Sunday, November 16, 2008

Polish Missile Joke Revisited

by Jeff Huber

I revised this piece to more accurately reflect the flaws in the specific missile defense system we're proposing to deploy to Poland. Hopefully the essay is more coherent now and the new jokes are at least half as funny as the old ones.

This Polish missile defense system walks into a bar one afternoon and orders six shots of vodka and a beer. The bartender says, "How can you afford to get drunk in the middle of a business day?" and the Polish missile defense system says, "I don't work."

And lo it has come to pass that as the End of Bush Days draws near, Dick Cheney and the neocons are taking their last shot at instigating Cold War II by deploying a ballistic missile defense system that doesn't work to defend against ballistic missiles that don't work either.

President-elect Barack Obama doesn't seem sure whether he approves or not.

Crossing the Punch Line

In May 2008, the breakaway republic of Georgia threatened to invade the breakaway republic of Abkhazia for reasons that nobody cares about anymore. Russia began to build a military base in Abkhazia and Georgia's Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze said war between Georgia and Russia could break out "tonight, tomorrow, anytime."

In August, Georgia invaded the breakaway republic Ossetia and Russia invaded Georgia. Georgia's Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia said he was surprised that war broke out between Georgia and Russia.

The Bush administration acted outraged and a thousand unnamed senior officials told the mainstream press how bad, bad, bad the Russians were being. Presidential candidate John McCain sent his wife Cindy to Georgia to give President Mikheil Saakashvili succor.

The fight was on, the fight was off; you couldn't tell if the Russians were coming or going.

We shoved a missile defense system down Poland's throat to get back at the Russians. When the Russians complained that the missile defense system is a threat to their security, we said the system's purpose is to defend North America and Western Europe from a ballistic missile attack by Iran—the same Iran whose ballistic missiles are something other than reliable and who might have an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can reach North America by 2015 but probably won't. (If they wanted an ICBM they could have had one in 2003.)

Russia retaliated by threatening to deploy the short range Iskander missile system to Baltic enclave Belarus that will "neutralize" the Polish ballistic missile defense system because the Iskander is only quasiballistic.

Remarkably, young Mr. Bush's pet gerbil seems to be the only player in this bumper car derby who has his head on straight. On November 14, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the missile defense deployment to Poland will be a "move backward" in European stability. Maybe Sarkozy finally came to his senses, or maybe it finally dawned on him that come January he'll have to start living in a new seat of power and it was time to stop kissing the old one.

The new seat of power sent mixed signals regarding his position on the Polish missile defense system. Polish President Lech Kaczynski's office claimed Obama had pledged to honor Bush's commitment to deploy the system during a phone conversation with Kaczynski. Then the Russians said that made them really cross with Obama, and after that Obama's foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough said that Obama "supports deploying a missile defense system when the technology is proved to be workable."

Now, I think that was a quasi-clever way of saying that Obama will deploy a missile defense system to Poland when hell freezes over, but there's no telling what's really going on in this horse manure opera.

On Saturday November 15, Georgia's former president Eduard Shevardnadze announced on EuroNews Television that there were no Russian troops in South Ossetia when Georgia invaded, which is a complete reversal of the story the Bush administration has been pushing, and if true, it means that the Georgians were the bad guys in this scenario and not the Russians.

That's an embarrassing revelation: kind of like if we were to find out that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 and didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction either.

Faith Based Missile Defense

Ironically, the Bush administration is telling the truth about the Polish missile defense system, sort of. The intended deployment of 10 interceptor missiles is part of a shield designed to protect Western Europe and North America from intercontinental ballistic missiles launched by Iran--if Iran ever has any ICBMs that can reach North America--by shooting them down in midcourse. But contrary to the administration's claims, the Polish system could also intercept Russian ICBMs, which already exist. According to Dr. Richard L. Garwin, noted physicist and former member of the Defense Science Board and Donald Rumsfeld's Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, the missiles stationed in Poland "could surely intercept an [intermediate range ballistic missile] headed for Europe and in fact under many circumstances could intercept also ICBMs launched from Russia toward the United States.

