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Deflating the missile shield madness

President Obama has scrapped George W. Bush's plan to build a "missile shield" in Poland and the Czech Republic. Here's what I'd like to say about that:

Hooray, three cheers, and Hallelujah.

It was one of the sillier schemes of an administration that was a mosaic of silly schemes, some more lethal than others.

The Bush people claimed it was designed to protect Eastern Europe from nuclear-tipped long-range ballistic missiles launched from Iran. There are a couple of flaws in this analysis.

EIran doesn't have any long-range ballistic missiles.

EIt doesn't have any nuclear bombs either.

EIf it did have them, why would it attack Eastern Europe with them?

OK, I'm being disingenuous here. Maybe someday Iran will develop long-range missiles. Maybe it will even get a nuclear bomb or two. And maybe its target will be Israel or even the United States. Would we not then risk being the subject of nuclear blackmail?

The answer is no. Israel has its own missile shield it's very satisfied with, thank you very much. It also (almost certainly) has a nuclear bomb. Any attempt by Iran or anyone else to attack it would be dealt with severely, as in annihilation. Ditto squared with the U.S.

The great fallacy about a nuclear sneak attack is that it is sneaky. It isn't. It arrives with a return address and the perpetrator has a half-life of about a half-hour.

Iran isn't about to make itself into one big suicide bomber, nor is any other country. If a "rogue state," as the CIA likes to call them, wanted to attack us with a nuclear device, I would think it would try to smuggle the bomb into the country in pieces, assemble it here, and set it off in a an abandoned garage in a major city.

That would make it a lot more difficult to trace. Not impossible, however, and I'm sure we'd find a way.

There's another minor flaw in the missile shield: It doesn't work.

There has never been a successful test of the missile shield technology that wasn't fixed, generally by putting a homing device on the target.

It's been 25 years since Ronald Reagan came up with his "Star Wars" idea and we still don't have a way to make it work. The two-stage rocket at the heart of the Polish-Czech systems has never been successfully tested.

Let me repeat this: It doesn't work.

I don't think Israel's works either, actually, but so long as they advertise it as working their enemies will think twice about finding out for sure. That suggests the real utility of these "shields" lies in the gullibility of your enemy.

I don't know, that seems like relying on your imaginary playmate for help in a fight.

The Russians seem pleased that we dropped the missile-shield. They're convinced that its real purpose was to increase our first-strike capability against them. (They're as crazy as we are.)

This, of course, has convinced the Republicans that Obama has done a terrible thing and put the country at risk. The move "does little more than empower Russia and Iran at the expense of our allies in Europe," according to House Minority Leader John Boehner.

Possibly to allay such fears, Obama is replacing the shield with one that features smaller missiles, designed to shoot down rockets that Iran actually possesses but won't be able to threaten Russia with--Star Wars Lite.

Which is a decent compromise I suppose, except for one thing.

It won't work either.

So, to review the bidding, we have done away with a system that won't work to protect an ally that's not in danger from a threat that doesn't exist, and replaced it with another system that does pretty much the same thing, but less threateningly.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what passes for progress in the sorry world we live in.

Donald Kaul, retired as Washington columnist for the Des Moines Register, has covered the nation's capital for more than three decades.