The calculus of revenge: if the terrorists surpass 9/11, how should we respond?
Dean Esmay was not the first one to suggest American strike catastrophically against the Arab world in revenge for another 9/11-type, or worse, attack against America. But Dean’s proposal is probably the bluntest I’ve seen:
U.S. Sister City ProgramI simply do not understand why this seems acceptable to some people. It is a shockingly immoral proposal. Simply making war is never the purpose in itself of war. That is, simply inflicting destruction upon the enemy or the enemy’s people is never a just end in war.
It works like this: You bomb one of our cities and we unleash 10,000 times the explosives on our "sister city" as a response.
New York City - Mecca
Washington D.C. - Medina
Los Angeles - Riyadh
Chicago - Damascus
San Francisco - Tehran
Seattle - Tripoli
And so on... You get the idea.
Some may respond that I invoke just conduct of war only upon our own side, that the Islamists reject our Just War model and feel no compunction or moral restraint in the wholesale slaughter of American noncombatants.
Their objections are correct. We are self-restrained, our enemy is not. That’s what makes them terrorists. But we are not to become terrorists in response.
(I recognize that Islam is uniquely vulnerable to the kinds of attacks Dean proposes. Unlike Christianity (or Judaism, too), Islam is a religion of place. One of the five fundamental duties of all Muslims is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once. If Mecca was atomically removed from the earth, would it even be possible to be a faithful Muslim? Perhaps Muslims would adapt in the same way the Jews adapted to the multiple destructions of their Temple in Jerusalem.)
Nonetheless, with the domestic threat alert is at its highest since May. Sober warnings have come from the mouth of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge that al Qaeda is " ‘anticipating near-term attacks that they believe will either rival or exceed’ the events of Sept. 11."
So let us accept Dean’s first premise, that an American city might suffer a catastrophic strike by al Qaeda that would kill many, many thousands of citizens. Imagine an atomic truck bomb in an American metropolis. Imagine 30,000 dead and 60,000 injured, or more.
What should America do in response?
I reject a nuclear response that seeks simply to lash out at presumed enemies and make Arabs suffer for suffering’s sake. Killing just to kill would not be warranted even under such grievous circumstances.
Such an attack must evoke a severe American response, but the first question is whether al Qaeda’s attack would mean that we should change our basic strategic aims, the foundation upon which everything else depends:
... to inculcate far-reaching reforms within Arab societies themselves that will depress the causes of radical, violent Islamism. This task shall take a generation, at least; President Bush has said on multiple occasions that the fight against terror will occupy more presidencies than his own.I say that a K-strike against America would make this objective more urgent, not negate it ("K-strike" being shorthand for "catastrophic strike," borrowing from old military abbreviations).
Therefore, the American response to such an attack must do two things:
1. Dramatically reduce, hopefully eliminate, the possibility of such an attack being repeated,
2. At least not harm the furtherance of the basic American strategic goal in the Middle East.
There are a lot of measures the US could and should take if we are attacked by an attack of 9/11's destruction or worse. But draining the swamp that breeds Islamist alligators will remain the foremost goal, even as we intensify efforts to kill the alligators.
Update: A correspondent responds that Mutual Assured Destruction is moral and he wonders whether I even understand it, which I found rather amusing since I was trained as nuclear target analyst at the height of the Cold War.
For anyone who thinks that a nuclear attack by the US, even in response to one against us by terrorists, could possibly be sane, much less proper, I tell you bluntly: you aren't thinking at all and I am profoundly grateful you aren't setting national defense policy.
Do you think that nuking any Arab city would make al Qaeda stop attacking us with every destructive means at their disposal? How many millions of innocents are you prepared to immolate before you try something else? Except then there will be nothing else to try.
No one anywhere in the world would take our side on this. No one would rationalize the destruction of a third-world city and its people as their getting just desserts. There is no act we could take that would isolate us more, enrage the entire world at us more, make more uncountable new enemies, and convince billions of ordinary people around the world, not just Muslims, that America must be destroyed.
I add that the correspondent, like me, professes Christian faith and I have to wonder whether he has considered how America's use of nukes against an Arab city would harm the cause of Christ in the world. Far from convincing the Muslims that their faith is bankrupt, it would cause untold millions of people in the second and third world to abandon the Church altogether. Christians in the third world, already under severe persecution in many places, would suffer immensely and the Church would be outlawed in places it is now gaining converts.
People need to take off their blinders and try to think strategically. A nuclear response by us would completely destroy countless innocent lives - or do you actually condemn all Muslims, of any age or disposition? It would also destroy every alliance we have in the world. NATO would dissolve. The UK would withdraw all support wholly; Blair's government would fall immediately, to be replaced by the most virulent anti-Americans in England. We would lose all basing rights in every country in the world - Japan, Korea, Europe, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, Central Asia, all the rest. Americans across the world, including Europe, would be dragged from their homes or attacked on the streets and killed; scores of our embassies gutted. Muslim populations in Europe and the Americas would riot relentlessly.
Every Iraqi would turn completely against us; our forces there would come under constant attack from everyone, and in Afghanistan also. Pakistan would turn wholly Islamist. The entire Muslim world, not just Arabs, would be convinced that what bin Laden has been claiming is indeed true - that the US wishes either to colonize or destroy Muslim nations and destroy Islam itself. Tens of millions of new fanatics would sign up for al Qaeda's jihad against us.
I can't begin to list the nations that would sever diplomatic relations with us and expel our diplomatic staff, even the UK. All the intelligence relationships with the UK and other European nations - the most valuable we have - painstakingly built up since World War I would be aborted instantly. Same with Asia-Pacific countries. China would begin militarizing faster than ever. Russia would re-target American cities because its people would demand it.
The world's economy, including America's, would plunge into the deepest depression in history with the consequences too horrific to imagine - social dislocations, fall of governments (their replacements rabidly anti-American), civil wars on every continent except, maybe, North America and Australia.
Not only is MAD today a "strategy" of failure, it would be the means of our self destruction.