Sunday, August 05, 2007

On an Irradiation of Mecca

A stopped clock is right twice a day, and Tom Tancredo is one such nonfunctioning timepiece. Wrong on nearly everything that matters, he is nonetheless right that a nuclear strike by Muslim terrorists on the United States should be responded to with a nuclear strike on Mecca. If I may extend Tancredo's logic beyond what he himself may be capable of, the Plain of Arafat, the Plain of Mina, and the Masjid al-haram should be irradiated such that human visitation becomes impossible for thousands of years.

New Yorker in DC, responding to my defense of such retaliation against Shlock's assault, writes:

I believe that the main premise of [Tancredo's and tdaxp's] argument, that terrorists can be deterred if we make it clear that we will attack that which is of most value to them (i.e. the Kaaba and other religious sites such as Mecca, Medina, etc.), is wrong.

I ask Nykrindc this: Was the invasion of Afghanistan likewise wrong, as it destroyed something operationally most valuable to our opponents (a state-supported base)?

The answer is no: besides being a clear case of proportional response, the Afghan invasion also made the conditions of 9/11 much harder to replicate. The Roman response to the Jewish War -- the destruction of the Temple -- did the same. Rome destroyed the conditions that allowed a faith based on priestly worship to exist. "Jews" as a community continued, of course, but the religion of the Levites was gone forever.

In the same way, an obliteration of Mecca that leaves the city radioactive topples one of the five pillars of Islam.

People say that Islam needs a reformation. Reformed variants of Judaism thrived twice, both in response to a grand shock (the Destruction of the Temple, leading to Christianity, and the abolition of the European ghettos, leading to Reform/conservative Judaism).

On the other hand, if you are happy with the Islamic status quo -- and remain so after a nuclear attack on the homeland -- there is nothing to change! No such outrage is necessary.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Tancredo Is Right On Nuking Mecca (We Are Not At War With Islam)

"What Difference Do Nuclear Weapons Make?," by Max Singer and Aaron Wildavsky, The Real World Order: Zones of Peace, Zones of Turmoil, revised edition published 1996, pg 66.

"Revisiting Questions on Deterrence and Nuclear Terrorism," by Mark Safranski, ZenPundit, 22 November 2004,

"The Tancredo Blunder," by Hugh Hewitt,, 18 July 2005, (from Captain's Quarters through private email).

Representative Tom Tancredo suggested that the United States destroy Mecca if there was a devastating al Qaeda attack on the United States.

“Well, what if you said something like — if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites,” Tancredo answered.

“You’re talking about bombing Mecca,” Campbell said.

“Yeah,” Tancredo responded.

Hugh Hewitt criticizes Rep. Tancredo, and is wrong on in almost every paragraph

I have been hearing from people who urge that Tancredo is just voicing the updated version of the MAD doctrine which kept the USSR at bay through the long years of the Cold War. That's silly. Destroying Mecca wouldn't destroy Islam. It would enrage and unify Islam across every country in the world where Muslims lived.

Wrong. The purpose of MAD wasn't to destroy the Soviet Union -- that would have been an effect, but not the purpose. The purpose of the Massively Armed Deterrent was to deter the Soviet Union.

More specifically, if the United States knew that al Qaeda had acquired a weapon, we would need a way to compel al Qaeda to give us that weapon.

To go one step farther:

Deterrence against clandestine weapons presents quite different problems from the traditional deterrence relationship with the Soviet Union, even if the analytic structure of deterrence is essentially the same. The deterrent threat is likely to have to be against the individual or small group [or their interests -- tdaxp] that is being deterred, not against a country.

It is really "compellence," rather than deterrence, that is needed to deal with the threat... [The United States] would need to be able to compel the threaten to reveal the location of the weapons so that they could be disarmed... Now the democracies need a threat against [the terrorist organization] that will prevent [the terrorists] from retaliating for his own destruction. For some [terrorists], it is hard to imagine such a threat.

So in truth, Tancredo did not go far enough. Not only should we be prepared to destroy what bin Laden considers most holy and special if he severely hurts us. We must also be prepared to do so to avert him from hurting us, or even defending himself, if the circumstances permit.

Hewitt goes on, still wrong:

Let me be blunt: There is no strategic value to bombing Mecca even after a devastating attack on the U.S. In fact, such an action would be a strategic blunder without historical parallel, except perhaps Hitler's attack on Stalin. Anyone defending Tancredo's remarks has got to make a case for why such a bombing would be effective.

Of course it would not grow our power or wealth to destroy Mecca. Of course a radiated Mecca would not be able to be used to preposition aircraft for future conflict. That's not the point.

Mark Safranski pondered this earlier:

No one knows though bin Laden reportedly told the BBC that he had acquired nuclear weapons for deterrence purposes which indicates:

a) That bin Laden understands the concept well enough, and

b) There is something he considers important enough to acquire nuclear bombs in order to deter America from some action.

