Daschle to criticize Bush’s missile defense plan as expensive response to unlikely threat
WASHINGTON (AP) – In his first foreign policy speech since becoming Senate majority leader, Sen. Tom Daschle intends to criticize the Bush administration’s plans for a national missile defense system Thursday as ”the most expensive possible response to the least likely threat we face.”
”The chief threat to America is not from big, lumbering ICBMs with a clear return address. The chief threats today come from biological and chemical weapons and bombs that could be smuggled in a cargo container, bus or backpack,” Daschle, D-S.D., says in remarks prepared for delivery before the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
In his prepared remarks, the South Dakota Democrat also took issue with Bush’s steps toward development of a Russian policy. ”The stakes are too high to base our strategic relationship on one man’s assessment of another man’s soul,” he said, referring to favorable comments Bush made after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On another subject, Daschle intends to say that in six months in office, the president has ”demonstrated a willingness to walk away” from a half dozen international agreements that had the support of America’s friends and allies. The Kyoto Protocol covering greenhouse gases is one; most of the others involve weapons control.
”Instead of asserting our leadership, we are abdicating it,” the new majority leader says in his prepared remarks. ”Instead of shaping international agreements to serve our interests, we have removed ourselves from a position to shape them at all.”
Daschle was delivering his speech slightly less than 10 weeks after he became Senate majority leader in the wake of a switch in party control, a period in which he has concentrated almost exclusively on domestic issues. His speech also comes less than a week after a foreign policy speech by House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. Like Gephardt – but not as consistently – Daschle is mentioned as a potential contender for the White House in 2004.
His office made a text of his remarks available on Wednesday.
He was critical of Bush’s conduct of foreign policy last month in a newspaper interview, and Republicans quickly rebuked him for speaking out when the president was traveling overseas.
In preparing for Thursday’s speech, according to an aide, Daschle conferred with at least two veterans of the Clinton administration, former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.
The Bush administration is committed to developing and deploying a nationwide defense against long-range missiles, but has yet to persuade Moscow to scrap or amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that prohibits such defenses.
On its current schedule, the Pentagon is due to come in conflict with legal restrictions in a matter of months. In the spring, for example, the Pentagon may start construction at Fort Greely, Alaska, of underground silos for missile interceptors.
”Democrats support mutually agreed-upon modifications to the ABM treaty and a robust national missile defense testing program,” Daschle says in his prepared remarks. ”Under the right circumstances, we could support deployment of a limited national missile defense.”
Yet much of the speech is devoted to a critique of the administration’s plans for a missile defense system, in particular the trade-offs that Daschle says they entail.
Bush’s budget, he says in his remarks, calls for a 57 percent increase in spending on missile defense this year, and other large increases in future years, far above the overall 10 percent targeted for the Pentagon. The result would be to ”cannibalize the personnel and force structure that deal with the threats we are more likely to face.”
He said that holding the first year’s increase to 10 percent, for example, would make $2.5 billion available for a variety of defense and national security programs. They include a restoration of funds for the program to help Russia destroy its nuclear weapons, increased funding for development of cruise missile defense, and a greater emphasis on counterterrorism and cyber-terrorism.
It would also allow a greater effort on ”developing and deploying theater missile defenses, which will be needed tomorrow to protect our soldiers if we are thrust into another Gulf-like war,” he says in the prepared remarks.
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