It looks like I found Chris some friends

Yesterday, I wrote about a very disturbing caller to talk radio named Chris, who expressed no reservations about the use of torture on the families of terrorist suspects. I may be a little late to the game on this story, but it looks as though I've found Chris a kindred spirit in U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo, who speculated about (and apparently advocated) "taking out" or bombing Muslim holy sites such as Mecca if Islamist terrorists ever succeed in detonating a nuclear weapon in the U.S. Given a chance to back down, he has refused to apologize, saying:
When we bombed Hiroshima, when we bombed Dresden, we punished a lot of people who were not necessarily (guilty). Not every German was a member of the Nazi Party. You do things in war that are ugly.
Maybe so, but the actions he mentions were taken against targets with military value as part of a war against established nation-states at active declared war with the U.S., and even then the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima resulted in widespread questioning of whether the death toll of civilians ended up being far higher than the strategic value of the bombing. Besides how repulsive the concept of bombing civilians and pilgrims in response to a terrorist attack would be, attacking these Muslim holy sites would do no harm to the terrorists, serving instead only to destroy most of the sympathy that we would have, as well as inflaming moderate Muslims, who might start to think that maybe al Qaeda is right about us. It would be the ultimate way of shooting ourselves in the foot.

Sadly Tancredo isn't the only one with whom Chris would feel at home. Look at what LaShawn Barber, who appears to have gone totally off the deep end on this issue (and also appears to have disabled TrackBacks and comments for her post), said. (In actuality, many of the comments under her post are actually far scarier than what Barber herself said.) In addition to Barber, there's a vocal contingent from the conservative blogosphere leaping to Tancredo's defense. Even if we accept the claim of these apologists that Tancredo was speaking hypothetically or that he was merely voicing an updated version of the M.A.D. doctrine of the Cold War, his remarks were ill-advised, ill-considered, and both morally and strategically stupid. Fortunately, there is at least one conservative, Hugh Hewitt, who is more in line with my way of thinking on this issue:
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.
I'm still waiting to hear a good answer to that challenge from apologists defending Tancredo. For those who claim it's the M.A.D. doctrine all over again but then say we should consider threatening to bomb Mecca and then in the same breath say that we have to do it because the Islamofascists are fanatical and only understand force, consider this: M.A.D. depended on the assumption that both governments were in general reasonable and self-interested and that, consequently, neither the U.S. nor U.S.S.R. wanted to risk nuclear annihilation. In the struggle with al Qaeda terrorists, that assumption doesn't hold. Even the usually hawkish Captain's Quarters couldn't defend Tancredo's brand of idiocy, finding the concept of what he suggested morally repugnant:
I think the "ultimate response" to Tancredo's apolcalyptic fantasy is that we don't bomb civilians in response to terrorist attacks, no matter how seductive such a response might seem. The idea that the US would retaliate in such a manner should be repulsive to any rational person, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum.
Wise conservatives should distance themselves from wingnuts like Tancredo as quickly as possible. Tancredo scares me more than Chris does, because he's in an actual position of influence, even if not in setting U. S. military policy. Worse, as Donald Sensing points out:
That Tancredo does not set US policy and was speaking only for himself will be completely unknown to al Jazeera’s Muslim viewers and readers of Arab newspapers. Al Qaeda has an effective propaganda machine already, and stupid members of Congress like Durbin and Tancredo make their job all the easier and more effective. Idiocy, it seems, knows no partisan boundaries.
Tancredo may not sent U.S. policy now, but that doesn't mean that he might not rise to a position of more influence in the future. Certainly, he can count on the support of Chris and people like him. And that's what's scary.


  1. I stand by what I wrote.

    And, actually, I did read and comprehend your entire post--unfortunately. My one mistake is perhaps that I didn't harp on the excerpt you just mentioned. It tells me that you entirely missed the point as to why Tancredo's remarks were so repugnant to so many people!

