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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Friday, February 14, 2003

 

Lileks also speaks truth
He may not be St. Augustine, but James Lileks has oudone himself this time. Below is the most stirring and sad call for war I've read. I think it lines up nicely with Bryan McLaren's sermon on war, but with a heavy recognition of its necessity.
What I truly don’t understand are the people who wish to kill everyone in Baghdad. And they’re out there. They want to drop a nuke on Baghdad. You heard me right: just take it out. Every man, woman and child turned to ash and gathered into a black pole, rising like a column that holds up the roof of Hell. Naturally, I heard someone espouse this view on talk radio.

That wasn’t exactly what he said - he wasn’t in favor of war at all, and believed that containment was the answer. He seemed to accept that Saddam would get the bomb he dearly sought, but he wouldn’t be crazy enough to use it. (As if the leverage the bomb grants comes explicitly from using it, as opposed to having it.) But if he did use it, hey, he’d get nuked.

Along with several million weeping vassals, but the caller didn’t point this out.

The scenario is flawed - it assumes that a missile stamped MADE IN IRAQ or perhaps QIL-ROAY WAS HERE makes its way over the US, and we let it land, and then we retaliate. That’s hardly how it would happen. Saddam’s possession of nuclear weapons would have two consequences - he invades Kuwait or Saudia Arabia for all that light sweet crude, announces that he has Bombus Maximus, and dares us do anything. Or he gives one to someone who’ll float it into Baltimore harbor and strike a blow for the Arab world. Or both.

Scenario #1: the chances of assembling a coalition to push him back again would be nil. You’ve heard of the Amazonian butterfly whose wings set in motion a disturbance of the air that eventually leads to a hurricane off North Carolina? The fluttering of hands among EU diplomats presented with the possibility of a war against a nuke-armed Saddam would cause typhoons to swamp every island in the Caribbean. Leave him be! Let him alone! He’ll be satisfied now! We can nuke him if sets one off, but he won’t! He’s in the box - granted, the box has now expanded to include a significant portion of the world’s known oil reserves, but it’s still a box, albeit an oddly-shaped, nuclear-armed one.

Scenario #2: there’s no evidence of Iraqi complicity in the destruction of Baltimore. Hence there is no response. Six months later, however, evidence surfaces. Not ironclad, but persuasive.

Anyone think the US would nuke Baghdad under these circumstances? Were we the big bully bent on EMPIRE, we would have nuked them in ‘91 and spent the last 12 years enjoying dime-a-gallon gas. But that’s not who we are. I don’t believe we’d nuke Iraq after the fact if we had persuasive evidence. That’s not how deterrence works. Deterrence relies on an instantaneous, no-questions-asked response. We see your stuff arcing over the poles, we give the signal to the planes and the boomers and the crews sweating deep in the silos: swap-meet time, boys, see you in the next world. The idea of nuking someone half a year after the fact runs contrary to our nature. Mutually Assured Destruction is a horrible machine - but it only works if the other side realizes they’re the ones who’ll turn the key and give it some gas.

And that’s what made MAD acceptable to some, and lent a cold justification to murder on an unimaginable scale: the other side knows that the barrel pointed at the enemy is also pointed at their own temple. Shoot them, you shoot yourself.

Yes, MAD worked in the Cold War.

Bulletin: this is a hot war.

You can almost imagine how it would play out - would the US would take its evidence to the Security Council to ask for permission to nuke Iraq? It’s not ridiculous to think we would, since that seems to be the squinty aperture through which we have to shove all our big hot bricks. But the idea of Colin Powell demanding that the UN sanction a nuclear reply is preposterous - never mind the automatic veto such a thing would get. It’s impossible to imagine Powell calmly requesting that the world bless cold-blooded mass murder. He wouldn’t do it. Bush wouldn’t do it. The Congress, the American people wouldn’t stand for it. The voices that insisted It’s Clobbering Time would be outnumbered 100 to 1 by those demanding impeachment. MAD, in its awful way, was moral because it made the price of immorality too great to consider. But the Containment argument - hey, if he does nuke us, we can nuke him back - isn’t MAD, it’s just crazy. It presumes we could step back, pause, sift through the intel, then kill a few million people to make a point.

We’d never do it. We’d hold televised benefits for Baltimore. We’d all remember the victims of 5/23. We’d buy the DVD compilations of news footage, archive the papers that landed on our stoops the day after. We’d find life returning to normal, eventually - but we’d never feel at ease again. The worst thing ever had happened, and to our surprise the world hadn’t ended. But the world had changed. Our better nature had prevailed - and we were certain to suffer again because of it, right up until the day we lashed out and became everything we never wanted to be.

The good news: that’s not going to happen.

The bad news: we’re going to war, to make sure it doesn’t.

Agree, disagree, have more information on the topic? Please, feel free to leave a comment. No profanity!
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