September 25, 2011 | Commentary on Terrorism
Official estimates suggest that Iran might be able to strike the United States with an ICBM as soon as 2015. But under current White House plans, a US missile-defense system capable of stopping it won’t be ready until 2020 -- or later.
Anyone else see a half-decade disconnect there? Indeed, it looks like we may have to live with a sworn enemy’s expected long-range nuclear threat for at least five years, if not more.
Nor is this a mere White House oversight: After all, the Obama folks knew well enough about Tehran’s quest for both nukes and long-range missiles when they first took office. Indeed, to their credit, they ignored the, let’s say, hard-to-understand thinking of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded Tehran was no longer working on nukes.
Add to this a 2010 report to Congress on Iranian military power that projects that, with outside help, Iran could “probably develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015.”
Despite this, Team O chose to kick the Bush administration’s “Third Site” missile-defense proposal to the curb. That plan would have been operational in 2013 -- two years before the expected Iranian ICBM.
Instead, Obama & Co. pushed its “European Phased Adaptive Approach,” which aims to protect NATO allies, friends and US forces in Europe from Iranian short- and medium-range missiles first.
In a way, that makes sense, since Iran is already able to hit parts of Europe with missiles and we’re essentially playing catch-up there. But the EPAA has severe shortcomings.
For instance, as currently designed, it won’t protect the homeland against the Iranian long-range missile threat for nearly a decade, opening a bay window of vulnerability to Persian perfidy.
(The White House argues that the Bush-era missile-defense system in Alaska and California can handle Iranian ICBMs, but analysts doubt it could defend the East Coast, a likely target.)
Also worrisome, the EPAA calls for some new bells and whistles, such as a cutting-edge missile interceptor. Development of parts of the new system could cause delays even beyond 2020.
There’s more. Experts fret that the new missile-defense system’s R&D timetable will be pushed out further by funding shortfalls, thanks to (misguided) pressure to plunder the budget of an already strapped Pentagon.
And some analysts suspect Obama Land is slow-rolling missile defense so as to not pop the illusion of a “re-set” in relations with the Russians, who have hated missile defense with a passion since the Reagan years. Remember, Team Obama hasn’t met a treaty it hasn’t adored -- and may be willing to water-down or delay missile defense just to get the Russkies back to the nuclear-arms-control table.
But it’s clear from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s UN rant last week and the recent troubling news on Iran’s nuclear activities that the lack of a mighty missile defense against Tehran much sooner could prove catastrophic.
Meanwhile, Team Obama has made little progress in harnessing Iran’s nuclear or missile programs since his tenure began. Shouldn’t that make the president a bit, uh, nervous?
Clearly, the White House needs to move double-time to close the long-range missile-defense gap. Whistling past the graveyard, as the Iranian nuclear and ballistic-missile threat grows, just won’t cut it.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in The New York Post