Bradley Graham’s extensive story on missile defense in today’s Washington Post is for the most part a balanced assessment of a limited deployment whose deadline is tomorrow. (BTW, what are the odds that Bush will announce during the debate that our new missile-defense system is turned on?) In the New Yorker, however, anti-M.D. doyenne Frances FitzGerald has authored a screed against the program (in the “Talk of the Town” section, even though it reads more like an earnest NYT editorial than a witty piece of color). Like most on the Left, she has abandoned what used to be one of the main arms-control arguments against missile defense: the notion that it would send Russia and other countries into hissy fits and launch a new arms race. As it happens, Russia has been reducing its number of missiles in the post-AMB Treaty era.
FitzGerald’s final line really gnaws at me, though. She says missile defense counters “a threat that doesn’t now exist.” Okay, the Iranians can’t target New York at this very moment. But what are we supposed to do, wait until they can and then tackle formidable technical challenge of missile defense? What’s worse is that FitzGerald’s set is busy crowing about intelligence failures in Iraq. With the notable exception of Hussein’s WMD program, U.S. intelligence failures have generally made the error of underestimating the threat: When India went nuclear, the CIA was as surprised as anybody. And North Korea’s launch of a missile over Japan in 1998 also took plenty of people by surprise, too. If there were ever a case for preemption–defensive preemption, no less–this is it.