Tuesday, July 26, 2005


100 Tancredos

I having been reading the the responses to congressman Tom Tancredo's original suggestion (and subsequent response) that the U.S. consider bombing Mecca in retaliation for a Jihadist delivered nuclear explosion in an American city. I must confess previous to this incident I had not found the congressman's rhetoric on immigration very sound although I find that he is not the lunatic that some might portray him to be. He raises legitimate questions about immigration but I wish he were less shrill. My opinion is that immigration is an issue that can be solved only by concensus because there are legitimate reasons to allow Mexican workers into the U.S. but security is woefully lacking at this point. To the point, I have not found Tancredo to be irrational in his criticism of immigration policy and I don't think, given his position as a congressman, that he is wrong to "...to start a national dialogue about what options we have to deter al-Qaeda and other would-be Islamic terrorists."

Before we get to Tancredo and his critics, I would like to try a little thought experiment. How many atomic bombs would it take to effectively cripple the United States of America? (I am assuming that terrorists will not be able to get and/or transport hydrogen bombs) I define cripple as pushing American society into a prolonged period of social and economic recovery. Socially it would be the equivalent of the reconstruction after the civil war and the economically think of the Great Depression. An event of this magnitude would take 10-15 years before we could recover. Given our knowledge of the effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, approximately 15-25 kilotons, respectively, the areas that were hit would be uninhabitable for at least 10 years. (Assuming you convince anyone to live or work there) A ground blast (vs. an air blast) is most likely and would limit the initial radius of destruction. I think we can safely assume initial dead approaching 100,000 in every city with a population over 1 million with wounded approaching twice that number. In how many cities would there have to be a nuclear detonation?

Let's assume they set off 10 A-bombs in the 9 cities with populations over 1 million. (We will give 2 to the Big Apple because they are more than twice as large as L.A. or Chicago) Would the death of 1 million people plus the injury of 2 million put the U.S. into depression? Would the effective loss of the use of that much real estate be enough? There is no doubt in my mind that the U.S. would survive but we would be a very different nation. These are the scenarios we should ponder because we are at war with an enemy which is willing to carry out such an attack given the resources. In this context, I think it is incombent upon us to have a national debate about the circumstances which would demand retaliation and the scale of that retaliation.

CQ's writes:
I think the "ultimate response" to Tancredo's apolcalyptic fantasy is that we don't bomb civilians in response to terrorist attacks, no matter how seductive such a response might seem. The idea that the US would retaliate in such a manner should be repulsive to any rational person, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum. The war on terror targets the terrorists and the governments which fund and/or shelter them, not the civilians who happen to live there.
I think Mr. Morrisey misses the point of Tancredo's original musings, and I think it is correct to call them musings because he makes it clear he is calling for debate, "I mean, I don't know, I'm just throwing out there some ideas because it seems to me . . . at that point in time you would be talking about taking the most draconian measures you could possibly imagine and because other than that all you could do is once again tighten up internally." Threatening to strike Mecca in response to a nuclear attack is not the same thing as actually doing it. What it does is open up the possibility of a certain response if the enemy attacks first. It leaves the ball in their court. It also forces all Muslims to consider the fact that a few Muslims have been acting in their name and whether they want to remain silent and passive and, therefore, noncommittal in this war.

CQ's writes:
Besides, who is Tom Tancredo to make these threats anyway? He doesn't have anything to do with the military chain of command or the national security systems that would make those kinds of recommendations. He certainly doesn't speak for the President, who has to make the final determination in loosing those weapons on any target. Tancredo does, however, lend a false sense of credibility to such threats in international circles, thanks to his position as an elected Republican official.
The Congressman has started the debate on an issue that deserves discussion. If we feared that Saddam could get ahold of yellowcake and we fear Iran's nuclear program then we must have considered the possibility that there will be a nuclear detonation in the U.S. was real. If so, we, as a nation, should discuss how we will respond.

