From Hillary Clinton's official statement on North Korea's latest nuclear test: "we must strengthen defense cooperation with our allies in the region; South Korea and Japan are critical to our missile defense system, which will protect us against a North Korean missile."
North Korean missiles are a bit far afield from our usual subject matter here, but what was striking to me, as someone who has been following the missile defense political debate since the 1980s, is that the Democratic candidate now acknowledges that a "missile defense system" will work well enough to "protect us" against a nuclear attack by North Korea.
Now, I know what the response will be — that left-wing skepticism of "Star Wars" in the Reagan era pertained not to land- or sea-based missile defense systems but to space-based systems, or that stopping one or two missiles from North Korea is a whole different thing from trying to stop thousands of them launched all at once from the Soviet Union or its submarines.
Even so, we heard so much from Democratic politicians and the press for so long about how "missile defense" was a scientific impossibility, a fantasy designed to enrich military aerospace contractors that might also dangerously and destabilizingly erode the deterrent of mutual assured destruction. For representative examples, see this 1983 New York Times column by Anthony Lewis:
Mr. Reagan's talk of missile defenses in space is fantasy - a mixture of wishful technology and muddled strategy. It is a dangerous fantasy, because it distracts attention from the hard realities of the arms race. Far from ending the threat of nuclear war, it introduces new threats.
Or this September 5, 2001 column by Maureen Dowd:
why can George W. Bush think of nothing but a missile shield? Our president is caught in the grip of an obsession worthy of literature....we may not understand W.'s urgent, self-destructive craving for his ineffectual missile shield any better than we understand Scarlett's urgent, self-destructive craving for her ineffectual Ashley, we must stand in awe before the purity and grandeur of his obsession. He would rather risk the world being destroyed than slow his race to build something to protect it.
Consider the hurricane of global emotions that W. has whipped up to construct The Defense That Doesn't Work against The Threat That Doesn't Exist...if W. squanders $60 billion that could have been spent on education on technology that doesn't work -- because our sophisticated antimissile interceptors can't stop primitive, wobbly missiles from rogue nations...The Joint Chiefs of Staff are furious that W. wants to downsize the services and use that money for his missile shield.
The knowledge that Dowd and Lewis could have been so supremely confident and also so wrong — and that even Hillary Clinton, of all people, is now acknowledging the reality of American security resting on missile defense technology — is a point worth considering and perhaps applying the next time you encounter the commentariat so confidently issuing pronouncements about science and security. Not that the press or one side of the partisan political debate isn't sometimes right. But sometimes, too, it is spectacularly wrong. Good for Hillary Clinton, at least, for acknowledging it.