    So friggin' what if Tancredo's not in the chain of command. You can damned well bet that al Qaeda's propagandists won't bother with that point in painting it as U.S. policy. He's a member of Congress, and if he's going to make inflammatory public statements he should at least be better at justifying them or telling us why such a strategy would work.

    The entire rest of your piece, when boiled down to its essence, seems to argue that, because the terrorists are unreasonable and fanatical, that perhaps we should think about doing the unthinkable and retaliate with a dose of their own medicine--because it's the only thing they supposedly understand. These two paragraphs probably hit that essence best of all:

    "The problem is that Mr. Morrissey's response would fail for the same reason that defeating Saddam's army in the field didn't end the violence and terrorism in Iraq. Fanatics are not reasonable people by definition. Those who advocate restraint on the basis of retaining the so-called support of so-called moderate muslims lack the imagination to foresee that those who are currently sitting uneasily on the fence may well jump to the other side of the fence if the West can be forced into a massive depression by a sufficiently devastating attack. It's hard for western capitalists to believe that there are others in the world who don't mind an increase in their own suffering if the wealthy can be made to suffer more. What is unthinkable to us is far more thinkable to even the average moderate muslim than you'd like to believe."

    "That's a serious weakness of approaching every situation from a completely reasonable standpoint. Case in point: the sudden hysteria afoot about even mentioning the word 'Nazi' in the contemporary context. There are still things we can learn from that experience. Does anyone remember the long-ago debate about whether Hitler was an aberration or a natural outgrowth of German culture? Probably not. In our reasonableness, we have excused the Germans for starting two world wars in the space of 25 years, and we have forgotten that Hitler's philosophy was inspired by a long German tradition of anti-semitism and delusions of racial and cultural superiority. Germans who loathed Hitler cheered when he conquered Europe. The number of Islamic enemies of the United States will increase not with every American victory or display of power, but with every American humiliation and defeat. Barbarians do not respond to forebearance but to strength. Fear they understand. Tact they ignore or contemn."

    How many times have we heard similar arguments against one foe or another? The problem with this argument is that attacking holy places in retaliation for a terrorist attack would, in essence, be meeting terror with terror. Personally, I would never want to see the U.S. sink to that level.

  2. If I did not get the point you meant to make from your post, then perhaps you should consider that it might be be partially your fault for not expressing your argument sufficiently clearly. Certainly, when I see people misunderstanding what I write, that's the first question I ask myself.

    What your kind of argument fails to address is what kind of actions will stop the terrorist rampage. Certainly attacking Muslim holy places wouldn't, nor would threatening to attack them do so. Fanatics are notoriously resistant to threats. Similarly, causing mass casualties among the "indifferent" moderate Muslims in retaliation for a terrorist strike would certainly radicalize many of them. Indeed, I would argue that my position is actually more pragmatic than that of the "bomb Mecca" contingent.

    I'll take the fuzzy moral high ground in preference to sinking to the level of our enemy and dealing with indifferent Muslims to radicalizing them into our avowed enemies. You also seem to be pulling the old "washing my hands" ploy, by implying that you aren't really advocating such threats, but that, you know, if a terrorist attack like that ever happened, the American people's thirst for vengeance would demand something like bombing Mecca.

    You apparently have a lower opinion of the American people than I do. I suspect the American people's thirst for vengeance would be manifest itself in going after the people responsible and whatever states sheltered them, as we did in the early aftermath of 9/11 (that is, until our disastrous detour into Iraq).

  3. These comments by Mr Laird are terrifying; they exemplify exactly the attitudes that make so many people hate America. You behave like a playground bully thinking that any argument can be solved by brute force. America may be a powerful country but there are limits to what can be achieved by throwing your weight around like this.

    PS. sorry for posting anonymously; I'm new to this blogging thing, and now a little scared to show my head above the parapet!

  4. I think Mr Tancredo has an interesting point. Fundamentalists really like Islam. What place is most associated with Islam? Mecca! Bombing Mecca would work because it's a central point for Islam.

