Sunday, August 05, 2007

Tancredo and Tonic

[posted by Callimachus]

"If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature [nuclear terrorist bombing] would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina. Because that's the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they otherwise might do."

What Tom Tancredo said is nothing new; he's been saying that for a long time. Some people seem to have just noticed, however.

I'm glad it's out there, even if it causes minor international incidents. I'm glad it is posed in such stark terms, too, so people can feel the horror of it. Because it is the natural, sane expression of an isolationist foreign policy for America in this war, and many people, especially on the left, who have been dispirited by the difficulty of Iraq have been edging toward just such a policy. If it is to be anything but national suicide, it will have to hold a strong deterrent in its sword hand. This is the strongest possible.

Just so, about five years into the Cold War, when American policies seemed hopelessly inept and our armed forces seemed bogged down in Korea, a range of political voices on the left and right -- from Joe Kennedy to Herbert Hoover to Bob Taft -- urged America to abandon the folly that it could defend Europe or the Middle East from communist subversion and Soviet might. The people there didn't seem terribly inclined to defend themselves, so these men reasoned, and all we had to show after 5 years of fighting communism were more communists than ever. They urged us to withdraw into "Fortress America" and hide behind the Navy and the Air Force with their power to deliver punishing responses to any attack on U.S. soil.

It was folly then, and it is folly now, but as some people seem inclined to go down that path, they ought to be honest about what it would look like. Tancredo is such a person.

Here's an attempt to not merely mock Tancredo, but to refute his logic. I salute the blogger for making that effort where so few did. It consists of four points, but all of them are not so clear-cut as the author seems to think.

1. The residents of Mecca and Medina would have nothing whatsoever to do with an attack on the United States of America. As such, Tancredo would punish innocent persons for the crimes of other.

Yes, but it would be terror-for-terror. And that has been the way of modern warfare ever since the bomber took over. The residents of Hamburg (women and children included, communists as well as National Socialists) did not bomb Coventry, but they paid for it anyhow. You could argue that they had the misfortune to be taxpayers to the Nazi state and thus contributed to the cause. The same argument could be made about citizens of Saudi Arabia, given the behavior of that government.

It doesn't mean it's right or honorable. But what Tancredo proposes is nothing new and absurd, at least on this basis. It's simply a logical progression of existing accepted practices into new realities.

2. The fact that Mecca and Medina aren’t in the possession of al Qaeda or any other terrorist group would mean that even apart from the question of punishing innocents for the acts of others, the fact of the matter is that while these cities are holy to Muslims, there is nothing about destroying them that would be a deterrent, per se. Tancredo makes it sound like Mecca is the capital of Qaedalandia (and even if it was, wiping out cities wily-nily tends to be rather lousy foreign policy).

But deterrence has to be awful to be effective -- it has a "don't make me do this" quality to it. It felt like madness when the U.S. adopted it during the Cold War, and it was madness. "If you destroy my nation, I will destroy yours, and the whole world will be destroyed in the process." The goal of the strategy wasn't the destruction of the world -- it was the opposite.

Technically, nothing is in the possession of al Qaida except the clothes on their backs and the guns they carry. Tancredo's policy, however, is based on the awareness that there are things these people profess to hold dear, and certain these two shrines are among them, if they are the devout believers they claim to be. Whether they are is another question, and perhaps it is the strongest line of attack against Tancredo's policy, but this blogger chooses not to see it or take it.

It also acknowledges that the religion of Islam is tied to these places as few other religions are bound to specific spots. Perhaps none of the great religions is so bound. The very identity of a Muslim involves daily prayer toward the Kaaba and a prescribed pilgrimage to it. If the place ceases to exist, and is untouchable due to radiation, there are, within a generation, no more true Muslims. Truly an evil way to fight, but again, the point of a deterrent is to make the opponent realize the cost of his attack will be unbearable.

3. Could there be a better recruitment tool for jihadist worldwide than “The Great Satan destroyed Mecca”?

Yes, actually: An obviously weak and paper tiger America, a land full of soft targets. If the Tancredo policy -- gods forbid we really should go that path -- were made clear and explicit to the world, it likely would drive a wedge hard between the truly devout Muslims and the violent extremists.

4. In case Tancredo hasn’t noticed, Saudi Arabia is officially an ally of the United States. I am pretty sure that it is the standing policy of the United States not to nuke our allies.

There's an awful lot of spin in that "officially." To me, an ally not only talks like an ally, it behaves like one. Saudi Arabia doesn't fit the bill. Second, the writer may be a young man, so he may not recall that our nuclear arsenal in the Cold War was aimed at targets upwind from some of our staunchest allies -- and even our own territories.

Deterrents aren't nice, fine tools. They're the bluntest instruments in the arsenal, and they're used by people who have given up seeking creative and intelligent solutions to complicated problems. People who just want to reduce the world to a kind of simplicity where they can go back to living as though the complicated problems don't really matter.