TCS Daily

Chicken Little, Redux

By Ken Adelman - July 24, 2002 12:00 AM

At this time of national questioning about the economy and foreign policy, it's critical to recognize a simple truth about U.S. national security policy. Resolve - even, or especially, in the face of harsh criticism - can pay off handsomely.

Don't take my word for it. Just look at the track record.

When I first entered the world of arms control - in 1976 when serving as assistant to Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, and later in 1979, when working with Rumsfeld on his Senate testimony opposing SALT II ratification -- we heard dire warnings that rejecting that arms treaty would trigger a new arms race and damage U.S. relations with the Soviet Union.

A veritable flock of critics resembled Chicken Little. They cried out predictions of utter disasters.

When I joined the Reagan Administration, the "Chicken Little response" to President Reagan's "zero option" to eliminate all INF missiles claimed that proposal would, yes, trigger a new arms race and ruin relations with the Soviet Union.

Similar - even louder -- cackling was heard when President Reagan demanded a 50% cut in Soviet heavy missiles, the SS-18s, at the outset of the new START talks in 1982.

A year later, cries -- mostly from Europeans but also from some Americans -- claimed that our installing intermediate-range missiles in Europe would trigger a new arms race and cripple relations with the Soviet Union.

When we refused to accept a nuclear freeze -- because President Reagan sought not the nuclear status quo but deep reductions in nuclear weapons -- the criticism was loud.

After the Reagan Administration, those who championed complete independence of Lithuania and especially Ukraine from the Soviet Union were warned of disastrous consequences if such freedom was given these Soviet "republics." And critics of the Clinton Administration claimed that its noble effort to expand NATO membership would, again, lead to those same dreadful consequences.

During the current Bush Administration, dread warnings came first on the Administration's intention to proceed full-blast on missile defense. The experienced dooms-dayers found full voice in their nearly-hysterical warnings of dire consequences if we withdrew from the ABM Treaty. But when President Bush announced the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, the deafening cackling in Washington and New York was greeted by deafening silence in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Many critics now focus on the Administration's plans to rid the world of its #1 threat - the vile regime of Saddam Hussein. Cries are now being made that liberating Iraq would infuriate our closest Allies, ignite that volatile Arab street, prove militarily daunting (if not over-stretching), and spark worldwide resentment, if not universal condemnation. They instead advocate "more responsible" diplomatic and economic moves - presumably a diplomatic demarche or address to the U.N. General Assembly which would sorely embarrass Saddam Hussein, a loosening of economic sanctions to bring out his long-hidden statesmanship, or international inspectors to assure his responsible behavior.

Sometimes I wonder how many times such critics can resort to the same fear-mongering, which proved wrong time and again, without losing their credibility. Yet learning curves in Washington, or on public policy generally, can be remarkably flat.

There's scant score-keeping, or even awareness of what's worked - determination to proceed ahead in pursuit of clear and explainable U.S. national interests. And there's little awareness of what's not worked - conforming to conventional wisdom in the parlors around the European Union, Arab League, or some foreign policy "experts."

The world would be far more dangerous, even than it is today, had the fear-mongering conventional wisdom prevailed in these nine major instances:

  • scrapping SALT II,
  • proposing the zero option for INF,
  • demanding a 50% cut in Soviet heavy missiles, and Soviet throwweight,
  • deploying INF systems in Europe,
  • rejecting a nuclear freeze,
  • championing independence for Lithuania and Ukraine,
  • supporting NATO expansion,
  • pursuing vigorous missile defense, and
  • scrapping the ABM Treaty.

I hope that President Bush and those in the national debate would recognize these lessons learned when considering the next great action for world stability and protection of Americans - liberating the Iraqi people. The Chicken Little cries today are as misguided as they've been over the past 25-plus years.



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