The news that the Pentagon had secret contingency plans to fight terrorism with nuclear weapons has the marks not of considered military doctrine but rather of an infantile tantrum born of the Bush administration's frustration in making good on its overblown promise to end the terrorist scourge.
There is desperation in the air; the giant that is America feels humbled by the Lilliputian terrorists who have not been brought fully to account. There still is not a clear line of command connecting the hijackers with al-Qaida and Taliban leaders whom the president has yet to capture, "dead or alive." Neither has there been progress on the source of the anthrax that killed five people and crippled the U.S. Postal Service, except the disconcerting evidence that this particular evil seems to be homegrown.
Nuclear weapons also are a made-in-the-U.S.A. product, and given that we are the only nation to have used them, one would expect that we would have a special responsibility to eschew their future use.
Instead, the administration's plan not only targets the three "axis of evil" nations -- Iran, Iraq and North Korea -- but Syria, Libya, Russia and China as well.
Consider the absurdity: We risk escalating a worldwide nuclear arms race to nuke a shadow terrorist enemy whose most effective military action to date was begun with box cutters. Clearly, that threat could have been met best by taking the modest steps of maintaining armed air marshals on civilian planes and employing better-trained airport security guards.
Nuking our own or anyone else's airports would not have saved the World Trade Center and the human beings who were there Sept. 11. The hijackers succeeded because our $30-billion-a-year intelligence apparatus failed to perform and we consistently coddled Saudi Arabia's backers of religious hate even after their minions blew up our embassies.
Having squandered the Clinton-led Israel-Palestine peace initiatives, President Bush watched from the sidelines as the Mideast caldron, the source of most of the world's terrorist threats, boiled to overflowing. The enduring terrorist threat has little to do with the caves of Afghanistan and everything to do with the failure to secure the Mideast peace promised by Bush's father's Gulf War.
Clearly, Arab-Israeli peace should be the highest order in a war on terrorism. This administration, however -- whether to gain poll approval or because of its allegiance to military contractors -- has raised the military options above any diplomatic efforts. So why not also throw some nuclear weapons into the mix?
Because it is ludicrous. Does anyone really believe that nuclear weapons might save the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, when it assuredly would incinerate them? Or that targeting Russia and China for potential nuclear attacks would lead those nations to embrace further moves toward nuclear stability and arms control? Or cause them to be less threatened by our announced plan to scrap the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and build a missile defense?
In fact, Chinese or Russian military planners would be attacked by their own hard-liners if they failed to respond to this report by placing even greater emphasis on making their own nuclear forces more robust, survivable and again on hair-trigger alert in anticipation of an American first strike. To encourage heightened fears of U.S. nuclear intentions at a time when the Russians and Chinese are our allies in the war against terrorism is dizzyingly counterproductive.
We need to encourage those countries and other nuclear powers to think of nuclear weapons as dangerous junk that at best will boomerang and destroy all that they care about. As the anthrax example demonstrates, our own investment in weapons of mass destruction can easily turn into our own undoing.
What madness to even entertain the thought that nuclear weapons are anything other than the means to the world's destruction. What we need instead is a U.S.-led worldwide campaign to shun nuclear weapons as inherently genocidal, to effectively end proliferation of nuclear weapons technology and material and to treat those nations that dally in the business of nuclear arms as barbarians in need of restraint.
It is we who have defined rogue nations as those bent on developing weapons of mass destruction. How then can we so cavalierly entertain the idea of again leading the world down the path to nuclear Armageddon?