The question is "what" ? My guess it is to protect Islam's Holy sites.

Hewitt's conclusion is right, at least

I want to be very clear on this. No responsible American can endorse the idea that the U.S. is in a war with Islam.

Of course not. We are at war with al Qaeda. It will be them we will deter and compel, even if there will be collateral damage to to an ancient multicultural temple and Christian church, long shorn of her decorations and venerations.

Elsewhere on the Blogosphere: Stones Cry Out conflates massive armed deterrent with mutually assured destruction. Power Pundit says an attack on measured cannot be a "measured and appropriate response" (whatever the circumstances? -- tdaxp). Point Five mocks hawks. One Hand Clapping started all this.

From the Hawk Right: La Shawn Barber decries weakness in the face of terror. Baldilocks sees nothing new in Rep. Tancredo's words. InstaPunk exhaustively defends the congressman. HCS and Gen both understand theory.

Update: Mark from ZenPundit adds his thoughts

Tancredo's hamhanded, off-the-cuff, bluster looks positively milquetoast next to U.S. nuclear doctrine under Jimmy Carter. The purpose of making terrifying, credible, deterrence threats is to NOT have to actually use nuclear weapons. If a nuclear bomb goes off inside the United States tomorrow, I can just about guarantee that we will use nuclear weapons in retaliation against probably more than one terrorist-supporting country. If we are bombed it will because our enemies disbelieved that we would retaliate, not because we are clear that we will.

Update 2: More thoughts from...
Riting on the Wall:
" the core critique (and there is a secondary critique below as well) here is that deterrence is, at root, a byproduct of rational actor theory. which is to say that all actors within a system will under all circumstances make rational decisions to maximize identified self-interests. these interests can be existential (which is the essential logic of mutually assured destruction) or they can fall to other categories: symbolic, tactical, strategic, etc. under normal circumstances, making a clear and credible existential threat to a defined action would deter such an action (in this case a nuclear strike on us soil) from taking place. all this is well and good under traditional understandings of rational actor theory, but i have to throw several wrenches in the works at this point."

In real-world nuclear deterrence logic as it played out in the era of brinksmanship through MAD, rational actor theory was not actually subscribed to by either superpower.

Update 3: While Sahhabh picks up the story, the Saudis have already started Mecca's destruction."

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Half-Life of Nuclear Terror

"A Quick Observation on the National Security Strategy" discussion, by CRK et al, Whirled View, 16 April 2005,

Mark at Zen Pundit blog was kind enough to email me a post on detering nuclear attack, now and in the past

The consequences of a terrorist nuclear attack would be far less than those of a Cold War first strike. It is unlikely that terrorists would be able to get their hands on one nuclear weapon, let alone several. Losing a large part of any city would be unacceptable. But how unacceptable? Unacceptable enough to launch a preventive strike on Iran? Unacceptable enough for an attack on North Korea?


Early in the Cold War, the argument was made that the United States could not accept the consequences of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, and that therefore the United States should pre-emptively attack. President Eisenhower decided that that was not the right course. We need to think the unthinkable, as the Cold War strategists did, and not flinch.

Mark Safranski's comment was fascinating

The question of what deters al Qaida is essentially what costs would they find not worth paying in exchange for nuking, say New York city? Not their own lives, obviously nor do they care about the lives of fellow Muslims per se because they would be, in the zany Qutbist-Salafist world " martyrs".

All I've been able to come up with as a potential deterrent is the their having the knowledge of certain retaliatory destruction of Islam's holiest sites - bin Laden and Zawahiri would shrink from paying that price.

This would seem at first blush, a terrible response but we once contemplated, with equanimity(!), incinerating hundreds of millions of Russians who had far less moral complicity in the policies of the Politburo than Saudi citizens have with supporting al Qaida. I raised this suggestion recently with Steve Coll ( Ghost Wars) and he responded " This is exactly the question that I hope is being discussed in the National Security Council".

We need to get serious about making the idea of nuking an American city and killing millions of Americans unimaginable once again. I have too much of a sense that this kind of action is viewed in some quarters as potentially an acceptable, if high-risk, gambit if enough cut-outs are used to muddy the waters.

I responded by noting that we have attacked other faiths in the past, and may do so again

After World War II America participated in the total destruction of two "enemy" religions (National Reich Church and State Shinto). In each case the ban was not merely a vertical shock -- banning the faith -- but an horizontal, ongoing effort to prevent its reemergence. NRC is still illegal in Germany, and SCAP (the American-led Coalition in Japan) stamped out several "unofficial" offshoots of State Shinto.

America rightly protects religious freedom at home, but it would not always be wise to protect the rights of enemy religions abroad. The full consequences of a holy-site strike should be considered (including the obvious blow-back), but the obliteration of enemy religions should remain a valid tool of American statecraft.