To make the world safer. That's the justification by the Bush administration for its missile defense shield. But, as is often the case with the Bushies, once they have a goal, they let no facts or logic stand in their way, even if they contradict the original motivation. So just how far is the White House willing to go to build support across the globe for its missile defense shield obsession? Further than any sane person would imagine.
According to reports published over the weekend, the administration is prepared to wink at a Chinese nuclear buildup in exchange for China's acquiescence to Bush's Star Wars fantasy. So, to recap, to make the world more "safe," we're going to make the world less safe.
The timing is all the more important since Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon has authorized construction work to begin on a U.S. missile test site in Alaska. Coupled with the impending drilling in the Arctic Refuge, it's beginning to look like Bush has it in for the 49th state. At least he hasn't yet announced plans to set fire to the place.
What's more, this bouquet of nuclear roses is being sent to the Chinese before the president arrives in Beijing for his first state visit there in October. After this latest move, they'll probably want to stuff him and put him on display next to Mao. "George W. Bush: hero of the Chinese nuclear program."
Even Republicans are aghast -- but not aghast enough. Arlen Specter, a leading Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, called the strategy to offset Chinese objections to the U.S. missile shield "much too soon." He should have called it "much too insane." How else would you describe igniting an arms race in Asia and ending a 30-year ban on nuclear testing?
They must be smoking some potent ideological crack in the White House these days. One can only imagine the late-night binge that produced this latest bizarre result:
"I got it," Rummy must have cried out. "China currently has fewer than two dozen miserable nukes. If this number is increased tenfold, and we make sure that we share whatever technology they need to make them top-of-the-line nukes, can't you just see how absolutely necessary our shield will be?"
"It's brilliant," echoed W. "We overcome Chinese objections by letting them arm themselves to the teeth, and then we overcome domestic objections by sounding the alarm about the Chinese!"
It's as if a condom maker were encouraging the spread of gonorrhea, hoping that, given time, it would spark demand. Part of the Bush team's Strangelovian strategy is an apparent determination to spread the nuclear plague across Asia. Otherwise, why has the administration decided to lift all sanctions on India, despite its refusal to halt nuclear weapons testing, curtail its own nuclear buildup, or stop flexing its nuclear muscles at Pakistan, yet another nuclear cowboy?
Maybe it's just a nuclear version of the concealed-weapons law Bush signed in Texas. If everybody has nuclear weapons, we'll all be safer, right? From this coming chaos, so the thinking goes, rational demand for a panacea will emerge. But any student of the Cold War must conclude that we were damned lucky to survive that era without a nuclear shoot-out. Now imagine that instead of a bilateral face-off, the next cold war will be a nuclear free-for-all. Do you want to put your faith in George Bush and a pie-in-the-sky defense system to keep you and yours safe during such a time? I sure don't.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, while denying the reports that the administration was dropping its objections to China's nuclear buildup, spoke resignedly about it. "There is a Chinese military buildup that has been going on for some time," she said as though there were nothing the administration could do about it. But in fact we have diplomatic carrots and superpower sticks aplenty when it comes to our relations with the Chinese -- free-trade goodies to brandish, Olympic games to boycott, state visits to forgo.
"We have told the Chinese," Rice added, "that the missile defense system is not aimed at them." Interesting. I was under the impression that a missile defense system isn't aimed at anyone, but intended to protect us from those aiming at us. Oh, well. As Nurse Ratched might have said, "There is no reasoning with these lunatics!"
And all of this is happening just after the presidents of China and Russia signed their first post-Soviet era "friendship treaty," centered on their belief in the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as "the cornerstone of strategic stability."
The time has come to ask: If launching a moon-shot scale defense project with less than a moon-shot likelihood of success means living in a world that's much more heavily armed with nuclear weapons, why are we doing it?