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Space: Just A Matter of Time
by David Marhoffer
10 March 2004NASA

President Bush's proposed space program may be the insurance policy the US needs to protect itself against nuclear, biological, and chemical blackmail.


On January 14, 2004, President George W. Bush sought to rekindle American interest in space. In a remarkable speech which opponents derided as promising Americans the moon in an election year, Bush spoke eloquently about returning to space and announced "a new course for the American Space Program."

In the past 30 years, no human being has set foot on another world, or ventured further upward into space than 386 miles -- roughly the distance from Washington, DC to Boston, Massachusetts. America has not developed a new vehicle to advance human exploration in space in nearly a quarter century. It is time for America to take the next steps. Today I announce a new plan to explore space and extend a human presence across our solar system. We do not know where this journey will end, yet we know this: human beings are headed into the cosmos.

The President vowed to "build new ships to carry men forward into the universe, to gain a new foothold on the moon." The new course for the American Space Program will be "one mission, one voyage, one goal at a time." He added that "the vision I outline today is a journey, not a race."

President Bush explained America's newfound interest in space. "Mankind is drawn to the heavens for the same reasons we were once drawn to unknown lands and across the open sea. We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives and lifts the national spirit. So let us continue the journey."

The speech reminded me of Frederick Jackson Turner's historical classic, The Frontier in American History, which he wrote in the 1920s. Turner's thesis was that the history of the United States is the product of pioneers exploring and settling the western frontiers. He passionately argued that the frontier is ingrained in the American psyche.

[T]o the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness and strength combined with astuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom -- these are the traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier.

Turner further asserted, 

Since the days when the fleet of Columbus sailed into the waters of the New World, America has been another name for opportunity, and the people of the United States have taken their tone from the incessant expansion which has not only been open but has even been forced upon them. He would be a rash prophet who should assert that the expansive character of American life has now entirely ceased. Movement has been its dominant fact, and, unless this training has no effect upon a people, the American energy will continually demand a wider field for its exercise.

Not surprisingly, conservatives have attacked the President's program as a wasteful extravagance when every effort must be devoted to winning the war of civilizations against Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaida, and militant Islamists. Similarly, liberals have recycled their old arguments from the mid 1980s, claiming that the money should be earmarked for social security, medicare, medicaid, AIDS, education, war on poverty, the United Nations, aid to developing countries, and various and sundry causes near and dear to them and to their voters.

Notwithstanding the arguments advanced by both conservative and liberal opinion-makers, there is another compelling reason to support the space program -- the survival of humanity -- which is never addressed openly by politicians lest it spook the people. The possibility exists that a comet or an asteroid will hit Earth, as described in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's classic novel Lucifer's Hammer or in the 1998 Bruce Willis movie Armageddon. As a matter of fact, this past January, a 1,600 foot wide asteroid named "2004 AS1" narrowly missed hitting Earth. Astronomers were afraid that there was a 25 percent probability of "2004 AS1" striking Earth's northern hemisphere and causing catastrophic devastation. The American people and their elected representatives cannot evade the reality that human civilization is one comet or one asteroid away from joining the dinosaurs and the dodo birds as extinct species. 

Ignoring for the moment the danger posed by asteroids and comets, it is very likely that the blow against humanity will be self-inflicted by means of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

Unfortunately, all of humanity's eggs are in one small basket which is very vulnerable to suicidal madness.

It used to be that, for the past fifty years, the so-called intelligentsia, both in the United States and abroad, were terrified of the American military-industrial complex and believed that it was composed of trigger-happy generals in the mold of Dr. Strangelove. Curiously enough, none of the Soviet premiers and generals throughout the years were ever thought to be crazy or dangerous, despite the upwards of twenty million graves filled by Josef Stalin with the bodies of political dissidents or Nikita Khruschev banging on a table with his shoe, promising to "bury" the United States, and precipitating the Cuban missile crisis.

