Answering the Question

Kevin Drum in The Washington Monthly has an article that starts out talking about how the Democrats don’t want to discuss security issues. He points out that 38% of the Republican delegates to this year’s national convention mentioned security subjects, while only 4% of the Democrat delegates wanted to talk about them. He then goes on to list four topics that should be included in any serious discussion of the danger of Islamic totalitarianism.

So I figured, what the hell? It’s worth a post. It’s not like anyone will bother to listen, anyway. Kevin wants a Liberal to address these issues (which I’m not), and anyone else will dismiss my opinion since I don’t have a string of letters after my name.

1) Nuclear terrorism. Kevin has a few questions about this.

“How likely is it that a terrorist group could really acquire a nuclear weapon? And deliver it? And what’s the best way to stop it?”

That’s pretty easy to answer. Various hard-core groups of fanatics (Islamic and otherwise) have been trying to get their hands on a nuclear weapon since they were first invented in 1945. So far they’ve all failed.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s time for high fives all around while we turn our attention to more pleasant pastimes. Nations under the iron-handed control of dictators have been getting ever closer to being able to produce their own nukes. Many of these states support terrorist activities, either covertly or directly. If one of these countries manages to build a nuclear arsenal, the possibility that a terrorist group could get one rises.

So the answer is that it’s not very likely that a terrorist will manage to procure a nuke now, but the odds are increasing at an ever accelerating pace. Unless something changes, eventually it will become a certainty.

What’s the best way to deny nukes to terrorists? Make sure that the states which support terrorism can’t build them. If they won’t agree to stop any nuclear development programs, and if they won’t let inspection teams on their soil to make sure that they’re complying, then the options become rather limited.

2) Garden variety terrorism Kevin asks…

“Aside from the nuclear scenario, what’s the actual danger from terrorist groups like al Qaeda? 9/11 was due to luck and poor foresight, but now that we know the danger how much military harm can they really do to us? How much economic harm? And how likely is it?”

I’m not a bodyguard, instead teaching people how to defend themselves from violent attack. One of the many things that I tell my students is that the toughest part is keeping alert. You wait and plan and keep your head up, waiting for something that never seems to happen. And, of course, since criminals prefer to attack helpless people you’re helping fend off potential attacks by simply looking at everyone who walks by you.

But it wears you down. Eventually you drop your guard and, still, nothing happens. After awhile you realize that you haven’t bothered to go to the shooting range or the karate dojo in months, but since nothing’s happened you still don’t bother to go.

Then something happens, and even if you survive your life and the person you once were are destroyed forever.

That’s pretty much the way it is today. The odds of a successful, large-scale terrorist attack on US soil are remote simply because we’re all hyped up and waiting for it. But, inevitably, our attention is going to wane, funding for law enforcement with an anti-terrorism focus will dry up, and the oppurtunities to launch such an attack will multiply. Before that happens we have to destroy large, well funded, international terrorist networks like al Queda. If we don’t, then the odds of another 9/11 are too great to bear.

3) Expansionism. “Do Islamic extremists really have much interest in anyplace outside the Middle East? To the best of my knowledge, no Islamic country in the greater Middle East has ever invaded or shown the slightest interest in invading a country that wasn’t a neighbor. Is Islamic extremism fundamentally expansionist, like fascism and communism, or not?”

Islamic fundamentalists don’t really care about any place outside the Middle East, but it’s most definately a rabidly expansionistic philosophy.

den Beste wrote an essay about this very subject two years ago. I won’t presume to try and repeat what he so competently explained, so I’m just going to include the link and ask everyone to go read what he has to say.

4) Oil. “Nobody wants to talk honestly about this, but it’s obviously the reason we care about the Middle East in the first place and don’t care much about, say, sub-Saharan Africa — and therefore care about Islamic totalitarianism but not sub-Saharan totalitarianism.”

