Is there no screed of rabid hysteria too dumb for the New York Times Op Ed page? I have my doubts. Following on the learned scare stories of Benny Morris and Edward Luttwak, we’re now asked to take seriously the venerable Jeffrey Goldberg, who clearly has gone off his meds and is asking us to believe that the only — yes, the only — issue that should decide the American presidential election is the question of which candidate is better equipped to stop terrorists acquiring a nuclear weapon…
Where do they find these fevered people?
The nuclear destruction of Lower Manhattan, or downtown Washington, would cause the deaths of thousands, or hundreds of thousands; a catastrophic depression; the reversal of globalization; a permanent climate of fear in the West; and the comprehensive repudiation of America’s culture of civil liberties.
Many proliferation experts I have spoken to judge the chance of such a detonation to be as high as 50 percent in the next 10 years. I am an optimist, so I put the chance at 10 percent to 20 percent. Only technical complications prevent Al Qaeda from executing a nuclear attack today. The hard part is acquiring fissile material; an easier part is the smuggling itself (as the saying goes, one way to bring nuclear weapon components into America would be to hide them inside shipments of cocaine).
Jeff, you optimist, you! You should leave the Dungeons and Dragons proliferation crowd sometime and step out into the sunshine. “Only technical complications prevent Al Qaeda from executing a nuclear attack today…” Is the New York Times edited by complete cretins?
Only technical complications prevent my neighbor who smokes those horrible cigars from trading in his pit bull for a nuclear weapon. Only technical complications prevent me from turning my bicycle into a Maserati. And, technical complications aside, if my grandmother had had wheels, she’d have been a bus.
Even the Times’ often annoying Tom Friedman has tried to impress on his readers the fact that 9/11 was a long time ago, and if it becomes the organizing principle of American politics, America will be left behind in the 21st century. In one of his better columns after the Beijing Olympics, Friedman wrote:
As I sat in my seat at the Bird’s Nest, watching thousands of Chinese dancers, drummers, singers and acrobats on stilts perform their magic at the closing ceremony, I couldn’t help but reflect on how China and America have spent the last seven years: China has been preparing for the Olympics; we Americans have been preparing for Al Qaeda. They’ve been building better stadiums, subways, airports, roads and parks. And we’ve been building better metal detectors, armored Humvees and pilotless drones.
The difference is starting to show. Just compare arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the 220-mph magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.
Then ask yourself: Who is living in the Third World country?
Yes, if you drive an hour out of Beijing, you meet the vast dirt-poor third world of China. But here’s what’s new: The rich parts of China, the modern parts of Beijing or Shanghai or Dalian, are now more state of the art than rich America. The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer. And, I repeat, they did not get all this by discovering oil. They got it by digging inside themselves.
I realize the differences: We were attacked on 9/11; they were not.
We have real enemies; theirs are small and mostly domestic. We had to respond to 9/11 at least by eliminating the Qaeda base in Afghanistan and investing in tighter homeland security. They could avoid foreign entanglements. Trying to build democracy in Iraq, though, which I supported, was a war of choice and is unlikely to ever produce anything equal to its huge price tag.
But the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging. When you see how much modern infrastructure has been built in China since 2001, under the banner of the Olympics, and you see how much infrastructure has been postponed in America since 2001, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it’s clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to nation-building in America.
Duh! If America bases its foreign policy on terrorism, it will have allowed a handful of dangerous cranks to dramatically accelerate its decline as a superpower through self-inflicted wounds. So, when I read lines like this one from Goldberg —
The next president must do one thing, and one thing only, if he is to be judged a success: He must prevent Al Qaeda, or a Qaeda imitator, from gaining control of a nuclear device and detonating it in America. Everything else — Fannie Mae, health care reform, energy independence, the budget shortfall in Wasilla, Alaska — is commentary.
— I’m inclined to imagine that the New York Times has been taken over by the editors of the Onion. Sorry, but America is not engaged in an existential battle for survival, and to operate as if it is mortally threatened is the ultimate in lemming behavior. The Times ought to know better.