By Molly Ivins

Updated: Thursday, Mar. 18, 1999 at 01:55 CST
More good sense, not more missile defense

AUSTIN -- What newspapers around the nation need is a standing headline that starts, "In Reversal, Clinton Now . . ." and then they can just stick in the news o' the day. In his most spectacular and stupid reversal in years, Clinton has now endorsed "Star Wars," the old Reagan-era scheme to build an anti-missile system that will protect us from an all-out attack by the Soviet Union.

It was a terrible idea then, and as you may have noticed, the Soviet Union has been seriously defunct for seven years. The history of this turkey is so fantastic and so ridiculous that it would be hilarious if it weren't so expensive. We have already spent `$55 billion' on this pathetic piece of leftover Cold War lunacy, and absolutely none of it works, at any level, not to mention the rather glaring fact that we `don't need it.'

Star Wars is the perfect case study for what's wrong with both American government and the American military. It has everything: special interests, campaign contributions, the military-industrial complex, supine politicians, lazy media, decisions being made solely for political calculation, decisions having nothing to do with national security, and a public to whom no one has bothered to tell the truth.

This is one of those hideous deals, like the savings-and-loan scandal, where you can see the disaster coming -- you can see it happening in front of your eyes -- and they still won't stop it. It's also like the backyard bomb-shelter program; a generation from now, when the whole thing is the most expensive white elephant of all time, some future Robert Scheer is going to have an absolutely wonderful time chronicling the perfect idiocy of everyone involved.

We don't have the Soviet Union to kick around anymore, so we are preparing to stop a missile attack by a "rogue nation" such as North Korea, Libya or Iran. Of course, none of them has the capacity to send up a missile that can actually reach the United States from their turf, but `they might get it' -- according to the best estimates, in 10 to 20 years.

The Senate, with the new blessing from the White House, is going to approve building this missile defense system as soon as it is "technologically possible." Right.

Here's where we are so far:

* A study by strategic experts John Pike, Bruce Blair and Stephen Schwartz, "Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons since 1940," concludes: "The greatest accomplishment of the first four years of the SWDI program consisted in learning what technology did not work." Among the failures: rail guns, space-based lasers and particle beams.

* The military is now focused on a "hit-to-kill" vehicle designed to intercept incoming missiles before they reach U.S. territory. The vehicle has failed seven of its nine tests in this decade, according to an article by William Hartung in the Fall 1998 `World Policy Journal.'

* Lockheed Martin's "Theater High Altitude Area Defense" -- a kind of super-Patriot missile designed to defend against medium-range missiles -- has flunked its fifth straight test. Lockheed, by the way, gave $2.3 million in campaign contributions during the '96 elections.

* According to Hartung, a panel of independent experts appointed by the Pentagon and headed by former Air Force chief of staff Larry Welch reviewed the program and reported in February of '98 that the entire ballistic missile defense effort was riddled with waste and on a headlong "rush to failure."

* The Mayune 1997 issue of `Technology Review' concluded, "Any country that could develop a long-range missile could also deploy a variety of simple counter-measures that would make the job of the defense much more difficult, if not impossible."

* So far, the most concrete result of the program, according to Hartung, are the flashy "artists' conceptions" of how future systems might work.

* High point so far: In 1984, the Army rigged a key Star Wars test by planting a remote-controlled explosive in the target missile that would cause it to blow up `whether it was hit by the defensive missile or not!' When `The New York Times' revealed this lunacy in '93, the officials involved said it was more important for the Soviet Union to `believe' we could shoot down missiles than it was to actually have the capacity to do so. (!!!)

* You should be aware that some "think tanks" supporting Star Wars receive generous funding from Boeing and Lockheed, including the Center for Policy Security.

Republican strategists plan to make missile defense "the most important issue of the 2000 election," according to Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson. According to `The Wall Street Journal,' Jack Kemp's Empower America group has targeted senators in certain states like Nevada with radio ads saying: "We are only one vote shy of ensuring the safety of you and your family. But the people standing in the way are Nevada's own senators." Ensuring the safety?!

If this program were in the corporate world, everyone associated with it would be fired. If it were a domestic spending program, Republicans would have torn it to shreds by now.

Where is the rest of the Pentagon on this gold-plated folly? The money it really needs for personnel and readiness is going into this black hole, and they'll never see a nickel of it; this `is' the defense-spending increase.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the `Star-Telegram.' You may write to her at 1005 Congress Ave., Suite 920, Austin, TX 78701; call her at (512) 476-8908; or email her at