Kevin has a point here, but he seems to miss the big picture. It’s true that the presence of oil in countries that breed and support terrorist organizations makes us sit up and take notice, but the core issue here is that the resources that petrodollars bring to the terrorist organizations make them a threat. We care less about sub-Saharan totalitarianism because they can’t reach us, and they don’t have the means to significantly hurt us if they could.

To counter the way that oil drives our technology and economy, Kevin also brings up the usual Liberal solutions of conservation and alternative energy sources. This ignores the fact that alternative energy sources don’t produce the amount of power we need at anything approaching a reasonable expense.

He also seems unaware that conservation efforts and methods have advanced in leaps and bounds in the last 30 years but it’s still not enough. Nowadays having a small car that gets less than 30 MPG means that there’s something wrong with it. Anyone remember days when it was considered pretty good if a car got 12 MPG? I do. But I haven’t noticed a reduction in our dependence on oil.

So, anyway, there you have it. The only reasonable way that I can see to meet these challenges is to have a foreign policy identical to that of the Republicans. I think this is the main reason that the Democrats refuse to talk about it.

5 thoughts on “Answering the Question”

  1. “Islamic fundamentalists don’t really care about any place outside the Middle East . . .”

    Now, probably not. However, if they are interested in their neighbors, eventually there could be a concern. Turkey is a neighbor, then there’s Greece, followed by Italy, and so on. Eventually, we could all be neighbors.

    The Moors did conquer most of Spain from 711-718 and if the fundamentalists want to make a return, then Portugal and France would be neighbors, then Belgium, Germany, England . . . This may take 100 years. It may take hundreds of years.

    Colin Powell was asked what bin Laden wanted, and said OBL would be satisfied if we all packed up and moved off the planet.

    The only other options were to convert or die. The thugs take the long view. We MUST do no less.


  2. “Islamic fundamentalists don’t really care about any place outside the Middle East . . .”

    Many Islamic fundamentalists live in Europe and North America. And many other places besides the Middle East.

    And Islamic fundamentalists have pursued violent attacks on non-Muslims in recent years in places like the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines.

    Is Islamic extremism fundamentally expansionist, like fascism and communism, or not?”

    I’d say yes.

  3. Vigilance helps, but i’m not sure it’s enough. Don’t forget the power of indirection, whether you are thinking sleight of hand, chess or miltary tactics.

    We were pretty vigilant about handling the airline hijacking scenario, until someone came up with a whole new way of profiting from it that our procedures did not cover.

    I noticed in Boston that the subways changed some after the sarin attacks in Tokyo, and changed more after Madrid. Are there other mass transit oriented attacks? How about something short term, like just tearing up tracks the way the reds and whites did in Russia just before the Soviet Union? Plenty of economic disruption and media attention, though no loss of life.

    Our communications infrastructure hasn’t been touched, except by the flood of messages from Sept 11th. There has to be something clever in there. Actually, it’s where i expected “the second shoe to fall”.

    Vigilance will help…

    Matya no baka

  4. The “problem” with conservation is that it makes things cheaper. As a result, people use more of them. Energy is a pretty universal input. The result of conservation is to make us richer and consumer more, but rarely is it going to decrease our actual use.

  5. “How likely is it that a terrorist group could really acquire a nuclear weapon?”

    If we include “dirty bombs”, probability is ONE.
    The world has changed since 1945, and there is a lot of radioactive material used in normal industrial processes. This is why the inelegant WMD terminology must be maintained. A modern factory that can divert chlorine or insecticide to poison gas; a pharmaceutical factory than can divert vaccine stocks to biological weapons; or a hospital that can provide radioisotopic “sources” to seed fallout to an otherwise conventional explosive are all trivially in the hands of terror nations or groups.

    Timothy McVeigh was not a boy genius. Dylan Klebold wasn’t either. Aum Shinrikyo were not state-supported military industrialists. Basque “ETA” bombers aren’t Green Berets. It’s just NOT THAT HARD to assemble destructive material. What may be hard is for destructive personalities to avoid police attention. But “police” are a relatively new concept in civilization — before that the world knew only soldiers.

Comments are closed.