Despite being one of the most murderous regimes in the history of the world, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Block underlings were run by rational decisionmakers. Their leaders would have attacked the West in a heartbeat if they were sure that they could get away with it. Hence, the doctrine of Mutually-Assured Destruction (MAD) came into existence together with the Cold War. Paradoxically, perhaps, the nuclear threat bought Western Europe nearly fifty years without the regularly-scheduled war that the Continent has endured for many generations.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and communism on the watch of President George H.W. Bush was indeed a cause for celebration by civil libertarians everywhere. Some authors like Francis Fukuyama were caught in the grip of irrational exuberance and called the collapse of communism The End of History. The euphoria in the early 1990s was so pervasive that liberals and conservatives alike were busy thinking about how to spend the "Peace Dividend." Maybe I was one of the relatively few curmudgeons who were busy counting the teeth of gift horses. I would tell everyone who would listen in law school that the Soviet Union's arsenal of non-conventional weapons was likely to fall into the wrong hands.

Back in the early 1990s, I thought that, within fifty years at the most, every country on Earth could have at its own disposal non-conventional weapons and that having many little Dr. Strangeloves would be far more dangerous than two big ones. As the nuclear club increased its members, the number of itchy trigger fingers increased exponentially without the relative maturity and pragmatism that marked the superpowers and their European allies.

In retrospect and with the hindsight of more than a decade, I am very concerned that I was far too optimistic in allotting fifty years for the wide proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Now I believe that, within 25 years counted from the early 1990s, third world countries as well as terrorist groups such as Al Qaida, Hizbollah, Islamic Jihad, and their ilk will come to possess nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

The recent news that the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer ("A.Q.") Khan, has been peddling nuclear technology to the highest bidder, including Libya, Iran, North Korea, and possibly other countries and groups yet unknown, ought to keep every rational person awake at night lest the nightmares become unbearable. Many generations are liable to curse A.Q. Khan whether his cadre of nuclear proliferators was a private one for fun and profit or whether he was acting at the direction of any elements in the government of Pakistan.

What do the coming fifteen years have in store for us? It is only a matter of time before every Tomovia, Dickania, and Harristan, to borrow a phrase from the incomparable Mark Steyn, obtain nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons for attacking their neighbors or for blackmail against the United States. What is there to stop the two-bit dictator of Tomovia, whose population is starving because central control of its command economy has resulted in massive shortages and distribution problems, from giving the United States an ultimatum: "Feed us or else! We have nothing to lose!" Tomovia really has nothing to lose, but the United States does.

Is it inconceivable for Dickania to invade its weaker neighbors with whom the U.S. has an alliance and to warn the U.S. that, if it intervenes, one of the former Soviet Union's nuclear suitcase bombs will be detonated in New York City? Would it be too far-fetched for Harristan to demand that the United States "share its ill-gotten wealth" by increasing its foreign aid to Harristan, forgiving Harristan's debts or sending Harristan more raw resources and finished goods, with the alternative being Los Angeles wiped off the map?

Need we even discuss Al Qaida, whose stated aim is to launch a worldwide jihad against the infidels, offering the West the choice of conversion to Wahhabi Islam or death? If young Palestinian men and women's admission ticket to heaven and cavorting with 72 dark-eyed virgins consists of attacking Israel's civilian populations with explosive belts with nails dipped in rat poison to prevent blood coagulation, there is no shortage of terrorists willing to carry nuclear, biological, and chemical payloads into America's most populous cities. Deterrence is meaningless against a cult of death whose adherents fervently believe in their religious duty to bring Islamicism to America's shores or to mete out divine punishment to the American people whom they believe are composed of non-human pigs and monkeys.

The future of nuclear, biological, and chemical blackmail against the U.S. will take place regardless of America's foreign, domestic, political or economic philosophies and programs. American liberals will not succeed in buying off the blackmailers with ever larger payments of foreign aid, for blackmail naturally adjusts itself to the victim's full capacity to pay. Even if the U.S. were to adopt Paleoconservative or Libertarian political philosophies and withdraw from world affairs and entanglements, the blackmailers will still come after the U.S. to loot it of its last available resource. As long as the United States remains a pluralistic democratic republic and not a Wahhabi theocracy, it will be classified as Dar Al-Harb, literally a house of war, a theater of war which must be cleansed with blood and converted into Dar Al-Islam, the house of Islam.

A viable space program, most preferably private and in the best traditions of free enterprise, must be in place as a make-shift insurance policy well before the United States and the West are subjected to nuclear, biological, and chemical blackmail and to the cult of death. President Bush's proposed space program may be a good step in the right direction, but only if we follow through.

David Marhoffer practices business, corporate, and real estate law for the Scottsdale, Arizona law firm of Marhoffer & Rosenfield, P.L.L.C.

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