Rachel Maddow: SDI Can't Work Because Missiles Can't Shoot Missiles Out of the Sky

January 22nd, 2011 5:35 PM

Rachel Maddow had a very tough evening Friday.

Before telling a 100 percent falsehood about Reaganomics on HBO's "Real Time," the MSNBC commentator said the Strategic Defense Initiative would never work because you can't shoot a missile out of the sky with another missile (video follows with transcript and commentary):

STEVE MOORE, WALL STREET JOURNAL: The other tragedy, David, of what’s happened in the last 20 years is the reason Reykjavik fell apart was because Reagan didn't want to give up SDI or Star Wars. And here we are, you know, what 20 years later and we still don't have a missile defense system in this country.

DAVID STOCKMAN: We shouldn't.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: They’ve never worked.

MOORE: I don't want to get blown up.

MADDOW: You know what? Here's the country, here's the kind of thing you put over like a cake to protect the cake from flies. Missiles don't work that way. That’s the whole idea of SDI. We'll protect ourselves by shooting missiles at other missiles. It’s never worked in a test. We spent billions on it.

MOORE: It’s worked.

MADDOW: And anybody who understands this knows it can never work.

MOORE: If you don’t think it works, then why did the Russians not want us to do it?

MADDOW: The Russians were very happy to sign this thing.

MOORE: No they weren’t. They didn’t want us to do SDI because they knew they didn’t want us to blow up their missiles.

MADDOW: You know what? If you think you can shoot the bullet with the other bullet, you can have an awesome life in Annie Oakley’s side show, but you should not be in charge of billions of dollars of the defense budget. It's such a hysterical fantasy. I love it.

It appears Maddow must have been out of the country during Desert Storm when Patriot missiles were used to take out Iraqi Scud missiles aimed at Israel and Saudi Arabia. Although their success rate was a great source of debate at the time (see the July 1996 Center for Defense Information study), no one disputes that some Scuds were indeed shot out of the air.

More importantly, at least twelve countries are currently using Patriot technology as part of their missile defense programs.

Maddow was either oblivious to these facts or was being disingenuous with her argument.

But that wasn't the MSNBCer's only miscue in this brief discussion, for she clearly didn't understand why the Reykjavik Summit fell apart. Even the liberal website Wikipedia agrees with Moore's view:

In 1986 Reagan had proposed banning all ballistic missiles, but wanted to continue research on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that could potentially be shared with the Soviets. Yet Soviet suspicion of SDI continued, and U.S.-Soviet relations — already strained by the failure of the Geneva Summit the previous year[citation needed] — were further strained by the Daniloff-Zakharov espionage affair.

At Reykjavík, Reagan sought to include discussion of human rights, emigration of Soviet Jews and dissidents, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, Gorbachev sought to limit the talks solely to arms control. [...]

Gorbachev, however, citing a desire to strengthen the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty(ABM Treaty), added the condition that any SDI research be confined to laboratories for the ten year period in question. Reagan argued that his proposed SDI research was allowed by any reasonable interpretation of the ABM treaty, and that he could not forget the pledge he made to Americans to investigate whether SDI was viable. He also promised to share SDI technology, a promise which Gorbachev said he doubted would be fulfilled, as the Americans would not even share oil-drilling technology. [...]

The talks finally stalled, Reagan asking if Gorbachev would “turn down a historic opportunity because of a single word,” referring to his insistence on laboratory testing. Gorbachev asserted that it was a matter of a principle, and the summit concluded.

As such, Moore was quite correct that the failure of this Summit was over SDI, and Maddow was once again wrong.

And this is supposedly MSNBC's most intelligent prime time commentator.

Says a lot about this so-called "news" network, doesn't it?

*****Update: Wikipedia provides further evidence of Maddow's stupidity (h/t NB reader Tim Hoog):

The KKV was equipped with an infrared seeker, guidance electronics and a propulsion system. Once in space, the KKV could extend a folded structure similar to an umbrella skeleton of 4 m (13 ft) diameter to enhance its effective cross section. This device would destroy the ICBM reentry vehicle on collision.

Four test launches were conducted in 1983 and 1984 at Kwajalein Missile Range in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. For each test a Minuteman missile was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying a single mock re-entry vehicle targeted for Kwajalein lagoon more than 4,000 miles (6,400 km) away.

After test failures with the first three flight tests because of guidance and sensor problems, the fourth and final test on June 10, 1984 was successful, intercepting the Minuteman RV with a closing speed of about 6.1 km/s at an altitude of more than 160 km.

Although the fourth test succeeded, the New York Times charged in August 1993 that the test had been rigged. Investigations into this charge by the Department of Defense, headed John Deutch for Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, and the General Accounting Office concluded that the test was a valid, successful test.

As Wikipedia noted, this was just the first of many iterations of SDI, all of which MSNBC's Rhodes scholar seems woefully uninformed about.