If jihadists got a nuke into a major American city and set it off, should we nuke Mecca? And should we put the deadly serious threat out there as a deterrent before they strike? Alan Stewart Carl at The Yellow Line says no, never. Michael Reynolds at The Mighty Middle says yes, and here's why. Good thinking on both sides -- and raging debate in the Comments.
A sample: Here's Carl, preferring the moral high ground:
I agree completely that moderate Muslims need to do be more vocal and forceful in condemning the Islamic fascists in their ranks. But [U.S. Representative Tom] Tancredo’s [R-CO] suggestion that the threat of brutal force will motivate moderate Muslims to act in our interest, is small-minded. Bombing Mecca or Medina simply cannot be an option just like, during the height of IRA terrorism, bombing Rome was never considered a viable option, despite the fact that many Catholics around the world tacitly or directly supported the IRA.
Tancredo is right that moderate Muslims need to be more forcibly on our side. But intimidation is the worst way to win allies and his suggestion that we threaten to his Islamic holy sites is obscene.
And here's Reynolds, from the war-is-hell school:
Q. Didn't deterrence work against the Russians only because they were rational actors who could be relied on to do the math and see that it was a losing proposition? And aren't the leaders of Al Qaeda and their government associates, supporters and etc... all crazy as loons and thus impossible to deter?
A. No. There is nothing remotely crazy or suicidal about the Al Qaeda leadership. Osama Bin Laden, you will notice, is doing his very best to stay alive. The suicidal aspects of Jihad are confined to low-level foot soldiers. There is no reason to believe that Al Qaeda leadership's goal is fundamentally different than the goal of the Nazis, the Communists, or any other aggressive, militant ideology: power. . . .
Q. All it will do is make them hate us more.
A. Terrorism doesn't grow from hatred. It grows from a sense of possibility. It feeds on hope. This began, I would suggest, with the Afghan/Al Qaeda victory over the Soviets. They saw that they had power. Ditto Somalia. Ditto the first World Trade Center bombing and the USS Cole and Khobar Towers and 9-11 and Madrid. The Jihadists are gaining power. That "progress" inspires others to join them. It is the reason terrorists persisted for so long against Israel, and the reason that terror is receding there now: at first they hoped they might win, and now, with Israel building a wall, they have begun to realize that they won't win.
Americans are great believers in "defiance." The truth is that most people are not defiant by nature, most people are survivalists. They will do what they have to do to survive. Including, submit to conditions they claim they will never submit to. We don't have Native American terrorists, or Mexican terrorists, or Confederate terrorists today because none of those groups were given any hope of regaining what we had taken from them.
It's not hate that breeds terror, it's hope, and a weak enemy.
I have to say, I have a lot of trouble countering Michael's arguments. I'm off to read more of the Comments to see if anyone can do it.
UPDATE: Michael gets into Alan's comments, and they go at each other directly, Michael being quite meek about his bellicose option, and Alan being quite fierce about his rationality and restraint:
Alan to Michael:
We were at war with Japan. A nation-vs-nation war. We are not at war with Saudi Arabia, and yet you want us to threaten to nuke a Saudi city?
You think because Pakistan has not cooperated enough with us, we have the right to threaten to obliterate the people of Mecca?
You think by destroying Islam's holiest site it will somehow crush al Qaeda's will? Would it crush your will if they blew up Washington, DC? Or would it make you want to fight harder? Can you even envision what the world would be like if we nuked Mecca?
I'm sorry. I'm aghast at the number of people who seem to think this is anything more than a terrible idea. A deterrent only works if it's a reasonable option. Nuking Mecca is not a reasonable option. It's not a moral option. It's not a militarily strategic option. It's a darkly angry option that cares not if an entire populace is killed and an entire religion punished--so long as someone pays.
Michael back to Alan:
Obviously I am uncomfortable being on this side of this issue. Everyone I like is on the other side.
That having been said, I think the a threat against Mecca is no more morally unacceptable than our longstanding threat to, in effect, obliterate human civilization rather than submit to communism. Nor, I would argue, is it more morally questionable than annihilating Nagasaki, a Japanese town of no military significance that was actually a center of Japanese Christianity, because we thought it would hasten the end of a war whose outcome was clear.
Reasonable people can argue that both instances (Hiroshima/Nagasaki and the Cold War) were morally reprehensible. But I don't see why a threat against a largely symbolic target with a population of 360,000 or so, is on a different moral plane than a threat to end human civilization as we know it, or morally inferior than an unheralded attack using an unknown super weapon.
Awful? Of course. Fundamentally different? I don't personally see why.
UPDATE II: The following comment posted here by Richard Lawrence Cohen strikes me as so dead on that I want it up front:
"Speak softly and carry a big stick." I don't recall that during the Cold War the US and the USSR, at times of crisis such as October, 1962, made a practice of publicly threatening to annihilate each other. In fact government officials tried to downplay the possibility in public. Yet everyone knew it could be done and might be done. That was the deterrent -- not noisy threats. In contrast, the Bush administration and its suporters have made a practice of speaking loudly and using a small stick (e.g. boasting of "shock and awe" but not providing enough troops, enough armor), or the wrong stick (e.g. attacking a country that wasn't a credible threat, based on concocted evidence). The threat to nuke Mecca belongs to this pattern. It sounds desperate and shrill, an emotional acting-out rather than a reasoned policy. Therefore it is actually not a powerful threat, and is likely to arouse an equally desperate and shrill response.
Besides, everyone already knows we can nuke the entire Arab world if it comes to that.
Having said this, I also want to say that I understand and share the frustrations of the people who are supporting the threat. I especially share their frustration at their liberal opponents. Throughout this crisis, beginning 9/11, the left-wing position has seemed to amount to doing nothing, to replying to terror with gentle compassion and tolerance. This allows the left to take the moral high ground in debates. It's a very attractive stance, undoubtedly gratifying to those who take it. But it is completely, absolutely useless. It would be suicidal for an entire society to take that position. Until the left states a pragmatic, effective way of defeating terrorism, the center will be drawn to the right.
UPDATE III: Another interesting piece of this debate has gone on at The Glittering Eye. I think I posted my own last word on the subject in the comments there. I'll stick it here just for the record:
My own hunch as I think more about this is that nuking Mecca would have the effect on the Ummah that the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 had on the Serbs -- a galvanizing "Never Forget" effect lasting centuries . . . essentially, forever. There is a strain of masochistic reveling in victimhood in Islam (if you're a victim, after all, you need never take responsibility for your failure) that may even make some Muslims wish we would nuke Mecca. Even bringing the idea up reinforces the propaganda and perception that we're waging a war of civilizations rather than a war of all civilized people against extremism. I really think we have to shame moderate Muslims into actively turning against terrorists, who are, after all, slaughtering many more of their own in Iraq than of ours.
In interrogation, the "bad cop" drives the suspect into the arms of the "good cop," whose gentleness and understanding is what finally makes the suspect break. He can harden himself against hardness, but softness shatters his defenses. Something like this is true in policy too. We need our "good cop" aspect at least as much as our "bad cop" aspect. We need to offer welcome and reward to the potentially sane, to make them feel relieved and overjoyed to "come in."