It might be more accurate to say that the Polish system could intercept the Russian ICBMs that exist and the Iranian ICBMs that don't exist except that it won't because it can't.

Philip Coyle, who used to oversee weapons testing at the Pentagon and is now a specialist with the Center for Defense Information, told a congressional panel earlier this year that national missile defense "has become a theology in the United States, not a technology."

If anyone tells you that we proved we could shoot down ballistic missiles when we ostensibly bagged one of our own spy satellites in February 2008, never trust that person with anything you keep in your pants. As Dr. Garwin puts it, shooting down a low orbit satellite is "like shooting ducks in a pond."

Shooting down a ballistic missile is a lot harder due to rocket science my advanced degree in warmongering didn't prepare me to explain, but the main problem with the system we want to deploy to Poland is its inability to handle countermeasures.

Lieutenant General Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), claims that the Polish missile defense system has been successfully tested against decoys. "There's a misconception that we cannot handle countermeasures," he says. "We cannot handle very complex countermeasures. I won't go into what that means, but there are things that an enemy can do to really try to confuse the system."

That's bull jargon for "we can handle test decoys but not the real ones."

Dr. Garwin, who has infinitely less anxiety about getting his fourth star than Lieutenant General Obering does, says that against the countermeasures Iran is likely to put on any ICBM it might shoot at the U.S. "the defense is helpless." Garwin further states that, "Should a state be so misguided as to attempt to deliver nuclear weapons by ICBM, they could be guaranteed against intercept in midcourse by the use of appropriate countermeasures," and "Protecting the United States against attack by nuclear weapons or biological weapons is a failure and will remain so for the foreseeable future, so long as MDA attempts to carry it out by mid-course intercept."

On the other side of the firing line: ballistic missiles are deterrence weapons. So if Iran ever did have an ICBM that would reach the United States, and actually launched it and it actually flew here and actually blew up, it still wouldn’t have worked because we already would have done whatever the ballistic missile was supposed to stop us from doing. And then we'd lob about eight nukes back at them and bring the 6,000-year old Persian civilization to an abrupt end.

On young Mr. Bush's watch alone, we'll have tinkled away $63 billion on missile defense. That kind of money could have bought 30 B-2 stealth bombers, or eight Gerald R. Ford class nuclear aircraft carriers, or six more months of our woebegone war in Iraq, or an end to world hunger.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Scott Horton's interview with Jeff at Antiwar Radio.


  1. Probability ratios predict that at least one will work...that's all it takes. The Polish part is where it lands; The Russian part is that in lands in Russia, even if its Poland. Only General Potemkin could understand it...

  2. I have to look up how many times, in recorded history, Poland has been the battle ground for other countries' wars. A few.


  3. Anonymous8:45 PM

    an end to world hunger.

    This looks like a No Brainer to me. I'm sure I'm wrong but won't the world like us and the US Govt better? Food for the masses in the US and World what a concept. I think this is a long way off still.
    Thanks Jeff

  4. I think it's a long way off too, Joe.


  5. Anonymous10:38 PM

    Edward Teller one of the SDI's biggest advocates, had previously been all gung-ho about using hydrogen bombs to make new harbors in Alaska; look it up. With advocates like these...

  6. EdNSted12:31 AM


    I didn't see this Tom Engelhardt post from Nov 12 until tonight but I think he does an excellent job of explaining why people counting on Obama for "change we can believe in" may be sorely disappointed. It's a pretty good reality check on who Obama has surrounded himself with as well as the reality of what he is being handed:

    No Breathing Space in Washington: Don't Let Barack Obama Break Your Heart

  7. Good article, Ed. Thanks for the link.


  8. Anonymous7:58 AM

    On young Mr. Bush's watch alone, we'll have tinkled away $63 billion on missile defense. That kind of money could have bought 30 B-2 stealth bombers, or eight Gerald R. Ford class nuclear aircraft carriers..

    I'm glad W. did tinkle away that $63 billion on missile defence rather than bombers or carriers - at least missile defence is unlikely to ever kill anyone. Actually, I'd rather W. tinkle away $630 billion a year on missile defence. Go. MDA. Go!

