PLOTLINE: A small network of ideologues in positions of power beyond their due are intent upon reshaping the world on their terms. Their existence revolves around a black and white reality; a world of perfect days ever threatened by perfect storms. Frustrated with intelligence experts who forecast partly cloudy skies in the atmosphere of international relations, they conjure rogue intelligence to justify stormy international arrogance. They flood media with propaganda. Winds of fear shift the public mood. Hearts of nations harden. Conflicts simmer. Military budgets explode.

Sound familiar? While the plot and the actors are the same, the stage is different. In late 1975, a small group of conservatives across the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government were convinced that America’s military strength was falling behind the Soviet war machine. Out of this group — known as “the cabal” — came the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), a group of like-minded ideologues who contended that CIA analysts had chronically understated the threat posed by the Soviet Union, and thus that U.S. military spending levels were dangerously low.

At the request of then-CIA chief George H.W. Bush, the Committee was brought in to develop an alternative assessment of the CIA’s raw intelligence. The resulting report — known as the Team B assessment — wildly overestimated Soviet military capability, and led to dire warnings to U.S. policymakers and the public. President Ford’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger condemned the report.

But one of the assessment’s primary promoters acquired what he needed. That man was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the same Rumsfeld who championed the war on Iraq nearly 30 years later based upon overblown conclusions from his rogue Office of Special Plans. Saying back then that “no doubt exists about the capabilities of the Soviet armed forces” Rumsfeld and his allies used the report to undercut nuclear arms control negotiations for years to come, and to lay the groundwork for procurement of a wide range of new weapons systems, including the MX missile.

MX was designed to thwart the first-strike threat of the Soviet Union. It called for a basing system in which hundreds of missiles — each one capable of destroying scores of Soviet cities and vaporizing millions of human beings — would be transported continuously on tracks crisscrossing my home state of Utah and other surrounding states. It was called the “shell game” basing system: by employing thousands more decoys on the same tracks, it was thought, the Russians would not be able to wipe out the real missiles. In the view of its champions, the MX missile system might also have served the purpose of focusing Soviet nuclear firepower into the heart of the West, away from the more populated East.
To realize this crazy scheme, some astonishing feats of engineering would have been required: more concrete than was used to create the entire U.S. interstate highway system; rivers, reservoirs and aquifers watering five states would have been tapped; some of the world’s most beautiful national parks would have been destroyed, and sacred American Indian lands violated.

In short, Rumsfeld’s MX would have destroyed America’s West in a twisted effort to save it, transforming an oasis of ancient natural beauty into the biggest labyrinthine wasteland, by far, of the many wastelands our children now inherit from their fearful, militaristic ancestors.

But today’s growing opposition to Rumsfeld’s obscene vision of international policy can take heart: my father, along with scores of other citizens across the West, mounted a grass-roots campaign 25 years ago. They brought the MX battle into the streets, synagogues, churches and schools. Students, teachers, parents, bishops, workers, cowboys and sisters took the debate to neighbors and news stations across the West. And after four years of fighting, they brought down Rumsfeld’s monster, and the insanity of policy by brass was revealed.

As we witness the same old cold warriors regurgitate the same old insanities, as they shred international accord while cheerleading international democracy, as they spark nuclear arms races while decrying nuclear proliferation, we can take heart: true power always remains with the people willing to exercise it, and ordinary people have beaten back powerful barbarians in the past.

If students, teachers, parents, bishops, workers, cowboys and sisters — and those few politicians who remember their responsibilities — remember the power granted them by the founders of this great nation, we can and will do so again in 2004.

*Joseph P. Firmage is Chairman & CEO of The ManyOne Network