As I have said, doing and talking are two different things and in the world of deterrence talking a good game is very important in letting your adversary know what are your priorities and how far you are willing to go to protect yourself. Remember, it was Osama bin Laden's not altogether incorrect belief that the U.S. and the rest of the western world would retreat with every greater attack. To this day, we have a portion of our population on the left which opposes almost any effort at self defense and another portion which calls for isolation. Both would accomplish bin Laden's goal of diminishing U.S. influence in the Muslim world. If you are trying to deter an attack by bearing your teeth it is best not to let them know you are just kidding. Taking Mecca off the table after a nuclear attack on U.S. soil is counterproductive to the goal which is to make a nuclear strike unacceptably expensive to the Jihadists.
Hugh Hewitt writes:
He fails because he doubles down on his absurd insistence that "bombing Mecca" ought to be "on the table." No serious politician in the country has come to Tancredo's defense, and indeed I have not seen any credible authority on war or religion endorse this foolishness. No serious Christian theologian can endorse what is obviously an immoral threat against another faith. Tancredo is drawing encouragment from the small percentage of Americans who have fallen into the erroneous belief that all of Islam is arrayed against the West. [emphasis added]
I don't believe "that all of Islam is arrayed against the West" any more than I think the whole town was against Marshall Kane. But I do think that within Islam there is a lot of sympathy for bin Laden if not outright support. Do we punish the religion for the sins of the fanatics? Does that not depend on the size of the sin? Should our respect for Islam go so far that we would not even threaten to destroy a holy site if the survival of our society is at stake? In particular, I find this comparison specious:
Sorry. Bombing Mecca to revenge the acts of maniacs is like nuking the Vatican to protest the pedophilia scandal in Boston. The idea appeals to those whose nuanced study of Islam makes them conclude it’s better to alienate one billion people than defeat a fraction of the same group.

Which begs the question, how innocent is Islam? I am sure many of you and many of the people I have criticized in this post read Littlegreenfootballs.com, Robert Spencer or MEMRI and they can see what many Muslims leaders think about the war on terror and the west. Just search LGF for references to the 'religion of peace' and see how many times it pops up. Maybe I am not in on the joke and that everyone really thinks that Islam is not part of the problem. That we should treat Muslim sensibilities with kid gloves because they are mostly on our side as long as we do not insult the prophet or attempt to change their way of life. I have to ask then, why are we in Iraq if it is not to change the way most Muslims live, to drag them kicking and screaming into the 20th century in the hope that prosperity and freedom will do to them what it did to the Germans and Japanese?

I recognize that we need to have the vast majority of Islam on our side if we are to win with the least amount of bloodshed. That being said there is a schizophrenia on the right side of the political spectrum when it comes to how much blame we assign to the religion. On one hand we fret about alienating moderates and on the other we joke about the 5th century mentality of, I dare say, a sizeable minority if not majority of people who practice Islam. So let's stop the hypocrisy and either tell Charles Johnson to cut out the ridicule or get to the heart of the Tancredo controversy: Islam must change and Muslims need to make more of an effort to affect change.

Back to the thought experiment. One of the very dovish aspects of Bush's policies regarding Afghanistan and Iraq is the Wilsonian character of our attempt to remake the Middle Eastern countries into liberal democracies. In that way, we are pursuing a policy that is more likely to leave the fewest amount of Muslims dead. If you are realistic about the risk presented by the Jihadists then you know that a nuclear detonation in the U.S. is not a fantasy no matter how apocolyptic. The reason why I am defending Tancredo is because there is a need to make moderate Muslims know that there will be a high price to be paid if we and they fail to overcome the radicals in their midst. His rhetoric is over the top precisely because all Muslims need to know that the West cannot be trifled with. In particular, the U.S. will consider retaliation on a massive scale for unleashing nuclear weapons on our soil. I can think of no better person to deliver this message than a United States congressman because he is a representative of some of the people and he, no doubt, represents the opinions of many of us who would prefer to take them down with us if that is going to be the case. If the moderate Muslims think it is terrible that an American congressman would threaten their holiest site they should be warned that even one nuclear detonation will mean the election of a 100 Tancredos. And if they did not deal with Wilsonian America they can deal with Jacksonian America.


