July 24, 2001
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A dispatch from Castel Gandolfo on the front page of today's New York Times reports on President Bush, the pope, and research on stem cells taken from embryos. "For religious conservatives, as well as many of the Catholic voters Mr. Bush is wooing, there are no shadings, and the decision is a kind of litmus test of the president's loyalty to their cause," the Times reports. No shadings for the Times, either, apparently, at least when it comes to assessing religious conservatives.
Dishonest: In his column on the op-ed page of today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman accuses proponents of missile defense of being dishonest. Here's Mr. Friedman: "Look at the Republican arms expert Richard Perle's Senate testimony last week. He was trying to justify why we need missile defense against rogue leaders, who, he claimed, cannot be deterred by the classic doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD), which has kept the peace for 50 years. '[Some say] you can count on Saddam to be deterred by our deterrent,' said Mr. Perle. 'I frankly don't want to count on the rational judgment of a man who used poison gas against his own people.'"
Mr. Friedman continues: "Let's dissect that statement. Mr. Perle is comparing the Iraqi people to the American people, and suggesting that since Saddam used gas against his own people, you never know, he may do the same to us. Well, there is one small difference between us and the Iraqi people: We have nuclear weapons to retaliate with and they did not. During the gulf war Saddam had poison gas warheads. He was warned by the elder President Bush that if he used that poison gas against U.S. troops, his regime would be wiped off the planet. And he didn't use it. Not only did he not use it against our troops in a war on his own border, with his whole regime and maybe his own life in the balance, he did not even put poison gas on the Scuds he fired at Israel, which would have been enormously popular in the Arab world. Why not? Classic deterrence. He knew the Israelis would destroy Baghdad."
Mr. Friedman continues: "This gets to the core problem with the Bush approach to missile defense. It is based on flimsy or dishonest arguments. . ."
Well, while Mr. Friedman is busy congratulating himself on the fact that his MAD doctrine meant that Saddam "did not even put poison gas on the Scuds he fired at Israel," how about pausing for a moment to remember the effect of those Scuds on Israel. According to Mitchell Bard (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/Gulf_War.html): "The damage caused by the 39 Iraqi Scud missiles that landed in Tel Aviv and Haifa was extensive. Approximately 3,300 apartments and other buildings were affected in the greater Tel Aviv area. Some 1,150 people who were evacuated had to be housed at a dozen hotels at a cost of $20,000 per night. Beyond the direct costs of military preparedness and damage to property, the Israeli economy was also hurt by the inability of many Israelis to work under the emergency conditions. The economy functioned at no more than 75 percent of normal capacity during the war, resulting in a net loss to the country of $3.2 billion. The biggest cost was in human lives. A total of 74 people died as a consequence of Scud attacks. Two died in direct hits, four from suffocation in gas masks and the rest from heart attacks (Jerusalem Post, January 17, 1992)."
Talk about your flimsy or dishonest arguments. For Mr. Friedman to write a column dismissing missile defense based on how well MAD worked during the Gulf War, without even mentioning the 74 deaths and $3.2 billion in damages Israel suffered as a result of the 39 conventionally armed Scud missiles that landed there, is just breathtaking. That's aside from the effect the Scuds had against American forces based in Saudi Arabia. A missile defense could neutralize this threat, which is why Israeli governments both Labor and Likud have supported missile defense development and deployment. Mr. Friedman may be willing to rely on MAD, but, hey, he's out of Scud range -- at least for now.
Furthermore, if Saddam is as rational as Mr. Friedman claims and would therefore never use biological, chemical or nuclear weapons against Israel or America (mutual assured destruction, remember?) -- then why is he devoting such vast resources to developing such weapons? There are at least three possibilities: 1. Saddam's going to use the weapons, in which case Mr. Friedman is wrong about MAD and the need for missile defense. 2. Saddam's building weapons that have no use to him, at great cost, in which case Mr. Friedman is wrong about how rational Saddam is and Mr. Perle is right about how irrational Saddam is. 3. Saddam thinks that just having the weapons, without using them, will give him a strategic advantage that is worth the cost. In this case, Mr. Friedman may be right that Saddam is rational but he's still wrong (and Mr. Perle is right) about the need for missile defense, which would rob Saddam of the strategic advantage of having the missiles.
Late Again: The New York Times waddles in this morning with the news that police may interview Rep. Gary Condit for a fourth time about missing intern Chandra Levy. The Los Angeles Times had this news on Friday; the Washington Post had it yesterday; today's New York Times doesn't acknowledge the earlier reports.
Can't Spell: A front-page article in today's New York Times about the climate change negotiations refers to "Paula Dobrianksy, the under secretary of state for global affairs." The correct spelling of her last name is Dobriansky; the Times has it wrong.
Note: Smartertimes.com is in Massachusetts and is operating today off the New York Times online edition.
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