For reasons that are obscure, the idea of Alaska as the proposed site of an anti-missile defense facility -- complete with upwards of 100 interceptor weapons designed to blow up incoming warheads -- is getting negative press back East.
The Washington Times has called the proposal ''flawed.'' The Wall Street Journal speaks favorably instead of a sea-based defense system using missiles mounted on Aegis-class Navy cruisers, which it says would ''rule out'' the Alaska plan. Charles Krauthammer, a respected Washington Post columnist whose weekly commentary is carried on these pages, also debunks Alaska as a defense site, opting instead for the Aegis.
One possibility for the bad rap is that the land-based proposal is seen by some Eastern columnists, editorial writers and commentators as one that suddenly is being presented as an idea generated in the Clinton-Gore administration.
That has even prompted Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush to speak more kindly for a floating naval system rather than an Alaska land-based facility.
Before political rhetoric overcomes reality, a time-out needs to be called and some attention paid to reality.
First, the proposal to base incoming missile tracking facilities and interceptor missile launching capacity in Alaska came as the result of an absolute need to provide protection for all of the United States. Prior to that, Alaska, Hawaii and some parts of the West Coast were to be left defenseless. Sorry about that, but some states are more expendable than others, said the Foggy Bottom experts.
Second, Alaska's Ted Stevens, whose decades of experience with military affairs in his Senate capacity makes him a true expert on defense matters, is the one who has been and is steering the effort to guarantee that all of the states are protected by a land-based shield.
Before Stevens started using some of his muscle, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were saying the U.S. was prohibited from deploying an anti-missile defense system of any kind because of a 30-year-old treaty originally signed with the Soviet Union. Russia, Clinton and Gore said, would be offended.
That was bogus, and Clinton changed his tune prior to his meeting earlier this week in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The so-called summit at the Kremlin was marked by Putin simply brushing aside Clinton's posturing, suggesting he would wait for any truly in-depth talks until after he learns who the next U.S. president will be after in November.
The truth is that there seems to be great military merit in developing both the Aegis cruiser and the Alaska-based defense systems. When a nuclear crisis comes, as well it might, all the national defense tools available should be in place.
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