October 26, 2003

Mutual Assured Destruction

I've been thinking for a while that one of the problems the Angry Left has with the War on Terrorism is that they are mentally still stuck with a MAD mindset. It is also interesting to look at the War on Terrorism through a MAD prism, since, to the extent they think rationally about it, our enemies probably perceive us as being bound to its logic, such as it is. While we have largely abandoned key components of MAD as the world has changed, it still has many adherents for whom the tenets of MAD seem permanently etched upon their closed minds. Italicized sections below are heavily paraphrased from the link.

Key components of MAD include:

1. Each side has enough weaponry to destroy the other side and that either side, if attacked for any reason by the other, would retaliate with equal or greater force. The expected result is that the battle would escalate to the point where each side brought about the other's total and assured destruction - and, potentially, those of allies as well.

I'm certain that our enemies don't have enough firepower to destroy us, although they can, or soon will be in a position, to do great and lasting damage. I'm not sure we have the firepower to totally eliminate them (I know we don't have the will, yet), but we can greatly inhibit there ability to act. The Angry Left, on the other hand, is always going on about cycles of violence and how any act of self defense we take is actually creating more terrorists.

2. Assuming that neither side would be so irrational as to risk its own destruction, neither side would dare to launch a first strike as the other would launch on warning (also called fail deadly). The payoff of this doctrine was expected to be tense but stable peace.

Well, the US (and the rest of the Western World) showed repeatedly that we would not respond in kind, or worse, with each "first strike," which led to ever more frequent and more massive attacks. Of course, with the advent of suicide bombers, this would seem to be a moot point, or at least one unworthy of serious consideration. And yet, the Angry Left doesn't even want us to fight back when terrorists have been irrational enough to strike first (and second, and third...). Oh, we're tense alright, but stability and peace are now a long way away.

3. MAD assumes perfect detection, i.e., we must know who did it, and further that everyone will play by the rules. There can be no false positives in the equipment and/or procedures that must identify a launch by the other side, no possibility of camoflaging a launch, and no alternate means of delivery other than a missile.

It's fairly easy to know who's with us, it is much harder to know who's against us and who's merely standing on the sidelines out of fear, cowardice, or active hostility towards us. We are scrupulous about playing by the rules. Clearly, the terrorists are not. One only need compare our treatment of enemy combatants with our enemies treatment of civilians to realize that we are not on the same page, no matter how strongly the Angry Left goes on about the captives at Guantanamo. The Angry Left's different approaches to us and them give double standards a bad name. Can you conceive of any terrorist organization or state trying to get a UN Security Council resolution passed to fly planes into the WTC and the Pentagon, or to release a biological agent in Denver, or to detonate a nuclear weapon anywhere?

As to how an attack might be carried out, well, we don't have suicide bombers in our arsenal, so we will fight back with what we have, whether the terms are "fair" or not -- and I'm certainly glad that we have an overwhelming advantage. The modus operandi of terrorists is to lie, conceal, obfuscate, and camoflage their activities, mostly, and this is key, to inflict terror on civilians. They don't want a fair fight, while we continue to do everything possible to fight fair against them. Heaven help them if we ever find it necessary to take the gloves off.

4. MAD assumes perfect rationality. No rogue states will develop nuclear weapons (or, if they do, they will stop behaving as rogue states and start to subject themselves to the logic of MAD). All leaders with launch capability care about the survival of their subjects. While MAD does not depend on the assumption that the retaliatory launch system will work perfectly, it does depend on the challengable assumption that no leader with launch capability would strike first and gamble that the opponent's response system would fail.

If rationality is required, this would appear to be game over. We might as well take the bastards out because they are not now, nor is there any reasonable expectation that they are going to suddenly become rational. As to rogue states, I'm sure that everyone looks forward to Iran and North Korea possessing nuclear weapons, and submitting to all the protocols the rest of the nuclear community abides by. Right.

Terrorists clearly don't care much about who gets hurt in their actions. That has been amply demonstrated over and over. Of course, caring about your own people also assumes rationality, which they have already discarded -- if they ever had it to begin with, what with logic and all being a "Western" construct of oppression. Strangely enough, the terrorists seem to count on our "response system" failing every time they act. And the Angry Left does everything it can to help fulfill what it would like to believe is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even successes in the War on terrorism, such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, are spun into quagmires and hellholes. Apparently, to the Angry Left, hatred means never having to say you're sorry.

5. MAD assumes an inability to defend. No shelters sufficient to protect population and/or industry. No development of anti-missile technology or deployment of remedial protective gear.

In an historical sense, there is very little that we can do to completely defend against terrorism, except to take the offensive. The old football aphorism that the best defense is a good offense is no longer sufficient -- now the only defense is a good offense. The passengers on Flight 93 illustrated this point perfectly. And it is here that the Angry Left's colors are shown clearly, as they deem it immoral and criminal to take the battle to our enemies. Given the Angry Left's hostility to a Ballistic Missile Defense System, we can also assume that they, once again, want to prevent us from trying to defend ourselves. We must see that most of the Angry Left really doesn't carry a utopian belief that if we beat our swords into plowshares, everyone will go along, get along, and live in perfect peace and harmony. No, the Angry Left actively works against the liberal tradition that America is built on and wants to see it fall.

Transnational progressivism is an attempt to enforce some vision of peace through the sacrifice of our freedom. The talk-talk, don't act, illiberal utopianism statism of institutions like the UN are helping our enemies through sins of ommision, if not outright sins of commission from time to time. Go back and read the Declaration of Independence. We didn't break from Great Britain to secure peace, it was to secure freedom. We all value and desire peace, but some of us refuse to seek it out at the expense of our freedom.

(Note -- this argument is woefully incomplete, but I'm posting it anyway because I don't have the time to give it a proper treatment. Feel free to pick it up and run with it, if you are so inclined.)

Posted by Charles Austin at October 26, 2003 09:55 AM

I have with my own eyes seen Leftists write that MAD with Iraq and Iran with nukes is preferable to the US aggressively limiting the spread of nuclear weapons. They say the Cold War wasn't that bad. (Of course they weren't around then.)

Ironically, to the Left of only 15 years ago, the Cold War and MAD were the most awful things in the world, and it was the Right that thought it wasn't that bad.

Posted by: Yehudit at 04:02 PM

It was not that the Right thought it wasn't bad. It was that the Right realized (correctly) that it was infinitely preferable to the unilateral disarmament the Left wanted (which would have left us, as would now be the case with a rogue nuclear state, subject to any nuclear state's blackmail). Discarding it in favour of an SDI or other defense-oriented strategy was, after all, a policy innovation of the Right from that same time period.

I cannot thoroughly explain why, CWA, but I strongly sense that a nuclear Iran would 'submit itself to the logic of MAD' along with the other nuclear states. After all, Pakistan did, and Iran's leadership *is* showing at least some signs of bending before domestic dissent. A nuclear NK, OTOH, scares the piss out of me. Kim Jong Il is a nutjob.

Posted by: Dodd at 11:45 AM

I've also seen the argument made, in particular that Saddam was susceptible to deterrent. Of course, his previous and ongoing involvement in terrorism didn't seem to be effected by any deterrent effect.

There's also a factor to point #1 that needs to be stressed: A deterrent threat is only effective if it is believable. Our responses to terrorism have been -- until recently -- so uniformly weak that no deterrent threat would ever be believed. The "measured" responses we did make didn't help, but rather made threats even less believable.

Even now, I don't think the terror-supporting states think we're serious. We're still WAY too ambivalent towards terrorists who threaten us.

Posted by: Robert Crawford at 10:04 PM