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Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 2001 / 28 Kislev, 5762

Amity Shlaes

Amity Shlaes
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Bush opens a new era -- THE first thing you are likely to hear this morning are the screams - screams of outrage from commentators and pundits at the news that President Bush is announcing America's withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The announcement will come around 9:30. The screams will begin shortly after, and hit a crescendo over the weekend as European Allies and US television talk show hosts react on Sunday morning.

The president will be charged with alienating the Russians, and endangering the cause of the anti-terror war in Afghanistan. He will be diagnosed as having an ugly and fatal case of "unilateralism".

But this kind of alarmism is old-fashioned. What's more, it ignores opportunity. The truth is there is a case to be made that the US decision is the best foreign policy move a Western nation could be making at this particular point in time. The choice to withdraw from the treaty is also the best possible move America could be making in its ground war with Afghanistan.

The first and most obvious reason this is so is September 11. The reason the White House, Pentagon and State Departments want to withdraw from ABM, after all, is so that the US can build a missile defense system to stop the attacks of rogue states and rogue terrorists. Making this argument before September 11 was like debating a stone edifice, the edifice of Cold War culture. Cold War culture said that comity and friendship with the Soviet Union, or its successor state Russia, was the only thing that assured security in the world. So arguments to the contrary went muffled or unheard. Stone is not receptive to verbal challenge.

But September 11 blew apart the Cold War edifice when it blew apart the Twin Towers. Rogue states do exist, as do rogue terrorists, and their reach does extend to the United States. What's more, as Osama bin Laden's suicide missions proved, there are people with resources out there insane enough to launch a missile attack. Suddenly, arming themselves becomes something more than a mere theory for Western governments. It becomes a necessity.

The second reason the US move is a good one is that the Soviet Union is not the Soviet Union any longerit is Russia. Years ago, a challenge on arms control from the US administration was a challenge to Moscow. You only have to recall the level of tension following Ronald Reagan's decision to walk out on Mikhail Gorbachev at Reykjavik to know this.

Many of President Putin's generals would like to run the whole store, but they don't. Nor do they have the power to force Moscow to "break up" with the US over ABM. Mr Putin is enough of his own man to continue relations with the US even after a move like US ABM withdrawal.

The way we know this is that Mr Putin is already doing so. Clearly, following September 11, he was aware of US plans on ABM. Mr Bush laid them out back in 2000, when he was still a mere presidential candidate. Yet Mr Putin decided to travel to Crawford. He decided to position himself and his country as a US ally, providing help in a range of areas from arms control ( plans to slash offensive nuclear weapons) to the price of oil. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has indicated, as well, that the Moscow-Washington relationship is a multi-channeled one.

What's more, the US step is an important one for securing victory in the Middle East, Somalia, or wherever it chooses to chase down state-sponsored terror. A successful missile defence programme, or the threat of one, indicates resolve. It may be enough to deter madmen. Even bin Laden would not have launched his planes if he knew that they would not hit their target. The ABM news will also reach those residual al-Qaeda members hiding in their caves.

Years ago, in the early 1990s, the diplomatic establishment conducted a desperate hunt to find the correct policy for the West in the New World Order. They came up with little more than guesswork, because no one could tell what the problems of that New World Order would be. Now bin Laden's attack, for all the tragedies it caused, has made those problems clear. In this sense, September 11 and December 13, the day the US formally recognised the pointlessness of Cold War arms control, will always be red letter occasions. We were all wondering what turns in history would mark the true end of Cold War culture. Now we know.

JWR contributor Amity Shlaes is a columnist for Financial Times . Her latest book is The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What to Do About It. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2001, Financial Times