  9. On the watch of young Mr. Bush, it would appear that you can run the world's largest criminal enterprise, and then at the end of the day (term) whatever, a blanket "Get Out of Jail Free" card is issued to all involved.

    On World Hunger, Commander, can we start the relief here at home?

    Too many of our own kids are going hungry.

    I vote the next B-2 Stealth bomber that we build -- the Pentagon holds a bake sale.

  10. Anon,

    My concern is that missile defense doesn't have to kill anyone directly to start a war.


    I suspect the Pentagon, if it came down to funding for itself, would raffle off a high dollar hooker.


  11. Commander,

    I'm waiting for you to do a commentary on all the bailout thingees.

    A bank in Houston doesn't need the money, but is going to ask for it anyway. (Who in their right mind would pass up low interest dollars from the American taxpayers.)

    The big three automakers need the money, but can't get any.

    Senator Shelby wants all cars of the future made in Alabama, where they don't have to pay union wages.

    Wondering what happened to Chrysler, I finally figured it out.
    This Mr. Nardelli, who is now in charge of Chrysler, is the same Mr. Nardelli that Home Depot paid some $200 million to go away, before he put them into bankruptcy.

    So, in addition to making Roger Clemens and Orange Hummer, GM also makes Humvees for the war effort, and some folks think they should just do a Chapter 11, and reorganize. Let the bankruptcy court decide if they should make Chevy's or other stuff.

    I keep watching the announcements of the "people being put up to be in charge" of different deparments in the Obama administration, and it looks like we may get some grown ups.

    (Except for Bill Clinton.)

    I think corporate America, the United States Senate, and the Military are all alike.

    Once you get into one or the other, nobody wants to kick you out. They just keep shuttling incompetent folks from one place to another.

    (Except for Ted Stevens.)

  12. Ted Stevens, now there's a patriot.

    I keep wondering if we're going to have an adult for SECDEF or if Obama plans to keep old waffle iron around.


  13. The Old Waffle Iron is probably going to stay -- until somebody else can figure out what all damage has been done, and if, and how to fix what can be repaired.

    On the flying submarine.

    I betcha somebody figures out something for the $3 million grant money.

    Kinda like the OSPEY -- or whatever it is they call that helicopter -- fixed wing combination. Wait..... maybe they could also make it a submarine. You would get three for the price of ..... several billions.

    After a week of non-ending Clintonian drama -- I'm beginning to wonder if we are going to get a "grown up" or a "diva" at State.

    Biggest mistake of the week (so far): All the auto execs flying into D.C. in their private luxury jets, with their hands held out for taxpayer money.

  14. Hmm. Oprah for SECDEF? Maybe she could foot the bill for the flying submarine.


  15. Anonymous4:44 PM

    Commander Jeff:

    In case you have not noticed it yet; humbling time for “the Greatest Nation on Earth” has arrived. You will eat s*** soon and you will learn how to treat other peoples with respect. So for you future articles you shall develop “American jokes”, that are going to be more à propos you current situation. I am surprised that the military has not taught you to how pretend be ethnically neutral.



  16. Chris,

    If you read this article or anything else I've published in the last three years and change, you'd know I've been saying it's "humbling time" all along, and the country I'm ridiculing is the USA.


  17. Stwriley9:14 AM


    I've been watching this missile defense hogwash for quite a while, being an historian who specializes in strategic questions. Seems to me that it's not only a boondoggle of monumental proportions (i.e., life support for Raytheon, et al) but also an end run for more dangerous things. All the chatter about kinetic weapons just looks like they're still trying (and this is bourn out if you look at the MDC website) to get space-based kinetic weapons for other purposes under the cloak of missile defense.

    Not that I think they'll be any better at making that work either. Yesterday brought the news that another of the kinetic interceptor tests failed. Even when they're shooting at their wiffleball test targets, they've now only hit 16 out of 20 (at $55 million a shot.) Pathetic, useless and wasteful, all at the same time.

    Fortunately, the noises coming from the Obama camp sound like a death-knell for this idiocy. We can only hope so.

  18. Good point about the kinetic weapon. Yeah, now that you mention it, they really want to develop those Tire Irons of the Gods to hurl earthward.


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