'Star Wars' - The Bush Boondoggle
Jude Wanniski
May 31, 2000


To: Albert Gore
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Psst...Here is a Bush Weakness!

Yes, Mr. Vice President, I agree you have criticized George W’s proposal to build a space-based AND ground-based anti-ballistic missile system to protect the 50 states and our friends around the world from a nuclear missile attack from a “rogue nation.” It is a zany idea that comes from Bush’s absolutely cuckoo national security advisors -- Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz – who have been bored to death since the end of the Cold War and would like to get some action going. The fact that these characters have Bush in their hip pocket means they also have the GOP political establishment in their hip pocket, because there is no place else to go. I note that former Treasury Secretary George Shultz, who has been wrong on ALMOST every public policy position he has ever taken, and who opposed “Star Wars” when it made sense, now supports it when it makes no sense.

There was no bigger supporter of “Star Wars” than Jude Wanniski when it was first proposed in the Reagan administration. When the Soviets were aiming 10,000 ballistic missiles at us, it did not matter if “Star Wars” might not work as planned. The very idea that it would complicate Moscow’s planning and we would get the cost/benefit advantage was enough for me. Even if we built Anti-Ballistic Missiles out of cardboard, as long as they looked real when seen from a Soviet satellite, the concept would help break the will of their strategic planners. And it did. George W. Shultz was wrong.

I even helped persuade the WSJournal editorial board to embrace the label “Star Wars” when it was trying to make it sound less fantastic by calling it a “Strategic Defense Initiative.” It got much more public support by being identified with Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in their struggle against the Evil Empire’s Death Star. “SDI” sounds like a bureaucratic acronym for the military-industrial complex, which is what George W. Bush is now proposing. There ain’t no more Death Star and the only Evil Empire on the planet is the International Monetary Fund, run by Darth Vader, a name that loosely translates into “Father of Scarcity.” Bush sounds like a reasonable fellow because he is proposing to get rid of a bunch of our offensive nuclear missiles, which are gathering dust anyway and provide no profits to the arms merchants anymore. His proposal, which the WSJournal thinks is just about the cleverest idea it has ever come across, would cost ONE ZILLION DOLLARS, give or take a trillion. To any objections from the People’s Republic of China that such a system would be offensive in nature and would push them into an arms race, Bush would suggest we sell or rent them use of this state-of-the-art defensive weaponry so they can be protected against “rogue states” too.

Your problem, though, is that you will not be able to cash in on this issue at the polls in November because your own missile-defense program is just as bad, although not quite as expensive. Where the arms merchants are running Bush’s campaign, Greenpeace has you in its hip pocket. The military-industrial complex wants to buy a zillion dollars worth of insurance against the possibility that some tinhorn dictator will get his hands on enough plutonium to build a nuclear bomb, then build a rocket in his back yard, stick the warhead on its nose, and maybe BLOW UP South Korea or, even worse, Israel!!! The Perle-Wolfowitz-Shultz-Bush plan requires development of ground-based ABMs backed up with a system in space that would be able to keep an eye on all the backyards of all the tinhorn dictators. When it spots their missile being fired, it would shoot a laser beam at it and knock it off before it really got going. Maybe the fragments would even fall back right on the head of the tinhorn dictator and kill him (or her). It would serve him (or her) right. You can see how expensive such a system might be, Mr. Vice President, which is one reason why you propose your land-based system.

Trying to explain this to a friend the other day, I put it this way: “Bush wants to protect his house by buying a thousand Dobermans and having them snarl around the entire perimeter of the property. Gore is only buying one really expensive Doberman, but it is blind.” But that, Mr. Vice President, I mean you can’t expect me to believe a ground-based system can protect anyone from incoming nukes by shooting a bullet at it. It is conceivable that you could fire a nuke at the incoming nuke and even if you came close, you would blow it up before it reached its target. The greenies oppose this method because they do not want nuclear stuff flying around in the atmosphere. Oh well. The other problem with your plan is, even if you could hit a bullet with a bullet, how do you know where to put your ground-based ABM? If you locate it in California, maybe the tinhorn dictator will fire it at Florida or New York City. You have to build a lot of them. The arms merchants will be happy to oblige, but what about the taxpayers?

What I would suggest, sir, is that you simply abandon your bullet-to-bullet scheme. It is not a risky scheme, but is blind-as-a-bat and will not guard against any intrusions. Instead, you should get behind the idea of defending our naval fleets against nuclear attack. Regional defense makes more practical sense than area defense. If our fleets were equipped with ABM systems, no tinhorn dictator would fire his (or her) one or two rockets at them because they would probably get knocked down -- as long as you were prepared to fire “enhanced radiation” bullets at them -- a nice term for little nuke warheads that would work even in the vicinity of an incoming. You would have to explain to Greenpeace that it would be better to have the nuke explosion in the upper atmosphere rather than in the middle of the fleet. You can do that. It might even help you win the election.