    Similarly the British are making a huge mistake at the moment. The IRA recently robbed a bank in Northern Ireland making off with over £20m. They're foolishly plodding along trying to find things like evidence, or the people responsible, working with the Garda across the border, that kind of thing. It's a long and slow process.

    Now let's apply the Tancredo principle. The IRA really like money. What place is most associated with money? Wall Street! Obviously the solution to the crime is to take out Wall Street because that's a central point for money. Those pesky IRA terrorists won't be robbing any more banks in a hurry after that. Justice could be done in 24 hours. You could even have have a nice photo-op with Tancredo priming the detonator, or celebrating the delivery of justice with the relatives of the bereaved. I suppose by some fluke the terrorists might not be in Wall Street on that given day, but what are the chances of that?

    I know some cynics would argue that what Al-Qaeda really wants is a Holy War and bombing sites simply because they're Muslim gives them that. Giving into the terrorists and giving them a war, rather than treating their actions as a crime, is a complete and unconditional surrender to their demands. As Al-Qaeda would say: it's not the winning, it's the taking part that counts. There's no shame in coming second in such a war - unless you live in a nation that used to believe justice, rule of law, freedom of religion, that kind of thing.

  5. "read my entry and understood it easily enough" = "agreed with me", apparantly.

    As long as America remains mired in the false dichotomy of kill-or-be-killed the way Robert advocates, things will continue to get worse. But I suppose as long as he enjoys his siege mentality he's okay with that.

  6. There are a few things that I agree with in Robert's post, but he seems to have a slightly different view of the world than I have.

    For example, "confront the states that sponsor terror and if they refuse ultimatums, eliminate their military capability and isolate or depose their regimes." I'm all for that. The coalition that invaded Afganistan and eliminated the Taliban did just that.

    Yet, there is no evidence that Iraq sponsered Al-Qaeda style terrorism. There is little evidence that Iran is doing so now (and the evidence that does exist is suspect). So how does attacking Iraq and targeting Iran eliminate terrorism?

    The main point that Robert seems to miss is that eliminating totalitarian regimes in the Middle East does not assure that democracy will develop. Both recently and historically, we have seen that democracy cannot be forced onto a nation.

    Eliminating an existing government structure creates an opportunity for other groups to assume leadership. The result of the elimination of a regime is usually chaos. This happened in the French Revolution and is happening in Afganistan today. Iraq is a fascinating study of factions developing within a state. Many of these factions have a common cause today to get the Americans out, but as soon as we leave their hatred for each other will resurface.

    Which creates a moral dilemna. Will more Iraqi's die in Iraq if we pull out or if we stay? I don't think anyone has the answer to that one. One thing is for sure, if we pull out, our soldiers will stop dying.

    Stateless terrorism is not anything new. People seem to have forgotten the 1920 Wall Street bombing, supposed to be planted by an anarchist but not funded by any particular foreign nation. Or President McKinley's assassination, also by a stateless anarchist. I dare say that sufficient research would find similar terrorist acts throughout history.

    Terrorism is not going away. Even if the standard of living is the same everywhere, the differences in human beliefs will still lead to fanaticism and eventually, terrorism. Nor is religion, as some writers seem to imply, the sole cause of terrorism. The anarchism movement in the early 1900's was not founded on religious beliefs. (Although the members likely had an analogous idealistic faith in their idea.)

    Torture does not result in accurate information. This has been known for centuries. Torture doesn't even result in confirmation of information. The Inquisition justified torture not as a way to gather information, but as a way to force petinence upon the victim.

    Threats like Congressman Tancredo's against a cultural icon will only make more people of that culture angry. Imagine if the threat was reversed and a terrorist group stated that if we didn't pull out of Iraq they would bomb the Statue of Libery. Would you be frightened or angry? Would citizens of other nations support us or not care?

