Of course actually building a successful "hit-a-bullet-with-a-bullet" system remains some years off, and its achievement may upset existing agreements with China and Russia. But for now, domestic concerns will push Capitol Hill to give every American cloud a steel lining.
The proposed missile defense system may do more to protect the Democrats' credibility on national security than it will to deter foreign bad guys. "This is targeted at potential threats from rogue countries or elements," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "But they don't need to use a missile -- if we have an effective defense, that would simply make them even more likely to try and deliver bombs in a Piper Cub or a fishing boat." But the 98-3 margin by which the system passed the Senate Wednesday, and the similar acclaim expected in the House Thursday, signals Republican success at resurrecting national security as a domestic political issue. "Bob Dole campaigned on missile defense in 1996 and it fell flat," notes Thompson. "But with issues such as the China nuclear theft and North Korea's nuclear aspirations in play this time around, the Democrats felt compelled to board the train before it left the station."