Posted by: captainfalcon | November 23, 2011

The Foundry that Half-Bakes Newt

Sadly it is not posted on The Foundry (update: actually they are tittering about it), but roommate Danny did the Lord’s Work last night tracking down the source of Gingrich’s concern about the existential threat posed to America by Electromagnetic Pulse weapons. At least, it stands to reason that Newt – the stupid man’s idea of a smart person, whose “mind,” over-boiled from too long a soak in the warm broth of shibboleth that it is these think tanks‘ job to brew, is as soft as his jowls – found his fears in a 2008 Heritage White Paper (or maybe this one – who cares?).

The White Paper is a little overwrought. Electromagnetic Pulses are shock waves of some sort that, at their worst, eviscerate electronic networks. They can be generated by nukes detonated 40km over America, or by, uh, portable radios.

The nukes would be bad, ergo we need (of course) missile defense. What’s not clear is why we need “Star Wars, or “Aegis Ashore,” or Priapism Shield, or whatever “infrastructure hardening technology” is the militarists’ current pleasure anymore now than before we were concerned about electromagnetic pulses – when we were just concerned (or, after risk-analysis, not really concerned) about nuclear missiles raining down on the United States. The nuclear EMP threat has de minimis effect on reasonable defense policy.

Whereas the nukes would be as bad as nukes would be, the radio attacks – what Heritage refers to as “E-Bombs” – could be bad in a new way. True, a “1993 EMP testing by the U.S. military shut down engine controls 300 meters away at a [single] contractor site,” which, Heritage admits, is “[n]ot large-scale by any means.”  But there are more frightening alternatives:

A successful EMP attack could result in airplanes literally falling from the sky; vehicles could stop functioning, and water, sewer, and electrical net­works could all fail-all at once. Food would rot, health care would be reduced to its most rudimen­tary level, and there would not be any transporta­tion. Rule of law would become impossible to sustain; police departments would be overwhelmed.

Scary stuff, but these imaginings do not alter the bottom line that until it can be explained how we get from shutting down engine controls at a contractor site in 1993 to the total, profound, complete failure of the rule of law, the prospect of an EMP calls for a policy of stoic unconcern. The only thing the Heritage White Paper points to that is futuristic and weaponized is the phase “electromagnetic pulse attack.” Its actual content is Cold War anxiety that, among the rest of us, is justly rusting over.



  1. I like that description of Newt (I second RPW’s kudos of Krugman). It nicely echoes a spot-on description I once heard about Donald Trump: that he’s a hobo’s idea of what a rich man is like. Any others for the rest of the GOP field?

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