The $60 Billion Boondoggle
Jude Wanniski
July 10, 2000


To: Sen. Fred Thompson [R-TN]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Gold-Plated ABM Rathole

After watching your interview on FoxNewsSunday with Tony Snow yesterday, I was forced to admit that I know less about political people than I thought I did. Id thought for sure you would express some dismay at the failed anti-ballistic missile test on Saturday. Id thought it should have persuaded you of all people in the Senate that we should at least stand back and consider the possibility that the program is a gold-plated rathole. Not only will it never work, but it is not necessary.

You have senior staff people, Senator, who have known me for 30 years, and know there was nobody more hardline than I was during the Cold War in support of ABM systems -- even though I knew they would never work as they were described. Why? Because if an ABM system could persuade the Soviet Union that we could complicate their plans for a massive attack by their 10,000 missiles, it would be worth the R&D expense. In other words, making a BIG DEAL out of a Star Wars system while actually spending small amounts on the project made sense as a strategic chess move against the Russians when they were adversaries in war. Now, there is no such threat, but you seem eager to spend BIG MONEY on a system that everyone and his brother realize will never work. On Saturday, another $100 million went down the gold-plated rathole when a simple screw came loose on the interceptor. The Pentagon and Boeing immediately announced the GOOD NEWS that none of the critical pieces of the system malfunctioned. It was that damned loose screw, or whatever. You should have doubled up in laughter, but in the interview, you managed to keep a straight face and say they should tighten the screw and try again.

Ive been scratching my head ever since, trying to figure out how I had you pegged wrong, and all I can come up with is that you do not have anyone in your immediate circle of advisors who is tuned in to the nature of this boondoggle. Several months ago, I tried to persuade my old pals on your staff that you needed someone like Dr. Gordon Prather to guide you through these minefields in the military-industrial complex, but nothing ever happened. Dr. Prather is a nuclear physicist who worked in the Reagan Pentagon in this realm. He knows everything there is to know about ABM systems and HE doubles up in laughter when he thinks about a non-nuclear, ground-based system of the kind you are eager to build. He now writes a twice-weekly column for that Im sure you have not been reading, or you would not have said the stuff you did on FoxNewsSunday.