proven,” was he saying that such a system exists today?

There has always been an air of absurdity about the opposition to missile-defense systems.  No one argues that missiles aren’t a threat, but somehow defending ourselves against it is illegitimate unless one stumbles on a complete, perfect defense immediately.  That we have never found a perfect defense against any weapon on the first throw doesn’t appear to faze people at all.

When Germans introduced U-boats in World War I, we answered with depth charges.  Did that kill every submarine?  No.  Did that make depth charges a waste of effort and money?  Not at all.

When air combat first entered the naval arena, we developed anti-aircraft guns that wasted a lot of ammunition in order to get a few kills.  Was that a cost-ineffective program for defense?  Should we have scrapped it until someone magically developed a perfect system of defense?  I think you’d find a lot of Navy vets who would laugh anyone making that suggestion out of the room.

Defense systems take time to develop, and they take patience.  If missiles from rogue nations are a threat, then it’s incumbent on us to find ways to negate that threat.  We have come a long way since the “Star Wars” days, and have a long string of successes.  Is it perfect?  No.  Is it cheap?  Of course not — but it’s a lot less expensive than the alternative of having missiles hit cities in Europe or the US.  If Minneapolis suddenly disappeared in a North Korean mushroom cloud, I’d bet that the costs, even outside of the human costs, would be exponentially larger than everything we’ve spent on missile defense for the last 25 years put together.

Don’t tell me about “cost effective”.  Tell me what the US plans to do to defend itself and its allies against attack from rogue nations.  That answer cannot be “nothing”.