Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 9, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TERRORISM AND NUKES....Peter Beinart responds to my response to his original article about Democrats and terrorism today. I've got a few quibbles with his reading of my piece, but nothing serious enough to blog about. Instead, I want to highlight the final two paragraphs of today's piece:

This February, then-CIA Director George Tenet noted that Al Qaeda documents discussed how to assemble and use a chemical weapon or a dirty bomb. According to the 9/11 Commission, Al Qaeda has been trying to acquire a nuclear device for ten years with the United States "a prime target." No one knows how close they are. But, in his book Imperial Hubris, Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit, writes, "No one should be surprised when bin Laden and Al Qaeda detonate a weapon of mass destruction in the United States."

If Scheuer's prediction comes true, the consequences for individual rights will be terrifying. Which is to say this: The fight for national security is the fight for liberal values, not merely in the Muslim world, where fanaticism has already blighted countless lives, but also at home, where threats to American safety almost inevitably spawn threats to American freedom. Totalitarian Islam has already damaged both, and unless defeated, the damage could be exponentially worse. What more do liberals need to know before they make this fight their own?

I don't have time to respond to this at length right now, but I do think it's worth drawing attention to. The threats from global terror are varied, but it's the threat of nuclear terror that puts it in a league of its own. And as Beinart implies, the potential damage from a nuclear strike is more than just human lives: it could also provoke a massive retreat from liberalism and civil liberties among the American population.

This oddly echoes Tommy Franks, who said last year that a nuclear attack could cause Americans "to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass casualty-producing event." Franks was pilloried for that comment, but I don't think he was suggesting that martial law was a good idea. Rather, he was suggesting that it was a horrible but chillingly predictable reaction to a massive attack.

Unfortunately, nuclear proliferation really doesn't seem to be very high on George Bush's agenda, and this is a place where I think a liberal response to terrorism could be quite different from the conservative response. In fact, it already is; it just needs to be embraced a little more fervently by the liberal community. It's good policy and good politics.

Kevin Drum 3:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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