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Missiles pose unifying threat

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Douglas Cohn

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Sunday, January 6, 2019

If the newly sworn-in Congress is looking for a bipartisan cause, America’s foes are offering that cause. Instead of obsessing about funding for a wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for, our elected leaders would do well to pay attention to the missile gap that shockingly opened up between America and Russia, and soon between America and China.

The hypersonic missile that Russian President Putin just boasted about in his year-end press conference moves 25 times the speed of sound. If that is true, the Pentagon has nothing in its arsenal to deter it.

Last year, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, head of the U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services committee that the United States was way behind in figuring out how to counter a missile that fast and that agile, and, further, it could be 2024 before we catch up.

Older Americans remember Sputnik, the space rocket the Soviet Union unexpectedly launched in 1957, waking up America to a rivalry that endures today. President Kennedy accepted the challenge and brought the country together around the space race.

The difference, of course, is that Sputnik wasn’t a weapon. Supersonic missiles are offensive weapons. Facing an offensive missile we can’t deter and we can’t shoot down puts America for the first time in its history in a near-defenseless position.

The Russian project bringing this weapon to fruition is tantamount to the Manhattan Project President Roosevelt launched to successfully bring the atomic bomb to term.

The fact that Russia has a weapon that can deliver a nuclear warhead in record time doesn’t mean they will use it. But it gives them power and leverage they can exert in a variety of ways on a U.S. government that is barely functioning and in some critical areas closed for business.

So, while our leaders fight about transitory things to gain political position, the rest of the world is gaining ground in some areas and apparently surpassing us in others. China is close to developing hypersonic missiles as well, and Chinese president Jiang Zemin just announced that if Taiwan moves toward complete independence, China will take military action.

That’s the most explicit he’s gotten, and the United States is under a treaty obligation to defend Taiwan. How that might play out is open to interpretation, but China’s increasingly assertive military posturing — including hypersonic posturing — should not be ignored.

These significant and worrisome developments are going on while our leaders battle over a wall versus steel slats, and shutter the government while they argue.

The leaders of Russia and China must be laughing up their sleeves at the free rein they have thanks to the gridlock in America. Don’t get us wrong, Democrats should not give in to President Trump, who is a bully. But lawmakers should be mindful of the cost of their actions. They behave as though the world is standing still while they have their showdown.

Being straight with the American people about where the real threats are, and what must be done to reinforce national security, can bring all Americans together. Survival of the nation rests more with our ability to deter our foreign adversaries than any wall.

Washington Merry-Go-Round presents today’s events in historical perspective. Douglas Cohn is a columnist, speaker and author of political and historical nonfiction. Eleanor Clift is political reporter, author, a contributor to MSNBC and blogger for The Daily Beast.

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