THE TROIKA OF STUPID

Posted in Rants on September 22nd, 2009 by Ed

Behold the conservative pant-shitting over the President's decision to remove "anti-ballistic missile" (ABM) systems from Poland. It's a cowardly retreat, a stab-in-the-back, an unspeakable betrayal of our noble Polish allies. As the internet's resident Polack I feel compelled to point out three things.

First, you do realize that ABMs don't actually work, right? I don't mean that in the grand strategic sense. I mean they don't work. In the illustrious history there have been some impressively expensive and idiotic boondoggles, but the five-decade quest to develop a missile that can intercept and destroy another missile is easily the most grandiose. From Nike Zeus to Skybolt to Skybolt II to "Star Wars" to the Patriot Missile to the latest iteration of this stupidity (THAAD), ABMs have been Moby Dick to generations of Republicans and military fetishists. Just imagine, a protective umbrella under which we could act with impunity! The problem is that after pouring literally billions of dollars on this problem for five decades we are no closer to solving the monumental technical obstacles from basic target-launch-intercept issues to they systems' vulnerability to simple countermeasures. Jack Hitt and Frontline do an excellent job of explaining that no matter how hard Raytheon, the DoD, and others try to rig the tests to make these things look successful, they're not. The long version is too long, so the short version is that under optimal conditions (i.e., a DoD test in which the slowest, biggest, simplest, easiest-to-hit target is fired on a predetermined flight path and the ABM system is given all of the target flight characteristics in advance) these things stand about a 15% chance of intercepting a target as sophisticated as a 1960s Soviet IRBM. In real world conditions – you know, the exact opposite of all of that – that falls to 1 or 2%. If it rains, it's effectively zero. Or if the entity launching the missile invests $100 in hollow metal or plastic decoy warheads (i.e., one real warhead and a slew of dummies on one missile in a MIRV configuration) and the offensive warhead has a better chance of being struck by lightning than an ABM. Understand that. Even if we vomit another $100 billion into this technology, any advances we achieve can be defeated by cheap metal cylinders shaped like warheads.

These things are fucking useless. That's kinda important.

Second, no offense intended to any of my Polish brethren, but the United States does not give two shits about Poland. Nor should it. Sorry. Russia is in the top five nations on Earth in terms of military size and oil & gas reserves (which they are currently using to strangle Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and, increasingly, Western Europe into submission). They are an economic and military power. Poland is Poland. Strategically – and American strategic interests are supposed to be the important thing here, right? – it is about the least important place on Earth. It is surrounded by nations either far more powerful (Germany, France, etc.) or far crappier (Belarus, Estonia, Moldova, etc.) and thus more desperate and easily bought when the U.S. decides it needs an ally of convenience in the area. That Barack Obama is unwilling to antagonize the unstable Russians over Poland shouldn't be flooring anyone. Bellyache all you want about "betrayal" or how we "sold Poland out." You're goddamn right we did, because doing otherwise doesn't make the slightest sense if it complicates our relationship with Russia. My people are in an unenviable position. If the U.S. needs something it will ask Germany, and if it wants something it will dangle some money in front of Azerbaijan or some other collection of hovels. Poland's smack in the middle and thus irrelevant.

Third, in what universe is "We can't show weakness in front of the Russians!!" a winning issue in 2010, 2012, and beyond? Does the GOP think that resonates with anyone under the age of 55 anymore? We know these people just cannot come to grips with the end of the Cold War and they've been searching for a way to keep fighting it since its conclusion, but this is how the Republicans are going to claw their way back to electoral relevance? Good luck with that, kids. Seriously. You really have your finger on the pulse of the American voter, not to mention a keen understanding of contemporary geopolitics.

Those three things need to be said; they provide crucial context in which to frame the pant-shitting.