U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman lashed out Tuesday against anObama administration plan to slash funds for the missile defense shield program only a day after North Korea launched the longest-range missile it has ever developed.
The Connecticut independent, who caucuses with the Democrat Party but supported Sen. John McCain over President Barack Obama during the presidential campaign, attacked the cutbacks harshly as dangerous to both the United States and the allies it would bring under a missile shield.
“Cooperation on missile defense is now a critical component of many of our closest security partnerships around the world,” Lieberman wrote in a letter to the president. “We fear that cuts to the budget for missile defense could inadvertently undermine these relationships and foster the impression that the United States is an unreliable ally.
“Moreover, sharp cuts would leave us and our friends around the world less capable of responding to the growing ballistic missile threat,” stated the letter, first reported by The Hill.
Lieberman, a longtime supporter of a robust missile defense program who continually questioned Obama’s foreign policy credentials during the campaign, signed the letter with Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, and four Republicans: Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and James Inhofe of Oklahoma.
In the House, members of the Missile Defense Caucus, also criticized the cuts in the shield’s development.
"North Korea's launch of a long-range ballistic missile should be a clarion wake-up call to the whole world that this is not the time to diminish our missile-defense budget, as proposed by the Obama administration," Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said in a statement reported by The Washington Times.
A member of the Armed Services Committee, Franks said that, instead of cuts in the nation's missile-defense programs, which President Reagan began in the 1980s, this "is a moment to strengthen our resolve and our military capability to defend ourselves and our allies, and to work to prevent North Korea's dangerous missile and nuclear proliferation from arming our enemies across the world."
The plan to cut 15 percent of the missile defense program was announced Monday by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The Pentagon also plans to halt the number of interceptor missiles based in Alaska and may suspend development of Boeing’s airborne laser program, which would outfit jetliners with anti-missile lasers. Israeli passenger airliners use similar devices to thwart terrorist attacks.
Lieberman’s opposition to the cuts could be a serious problem for the Obama administration, The Hill pointed out. He is not only chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, the panel charged with assessing threats to the nation, but also the head of the Air-Land Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services panel.
The move to cut the missile program also could cause problems for Obama in Eastern Europe, where Poland, the Czech Republic and other countries are adamant about wanting to be brought under a U.S. missile shield to ward off threats from Russia. Abandoning them could reshape politics in Europe.
Although the North Korean launch apparently failed in its stated attempt to produce a satellite, analysts have pointed out that it was huge boost its long-range ballistic missile capability. The chief worry is that North Korea will sell that knowledge to U.S. enemies like Iran and Syria in the Middle East, and countries like Cuba and Venezuela in the Caribbean and Latin America.
The administration’s plan also drew criticism from retired Lt. Gen. Edward Baca, who headed the National Guard Bureau under President Clinton.
“I am convinced that that the Pentagon’s decision to halt the build-out of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system [GMD] will leave us vulnerable to missile attacks from countries like North Korea in the near future,” Baca told The Hill.
U.S. National Guard troops provide the bulk of the manpower needed to operate the ground-based defense system.
Baca cited North Korea’s weekend test launch.
“North Korea’s recent test of a three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile, coupled with its troubling nuclear program, demonstrates that it is determined to develop the capabilities needed to strike the U.S. with a nuclear ballistic missile.”
Lieberman’s leadership on the missile issue is likely to raise old demons from the presidential campaign.
During the GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn., Lieberman accused Obama “for voting to cut off funding for our American troops on the battlefield.” He also quite vocal on Obama’s apparent unwillingness to be tough on Iran.
The existential threat posed by Iran to Israel is a difficult issue in their relationship, as evidenced by the letter.
“The State of Israel faces a uniquely pressing threat due to Iran’s ballistic missile program and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction,” Lieberman wrote.
“In response, we have long cooperated with Israel to develop the Arrow family of missile interceptors and are now working together on the David’s Sling missile defense system to defeat medium range rockets. These are critical programs that should not be abandoned.”
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