»  National Review Online

March 10th, 2003

  Night Thoughts


The Bottom Line.  The bottom line in the current geostrategic situation is the one set out by blogger Noah Millman and our own Stanley Kurtz. In the Cold War, we (not much at risk thanks to Mutual Assured Destruction Doctrine) defended states like Germany, Turkey and South Korea (threatened with invasion). In the Terror War, we (highly at risk from smuggled WMD) depend on states like Germany, Turkey and South Korea (not much at risk because nobody thinks they are the Great Satan) to help us deal with Al Qaeda and that organization's potential suppliers.

• Cold War —

Uncle Sam:  Say, do you mind if we station troops and stuff on your soil?
Nephew:  What's in it for us?
U.S.:  Well, (a) it will deter the communists from overrunning you, and (b) if anything nasty does happen, we'll fight alongside you.
Nephew:  Okay, sounds good. Hey, thanks!

• Terror War —

Uncle Sam:  We need to use your soil as a staging area for an attack on your neighbor — the one that's busily producing WMDs, which they will undoubtedly pass on, or sell, to Al Qaeda and the like to use against us.
Nephew:  But if we do that, the terrorists will target us, too.
U.S.:  Oh, don't worry. If we take out your neighbor, the terrorists won't have any really nasty stuff to use against you.
Nephew:  But if we flip you the bird, they won't bother us at all!

Some time after 9/11, George W. Bush was sitting in a room with his National Security and Intelligence people, asking them: "How much worse a thing might happen? What might we have to deal with?" They told him: "We could lose a city." Not on my watch, thought (and quite possibly said) the President.

But how do we prevent it? We hunt down the terrorists as best we can. That, however, is like killing roaches — there are always more, always more. So we put out of business those regimes that might supply the terrorists with seriously unpleasant ordnance. The "Axis of Evil" speech followed.

But how are we going to put, say, North Korea out of business, when none of the neighboring countries will help us? When, in fact, from motives of perfectly rational self-interest, they are determined to do what they can to hinder us?

The logic all points one way: to nuclear weapons. The only way to put North Korea out of business without South Korea's co-operation is by attacking their emplacements along the DMZ with neutron bombs ("enhanced radiation weapons"). Nothing else does the job without precipitating an invasion of South Korea. We have to take out the Yong-byon reactor, too, and since doing that would probably trigger the aforementioned invasion, and since nuclear weapons are the only sure way to thwart that invasion, we may as well go nuclear on Yong-byon too.

If we don't do any of this, sooner or later we shall lose a city to a smuggled nuke, which we would not likely be able to pin on any particular country. Sure, North Korea would be a prime suspect, but rogue Russian generals and Pakistani scientists would be in the picture, too. Either we break the nuclear taboo, or else someone breaks it over our heads; and if the latter, we may very well have no meaningful response to make.

And that's just thinking about North Korea. Then there is Iran. In a way, Iran is an even more difficult situation. Things could not possibly be worse than they are in, or with, North Korea; and there is not the faintest sign of any improvement in that wretched country. With Iran, by contrast, there are lots of hopeful signs. The people are fed up with Ayatollah rule, and trending towards a rational system of governance. Even so, should we let them get nukes? My answer would be no. Even if our taking action sets back all these hopeful signs? Yes, even if. I don't believe, in fact, that at this point, we should let any more nations get nukes. Not desperate nations, not hopeful nations, not our best friends. God knows, we have enough problems festering here.

What's that you say? Iraq? Oh, Iraq …

Get out of the U.N.  Or at the very least, suspend our membership, withdraw our ambassador, stop funding U.N. insitutions, and suspend all co-operation. If all these nations that, for the maintenance of international order, ought to be supporting us, will not do so, from reasons of national self-interest — well, then, let us pursue our national self-interest, without any further consultation with them. Our national self-interest demands that we act swiftly to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorist-friendly nations. Good: let's do it.

It is now clear, I think, that going to the U.N. over Iraq was a deadly mistake, that will cost American lives. We have all heard the rationales on offer — we had to do it to keep Blair on board, etc., etc. — and it didn't look as idiotic last fall as it looks now. I'm not going to fault the administration on this one, but I am going to say: Enough! When you have made a blunder like this, get out of it as swiftly and gracefully as you can, and get back on the right course. We don't need Blair, we don't need anybody. We can take out Yong-byon, annihilate the North Korean armed forces, and bring down Saddam Hussein, all inside a month. Let's do it. Let's roll.

