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Missile Defense: projecting strength rather than weakness

by George Landrith   Missile Defense

Ronald Reagan coined the phrase, “Peace through strength,” but it was not a new idea and it had not been an historically partisan concept. It dates back to George Washington who said, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” Washington and Reagan understood that peace is achieved through strength and conversely that weakness invites attack. This was once a universally accepted truth among American leaders. Current events prove, it should again become American policy regardless of party.

We live in a dangerous world. Kim Jung-un is threatening military invasions and nuclear attacks. We’ve recently learned that the North Koreans are much closer to being able to put a nuclear warhead on a missile than was previously believed. China, already a nuclear power, is rapidly developing a large navy and stealth aircraft. Russia has been sending its military aircraft into American airspace on provocative test missions.

The Iranians continue their maniacal push to become a nuclear power. Experts say they are only months from refining enough military grade nuclear material to build a bomb. The North Koreans have helped, and likely will continue to help, the Iranians develop offensive nuclear weapons and advanced missile technology. The Iranians have promised to wipe Israel of the map and to destroy the United States. Kim Jung-un’s regime has grown increasingly hostile and threatening as well.

The U.S. had the opportunity to expand our missile defense capability four years ago. If we had moved forward, we would have the ability to protect America’s eastern seaboard which is currently unprotected. Additionally, we would have neutralized the Iranian’s threats to our allies. On top of that, we would have deployed new super capable and accurate radar which would have benefited other aspects of our defense. Unfortunately, those important plans were scuttled by Obama. Even worse, he didn’t even use them as a bargaining chip with our adversaries. He simply unilaterally disarmed.

Now that North Korea is making more obvious threats, the U.S. is moving missile defense assets into the region and adding modestly to our missile defense capability. While Obama’s move to increase our missile defense capability is good move, it is late and rather weak. Even once completed, Obama’s directive will not provide nearly as robust a defense as we could have had in place had he not killed the program. We still can only defend the west coast. The rest of the nation is unprotected and our allies are also out in the cold.

Rather than continuing Washington’s and Reagan’s peace through strength doctrine, Obama decided to place his trust in the “goodwill” of madmen like Kim Jong-un and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The very threats that require action today, existed four years ago. Sadly, they were ignored. Precisely for that reason, the threats have only increased. Weakness invites attacks. We’ve been down this road before.

For most of the decade preceding the September 11, 2001 attacks, the White House could not muster any real or sustained interest in preparing or strengthening Americaʼs defenses. Nor did we respond to threats or even attacks in any serious way. In 1993, terrorists bombed the World Trade Center, killing six and wounding scores of others in an unsuccessful attempt to topple the towers with trucks loaded with explosives. This was treated as a run-of-the-mill crime – akin to a liquor store robbery – but not as a national security threat. A man who drove an explosive truck was sent to jail while the terrorist cells that planned and organized the attack were allowed to continue their plans and struck again almost nine years later with vastly more devastating results.

Later in 1993, warlords killed 28 American soldiers and wounded 133 others who had been sent to keep the peace and distribute food to a war-ravaged Somalia. Commanders had requested armor, but the White House said no. On October 4, 1993 mobs dragged the dead bodies of US servicemen through the streets of Mogadishu. America again did nothing.

In 1998, terrorists bombed and leveled two American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 257 people and wounding over 5,000. In 2000, terrorist cells bombed the U.S.S. Cole, killing 17 sailors and nearly sinking the ship while it refueled. The White House denounced these attacks in the press, but did little else. Our enemies became emboldened and stronger.

By the afternoon of September 10, 2001, America had spent almost a decade telling its enemies in unmistakable terms – we are not prepared – we lack the will to defend ourselves – if you attack us, it is unlikely we will respond with anything more than a strongly worded press release or a random firing of a cruise missile to no real effect.

But by mid-morning on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, all of America understood the wisdom of George Washingtonʼs advice — be prepared, be resolute, and show strength.

Sadly, our leaders seem to have forgotten this important historical lesson. We are encouraging and emboldening the likes of Kim Jung-un and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, not to mention other adversaries. We must make peace through strength not merely a slogan, but our consistent, unwavering practice. Living in a dangerous world, we simply cannot afford to embolden madmen and terrorists or invite their attack.

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George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. Mr. Landrith is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Business Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics. Mr. Landrith was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia. You can follow George on Twitter @GLandrith.