Friday, December 28, 2007

Why MAD still applies

We've heard this rhetoric before: 9/11 changed everything. No longer can we fight wars by conventional means, or even by traditional morality, because our enemy is--well, different.

It's worth mentioning again that we still haven't defined our enemy; oh, we've given them a series of, mostly inaccurate, names--Islamofascist, Islamonazi; alas no one utilized my contribution: Islamocommunist--but these are only convenient abstractions. While allowing us an entity to hate upon, they remove the important question from play. Al-Qaeda, our original enemy, was defined; then Bush upped his rhetoric and decided to defeat all terror, everywhere. Such a goal is as elusive as the nature of a terrorist itself. After all, our use of water-boarding is, by the admission of many, including John McCain, torture. This would seem to make us terrorists.

Before we go on, I'm not necessarily equating the U.S. military to Al-Qaeda. What I am suggesting, is that, by engaging in torture, to say nothing of immoral foreign wars, we've further clouded the already murky waters. If we are truly intent on eliminating all terror, we have no alternative but to stop torturing the terrorists.

The neo-cons would suggest that: 1) water-boarding isn't torture; and 2) this war must be fought by non-traditional means. Morality, like everything else, has changed. Cliff May of National Review summarizes:

The point about MAD — Mutally Assured Destruction — is just this: the Soviets were evil but they were rational. Very few were willing to die for the sake of Communism. To a Russian — even one who had become a corrupt, vodka-swilling apartchik — the idea of Moscow devastated by a nuclear attack was terrible to imagine. The consequence of all this was a certain level of restraint.

This point has been brought up before, and while I've never found it terribly convincing, I've spent some time thinking about it. Certainly the existence of suicide bombers seems to offer a new twist. Of course, we've seen this before with the Japanese fighter pilots in WWII. As Churchill discusses in his memoirs, it was only once they knew that the war was lost that they began to resort to suicide attacks. In any event, I think the terrorists actions are different because the Japanese only attacked military targets.

Mr. May is operating on the assumption that the only goal of the terrorists is to kill Americans--and probably Jews, too. But this assumption strikes me as inaccurate. The killing of Americans is not an end; it is a means to an end which we have not properly examined. The Japanese weren't bent solely on the destruction of Americans. Certainly, that was part of the goal, but only because if the Americans suffered enough casualties, the Japanese would win--or at least, not lose--the war.

We need to entertain the possibility that the terrorists are similarly rational. The idea of a devastated Moscow was abhorrent to the Russian Communists; I suggest that the idea of a devastated Mecca is equally, if not more, abhorrent to the Islamic terrorist. As Chesterton once remarked, "The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him." I don't see why this wouldn't apply to the terrorists.

Granted that the terrorist is indifferent to his personal fate, that doesn't mean that he is indifferent to the fate of his loved ones. In point of fact, he cares very much for them; they give purpose to his fight. The terrorists are not atheistic nihilists; they have a definite goal in mind--a Middle East free of American presence, both military and cultural, and no more support for Israel--which should be able to take care of itself. Very rarely, if ever, does hate exist within a vacuum. There is always a good for whose end evil must be extirpated.

Restraint enters in because the terrorists know full well that a nuclear attack on America will be met with violent rebuttal in the form of a reciprocal nuclear attack on Middle Eastern soil. Rudy would probably bomb the entire area; most of the other presidential candidates would hopefully be content to only take out large portions of the area. Such an end does not help the goals of the terrorists.

It is entirely possible that they will strike America again, but I think it unlikely. They are winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Buchanan points out in his new book, the misguided interventionism of Bush in the former country brought Al-Qaeda back from the dead. In the long run, our attempts at playing at empire are unsustainable; when we are finally forced to remove all of our troops from the region, Osama will have won his war. A nuclear attack on American soil will not help him achieve victory; if anything, it will completely remove its possibility. The prospect of victory will ensure that Osama exercises a "certain level of restraint".

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