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Jewish World Review July 25, 2001 / 5 Menachem-Av, 5761

James Lileks

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The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!) -- MISSILE defense works! This time! Previously, the tests had some problems. As the Pentagon put it, they "experienced dis-successful impact due to projectile not adequately securing the length-wise structural portions of an agrarian compound livestock shelter."

Translation: couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

But we're working out the kinks. We can do it. We sent men to the moon using slide rules, dead reckoning, duct tape and spit; we can figure out the intricacies of missile defense. (If the administration really wanted to get everyone on board, they'd insist that missile defense would safeguard America's experimental human embryos.) While we wait for the experts to extirpate the kinks, let's consider exactly whose missiles we're defending outselves against. The Likely Suspects:

North Korea. Leadership: dorky guy with silly hair, a tenuous grasp on reality, an economy as prone as a highway stripe, and a fully operational missile program. Go figure. Experts speculate the missile is powered with hay, and does not actually explode on contact, but just gives everyone a nasty scrape that makes entire metropolitan areas ask themselves: how long since I had that tetanus shot? Six years? Seven? Likelihood they'll nuke us: coin toss.

Iraq. Leadership: That Old Funlover, Saddam. Since he not only survived a US invasion, but survived ten years of coup rumors, nutcase relatives, sanctions, rumors of diseases varying from thyroid disorders to cancer of the moustache, he seems the most likely to lob a bomb our way. Likelihood he'll be unable to resist nuking Isreal first: coin toss.

China. Awww, now why would they want to nuke us? Sure, they threatened to turn LA into a sheet of glowing glass during one the biannual snarky fits over Taiwan, but that doesn't mean they'd do it. China has greater weapons at its disposal. At any time, they have, in their factories and warehouses, 94% of all extruded-plastic toys that will be give to America's beloved whelps next Christmas. Americans can take the occasional Civil Defense siren, the periodic whump! of a distant nuke. But junior crying through all of January because he didn't get the Atlantis sub with Real-Action Grasping Arms is a sacrifice we're not ready to make. Likelihood they'll nuke us: small. They will bury us. Under tons of licensed merchandise.

Russia. Given the parlous state of Russia's military, it's doubtful that Russia's nukes could even make it out of the silo without getting lost. For all we know, they never really had nukes - the cones might have dropped in Times Square and unfurled a little flag that says BANGSKI. Likelihood they'll nuke us: can't say; we lent Putin a coin for a phone call, and he never gave it back.

All true. People wonder why anyone would nuke us, given our ability to retaliate massively. But would we? The United States probably lacks the fortitude for a good old-fashioned nuclear swap-meet. In the old days, it was simple: all the Rooskie missiles went up at once; we detected them on gigantic screens that hung in a vast, dimly-lit, black and white War Room. (Maniacal handicapped German optional.) Once we knew they were attacking, we sent all of our missiles as well. The two fleets met over the poles, exchanged pleasantries, continued to their destinations, and that was it: game over.

You don't have the same dynamics with a single missile. If Iraq managed to sneak one through and atomize, say, Miami, America's reaction would be swift and immediate - which is to say, all the cable shows would go 24-7 debating the ethics of retaliation. Alan Dershowitz would insist that this was the Bush administration's way of covering up its electoral powergrab. Al Sharpton would immediately fly to Baghdad to express solidarity with the Arab innocents. Pundits would talk about the human cost of our ten-year sanctions policy; someone would insist that our sanctions had already killed 100,000 people, so Saddam was simply evening the score. Retaliate? What sort of barbaric nation stoops to brutal notions like retaliation?

That's why we need missile defense: we wouldn't be expected to retaliate if we nipped a rocket en route. We wouldn't have to admit we're too civilized to nuke a city. I fear we have wakened a sleeping giant, a wise man once said, but nowadays it's different. The sleeping giant hits the snooze alarm.

JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
05/21/01: One man's toke is another man's snort
05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2000, James Lileks