Of course, I don't want to see anyplace nuked. That is why I was in favor of the invasion. And if we don't want to see Mecca bombed we better warn the Muslim world. As Rod Dreher said, "It occurs to me that it is insane that we're even having this conversation. It occurs to me that given the events of 9/11, and the determination and capabilities of our enemies, it is even more insane not to. God help us all." (HT: From the word go)

John O adds:

In a post entitled The Three Conjectures, Wretchard's second conjecture postulates that attaining WMDs will destroy Islam:
Because capability is the sole variable of interest in the war against terrorism, the greater the Islamic strike capability becomes, the stronger the response will be. An unrepeatable attack with a stolen WMD weapon would elicit a different response from one arising from a capability to strike on a sustained and repetitive basis. The riposte to an unrepeatable attack would be limited. However, suppose Pakistan or North Korea engineered a reliable plutonium weapon that could be built to one-point safety in any machine shop with a minimum of skill, giving Islamic terrorists the means to repeatedly attack America indefinitely. Under these circumstances, there would no incentive to retaliate proportionately. The WMD exchange would escalate uncontrollably until Islam was destroyed.
The so-called strengths of Islamic terrorism: fanatical intent; lack of a centralized leadership; absence of a final authority and cellular structure guarantee uncontrollable escalation once the nuclear threshold is crossed. Therefore the 'rational' American response to the initiation of terrorist WMD attack would be all out retaliation from the outset.
Steven Den Beste clarifies Wretchard use of 'Islam' before disagreeing somewhat with the second conjecture:
Wretchard uses the term "Islam" during this part of his analysis to refer to the extremists; he's referring to the Jihadis, and possibly to hostile regimes which covertly support them. But his point in using "Islam" for this is to make clear that he thinks most of the world's Muslims run the risks he's describing, even if they're not militant. I agree that the majority of them are.
In the aftermath of a nuclear attack against the US, the US would issue the following directives:

1. All nations we do not fully trust which have nuclear weapons, or programs to develop them, will cease all development immediately, and will turn over to us all completed weapons and all fissionables and all other equipment and material used in those programs by a certain deadline, a small number of weeks.

2. All nations will fully cooperate with us in finding the attackers and all other militant groups we consider dangerous to us. All nations will immediately and totally cease providing any kind of support to such groups. All nations will immediately and vigorously work to prevent their citizens from providing any kind of support.

3. All nations will fully answer any significant questions we ask.

4. Any nation whose cooperation is not considered adequate will be assumed to be an enemy, and may be the target of a saturation nuclear strike at a time of our choosing, without any warning. There will be no negotiations, no second chances, no obfuscation, no delay, no deception. Nothing less that full and unstinting and rapid cooperation will be considered acceptable.

Chemical weapons, in at least small quantities, can be created by any competent chemist with the right precursor chemicals, which are broadly available. But nuclear and biological weapons development requires the wherewithal of a government, and the US would make sure that no terrorist group would be able to acquire such weapons by making sure that none were possessed by any government we did not fully trust or fully believed we could deter.

Would we actually obliterate the first nation which didn't fully cooperate? I don't think so; I think that we'd fire one warning shot, by setting off a nuke in their territory, close enough to a major city so it could be seen and felt and heard but far enough away to not destroy it. That might require one or more small towns to be destroyed, but we wouldn't target a major city or metropolitan area the first time.

But that would only happen one time, not once per nation. If anyone after that didn't get the message, I think we would do it, because we would have to.
Wretchard's response is here.

Grim reading, perhaps, but I think they're right.


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