    Finally, one more quote from Robert, "In our reasonableness, we have excused the Germans for starting two world wars in the space of 25 years," Germany was punished severely after WWI. The Marshall plan after WWII was a deliberate attempt to avoid another conflict later. It was not 'excusing' their behavior.



  7. As a long time Instapunk reader and a language major, I am stunned to see how little comprehension there is here of what he is saying. It is the best written, wittiest, and most insightful blog on the internet.

    Does anyone here remember what just happened in London? That wasn't done by any terrorist, it was done by Muslims. We did not attack them first. They attacked us. We responded appropriately and so far have prevented any additional attacks on US soil.

    Everyone seems to ignore the fact that the Iraq government was in violation of UN sanctions, had thrown out arms inspectors, and supported Palestinian homicide bombers to name a few issues. How many warnings are enough before something should be done? How many people do we wish to see oppressed and starved before we intervene? Should we have left a dangerous megalomaniac alone with all we know about the threat against us?

    As for the comment refuting the statement that we excused the Germans what they had done in two world wars, what war reparations did the US ever receive? We did not participate in the post World War I punishment but after World War II we made certain that the other European countries did not repeat what they had done.

    What other country in recorded history has fought and won wars in other countries and then gone home? I suggest that you really read Instapunk entries and come up with factual disagreements or your recommendations. I don't know what a fuzzy moral high ground is. It seems to me that you must either take the high ground or the low ground, the moral or immoral, but not be a fuzzy peach. It just gets eaten.

    You may indeed be insolent, but you are not respectful. Come to Instapunk and make your comments there.

  8. How am I not "respectful"?

    And, deny it as you and he might, I understood exactly what he was saying and I didn't like it. I'm done arguing what I did or did not understand.

    As for Instapunk, I have better things to do with my time than lurk in his comment section or spend a lot of time looking over his other posts.

  9. Oh, and I can't believe I forgot this. You claim that the President's actions have "prevented' any attacks on American soil. (Apparently they didn't prevent any attacks on British soil, though.) You've set yourself up a difficult position. If there is another attack on U.S. soil, then what will your fallback position be, I wonder?

    In any case, I took the high ground. Sideing with Tancredo or defending him, as far as I'm concerned, is the low ground.

  10. Tancredo makes me embarrassed to be from Colorado.

    Thank you for the post, Orac.

  11. An historical note: there was a raging debate during WWII about bombing Kyoto. Military authorities wanted to take out the historic capital of Japan as a way of "demoralizing" the Japanese, and the discussion only intensified when the atomic bomb planning began. Actual experts on Japan, mostly in the State department, argued successfully that an attack on Kyoto, which had almost no military value whatsoever, would inflame the Japanese and make the military situation worse. Their position held, barely. The war ended; Japan became one of the US's staunchest allies, and the cultural treasures of Kyoto remain a part of the glorious heritage of humanity.

    Now, History isn't destiny, nor does it repeat itself or offer up it's lessons in simple formulas. But anyone who thinks that obliterating valuable cultural and religious sites (not to mention a likely death toll of millions) would be a short-term or long-term success is just not thinking like a primate.

  12. Pat,

    Since I made the claim, I'll reply to the rebuttal.

    The United States was certainly among the nations which were present in the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Versailles after WWI. Woodrow Wilson was one of the "Big Three" who created the provisions of the treaty. The others were David Lloyd George of Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France.

    As for nations which have fought battles and then gone home, in WWII alone, there were several. Including Canada, Austrailia, New Zealand, India, etc.

    Not satisfied with those? Want more historical examples? How about the Greek War of Independance where the British and French intervened? Or the Crimean War where the British and French tried to help the Ottomans (who didn't need it)? Still not satisfied? Study the writings of Sima Qian in the Records of the Grand Historian of China and you will find several instances one state helps another out, then leaves.

    Second, I must have been somewhat unclear because you missed the point of my response. Robert claimed that we excused the historical German anti-semitism. I'm disturbed by what he wrote because it suggests that he thinks Germany should have been punished severely after the war. In other words, we should not have helped rebuild their economy but instead we should have demanded war reparations.