How We Came to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  A month after 9/11, I posted a piece on this site with the title "Kinder, Gentler Warmaking." In it, I raised the genteel, monocled specter of Sir Kingsley Wood:

In the fall of 1939, during the early weeks of what in England was called "the phony war" (the Germans called it sitzkrieg — "the sitting-down war"), there was an illuminating exchange in the House of Commons. Some Members of Parliament were putting pressure on Sir Kingsley Wood, the head of the Air Ministry, to bomb German munitions stores in the Black Forest. Sir Kingsley was shocked. "Are you aware it is private property?" he protested. "Why, you will be asking me to bomb Essen next!" Essen was the home of the famous Krupp munitions factories.

Four year later, I observed, we were fire-bombing German cities, slaughtering civilians like (to borrow a Chinese idiom) grass before the scythe. That, I pointed out, is the coarsening effect of war. I wondered when in the current War on Terror that effect would kick in.

There are signs it already has. Rumsfeld has deliberately not ruled out the use of nukes in Iraq. The above-mentioned commentators, both very sober and thoughtful types, have both mulled over the use of nukes in North Korea. The inhibitions are crumbling. If an American city goes up, those inhibitions will blow away like chaff in the wind. It will be 1945 again, and the nuclear taboo will be in the trashcan of history, along with Sir Kingsley Wood.

A few months ago, one of our writers here on NRO made a jokey aside that included the phrase "nuke Mecca." This brought down on his head all the wrath of all the humorless po-faced guardians of propriety. National Review wants to nuke Mecca! Those crazy conservatives! Now, personally, I am very strongly opposed to nuking Mecca, and to the best of my knowledge, all my colleagues here at NRO feel the same. (Though an alarming number of my e-mail correspondents have a different opinion.) Yet a few months ago, talk about nuking anyone was pretty much out of court. Now sober analysts are discussing the merits of neutron bombs. Even without any large-scale combat having taken place, you see the moral slippage. This is war, this is what happens.

A few weeks ago I was in the company of a distinguished American historian, a man of deep learning with a shelf-full of books to his name. It was around the time that the terrorists tried to shoot down an Israeli airliner in East Africa. We speculated on the possibility of terrorists here in the U.S. getting hold of a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft rocket launcher, and bringing down a civil airplane on U.S. soil. "If that happens," said my historian friend in all seriousness, "we'll be re-visiting Korematsu." He was referring to a 1944 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court upheld the right of the federal government to remove U.S. citizens of Japanese descent from West Coast invasion zones for "the prevention of espionage and sabotage." Moral slippage. This is war.

Staring at our sinewy thigh.  The attitude of the Europeans is not entirely a matter of rational self-interest, mind. There are other things going on, things to do with our military pre-eminence, and their utter military hopelessness.

Did you see that piece in USA Today about the difficulties American tourists are having in European countries?

From Spanish plazas to Parisian metros, American tourists are being quizzed, grilled and even spat on by people who do not approve of the Bush administration's drive for a war against Saddam Hussein …

I read it in my morning browse-around of the news the other day. Then I moved on to something else, and the tourist thing drifted gently down towards the sludge at the bottom of my mind.

Before it got there, though, I happened to read some other piece in which Ernest Hemingway's phrase "the sinews of war" cropped up. That triggered some process of word association. The USA Today piece floated back to the surface (did you ever get that feeling that an extended metaphor just isn't working?), bringing with it Yeats's poem "On Those that hated The Playboy of the Western World."

The occasion of this poem was as follows. The playwright, John Millington Synge, was a protégé of Yeats. The poet had persuaded him to come back from Paris to help revivify Irish theater. However, Synge's 1907 drama The Playboy of the Western World proved too strong for the taste of bourgeois Dubliners, and got a bad reception. Yeats wrote this poem in defense of his friend, and in mockery of the play's critics. Here is the entire poem:

Once, when midnight smote the air,
Eunuchs ran through Hell and met
On every crowded street to stare
Upon great Juan riding by:
Even like these to rail and sweat
Staring upon his sinewy thigh.

"Juan" of course refers to Don Juan, the legendary lover, who could do to wild excess what those eunuchs could not do at all. Which brings us back to those railing, sweating Europeans.

Closing down China.  China's communist dictators care about one thing only: staying in power. To stay in power, they have to keep the economy moving forward. To do that, they have to maintain, and if possible increase, their exports to the U.S. The communist regime is entirely dependent on our willingness to buy Chinese goods. If we embargoed Chinese goods, many American firms would go out of business. The prices of many things would rise, though other Third World suppliers would soon fill the gaps. The effect on China, however, would be a thousand times more dramatic. Their economy would collapse.

Memo to Hu Jintao: If the U.S. loses a city to some terrorist group, via a weapon that would not have been made if you had helped us shut down the Kim Jong-il regime, or via a weapon you sold, or helped someone develop — if that happens, pal, it will be around a hundred years before any American ever again buys any object stamped MADE IN CHINA.