Monday, July 16, 2007

Lazy reporting. Lazy legislating?

The problem is inherent in the opening paragraph. A front page article from Sunday’s New York Times reads this way:

MOSCOW, July 14 — President Vladimir V. Putin, angered by American plans to deploy a missile shield in Eastern Europe, formally notified NATO governments on Saturday that Russia will suspend its obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, a key cold war-era arms limitation agreement.

Before we go further, yes, the move by Russia to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty is a problem with some far-reaching consequences—but we have gotten to this point, in part, at least, because of an assumption so flawed yet so ingrained at this point that esteemed Times reporters and editors let it go without so much as a footnote or clarifying paragraph.

What has angered Putin so much as to risk such a theoretically destabilizing move as suspending a treaty (one that actually has no formal mechanism for suspension, it turns out)? Why it’s “American plans to deploy a missile shield in Eastern Europe,” of course. Except, one problem: There is no such thing as a missile shield.

Besides the fact that such a statement is just inaccurate on its face—the Bush Administration has announced plans to put some sort of radar monitoring bases in one former Eastern Bloc nation, and some missile launchers in another—it is so conceptually vacant as to be meaningless.

The “missile shield,” called The Strategic Defense Initiative by supporters and “Star Wars” by skeptics until the Bush/Rove/Luntz spin machine gave it a new, marketing-savvy name, has existed only in the minds and computer simulations of unhinged science geeks and greedy defense contractors for something like three or four decades. But, to be nothing if not painfully straight, here in the real world, there is no such thing as a “missile shield.” After all these years and billions upon billions of dollars, no real world test of any of the proposed systems has even come close to justifying further development, let alone a test case deployment.

And that part of the equations doesn’t even begin to answer nor even ask the question: What is the threat?

The Russians? Administration mouthpieces say absolutely not—they remain our friends. Rather, the Bush bunch would have us believe this “system,” nestled against Russia’s border, has been designed to protect Europe against some Mideastern missile threat, presumably Iran.

Do a little simple research—the kind that the Times, perhaps, couldn’t be bothered to do—and you will find countless articles debunking both the program and the threat. For the purposes of my point, here, I will just say that this “missile shield” is a nonworking solution to a nonexistent problem.

That point, it seems, is now lost on the New York Times—but it should not be lost on our congressional leaders. This Bush boondoggle, though completely fantastic, has factual consequences. To allow the administration to continue down a path of faux deployment in some cynical attempt to further provoke a stand off (or two) while further lining the pockets of defense contractor friends would be dangerous and, frankly, unforgivable.

Unforgivable, especially, when it can so easily be stopped. Unlike so many of the problems crafted by this administration that seem intractable while Bush and Cheney continue to occupy the White House, Star Wars, um, the “missile shield” can be stopped cold in its tracks with one vote—or even with one failure to vote.

Congress could decide today to defund this program. Kill the research. Cancel the contracts. Refuse to fund the construction of the European bases. It’s actually that simple.


Like, real world really.

Do so, and the threat Putin perceives and acts upon goes away. Treaties can remain intact, and this manufactured crisis can be disassembled.

It is incumbent upon the Democratic leadership in the House—those that control the power of the purse—to avoid the lazy “logic” of the Times and those that such thinking enables. This moment provides an accessible opportunity to show leadership on an issue that has far-reaching consequences—foreign and domestic. Failure to seize that opportunity would be, well, lazy, yes, but also almost as unforgivable as the folly itself.

(cross-posted from guy2k)

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