    My point was that we didn't excuse Germany for their actions, but we realized that subjecting an entire nation to poverty for a considerable period of time (say twenty years) in order to pay for the costs the allies incurred during war would just as likely lead to another totalitarian state. We didn't excuse the Germans in any way, but we also didn't punish them as severely as we might have done.

    I'm certain that much of the respect that Germany, Japan and Italy have for Americans was due to our forbearance in taking spoils, not because of our victory.
    One mistake we made in Iraq was by appearing to retain the spoils of war ourselves.



  13. My apologies to Orac in advance, but I'm not planning to be all that respectful to Robert. Or, to put it another way, I'm going to be exactly as respectful as his position deserves.

    Robert is a f---ing moron, and the massive stupidity of his position should be clearly apparent to anyone who has more than two spare neurons.

    Let's assume that it is true that the support we receive from moderate muslims is lukewarm at best. Let's also assume that this provides some sort of aid and comfort to the radicals who are trying to kill as many of us as they can. And let's assume that the terrorists mannage to pull off some sort of attack that causes mega-casualties.

    If that should happen, we will be in a very bad position - one that is even worse than the one that we are in now. For starters, our opportunities take substantial and lasting action against any geographic location that the terrorists have been using for support are reduced due to the large fraction of our ground forces are tied up in a nation that wasn't a major supporter of international, anti-American terrorism until we got there...but I digress. The point is, we will be in a position where we will need to take strong action, effective action, and intelligent action.

    So what do Tancredo, Robert, and other's of their ilk suggest that we do? To put it bluntly, they suggest that we take the biggest, baddest, most massively devistating weapon in our arsenal, point it directly toward our foot, pull the trigger, and claim victory. (It might be more accurate to suggest that their intended point of aim is more proximal and medial, but I didn't want to get bogged down in an argument over the gender-identity of a metaphor.)

    It might be satisfying. It might, at least temporarily, ease the thirst that some will undoubtedly have for vengance - particularly the "kill 'em all and let God sort out the details" type of vengance. It will also cause the number of people actually firing weapons at us to exponentially increase, and it will radically decrease the number of people willing to help us - or even to associate with us.

    That's the main reason to believe that Tancredo has the intellectual capacity of a mildly concussed tadpole, but it's only one of the reasons that Robert is stupid.

    Robert goes on to suggest that Tancredo isn't someone who is going to be making military policy, so his remarks can be defended without having to defend their strategic military value. Here, Robert begins to explore new territory in the merry old land of dumb.

    Robert, Tancredo is suggesting a strategy to use in the war on terror. If the strategy he is suggesting has, in fact, no strategic value (or, more accurately, negative strategic value) then what the hell is there to defend about it? "He's wrong, but it's a good idea anyway"?

    Apparently unaware of the fact that his brain has departed, Robert goes on to prove that there really is such a thing as a stupid question when he says, "what harm is really done by saying what a lot of people are thinking?" Letting the questionable use of the word "thinking" pass, I would point out that, strange as it may seem, there is a slight possibility that some people not fully aware of how our government actually works might assume that Representative Tancredo's views somehow represent the national policy. Is it really a good idea to antagonize people who are only lukewarm in their support of us already?

  14. Its interesting, and disturbing, to see people compare the bomb Mecca idea to MAD. What threatening Mecca is the equivalent of is a policy that said the US would bomb London if the Soviet Union attacked the US, since Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital while living there.

  15. Kev correctly notes that people in both New York and Boston provided various froms of support to the IRA during the height of the troubles.

    Unfortunately, he didn't quite get the analogy right. Tancredo, robert, and the other wingnuts aren't suggesting something along the lines of bombing New York or Boston. The equivalent analogy would be suggesting that because the terrorists and their foreign associates are Catholic, the appropriate response to a devistating act of terror on their part would be to level the Vatican.


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