All the Hysteria That’s Fit to Print, Take II

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?

Goldberg writes:

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.

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22 Responses to All the Hysteria That’s Fit to Print, Take II

  1. Gary says:

    As you know, when William Safire retired, Pinch Sulzberger sought out new conservative voices to bring balance to the Op-Ed page. But now I’m wondering if he has been deliberately choosing those voices to be the nuttiest caricatures of conservative thought possible. He did, after all, hire Bill Kristol.

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  3. I remember attending a nuclear terrorism discussion in London in the early 1990s (93 I think) in which the lead speaker solemnly said he expected a US city to suffer a nuclear attack in the next ten years. Its like fusion power, always 35 years away, but when it actually happens everyone will claim credit for predicting it.

    If they were really so keen to protect the US from nuclear weapons, we would be talking to the Russians more about securing their stockpile anyhow…

  4. Marvelous, esp. the bit about yr grandmother being a bicycle. You possess much more wit than the Op Ed pg. of the Times, that’s for sure.

    One thing I noted in my own blog post about this that Goldberg naturally didn’t call McCain out on, was when the latter grievously erred in claiming that Hamas wishes to destroy the U.S. Why do journalists let the guy get away with saying shit like that that doesn’t even come close to being true??

  5. saifedean says:

    I’ve heard farts that are far more interesting, appealing and intelligent than anything Goldberg has ever written.

  6. Adam says:

    Tony, you didn’t even mention the op-ed that ran in the Times on 9/10 where Ronen Bergman (correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth) offered the ominous warning that Al Qaeda is shifting their tactics from suicide bombing to (gasp) attaching bombs to dogs and training them to attack US soldiers. With apparently a straight face Bergman warned “So, while an end of suicide terrorism might seem like a good thing for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bad news is that the extremists seem to be well on their way to mastering all sorts of new technology such as using dogs.” We must warn all Americans that many of us are hosting this fifth column in our own homes!

  7. spyguy says:

    It is time for everyone to get real.

    According to, there are lots of unaccounted for nukes laying around in the old soviet republic where there are lots of people that would sell tehir grandmother, let alone a nuke.

    If some one has enough money, they can probably get a nuke from any number of places (as the movie Last Best Chance so graphically illustrates).

    So, will some city in the world get nuked within the next 25 years? Probably yes. But I suspect the entire world will hunt down the people that did it and make them pay very quickly for their actions.

    BTW – when a nuke does go off, it will probably not be lit off by a jihadist, what ever that is.

  8. aaaaaaa says:

    So we shouldn’t worry about nuclear terrorism because…why exactly? It’s like you completely skipped argument and supporting evidence in favor of assertion and ridicule.

  9. Tony says:

    Oh, we can worry about nuclear terrorism, but it’s not an overwhelming priority by any stretch of the imagination (which is what Goldberg was saying, that it was THE priority) — and by addressing other strategic challenges in a sensible way we can diminish prospects for nuclear terrorism, rather than ignoring those to deal with the still pretty abstract menace of a terrorist nuclear strike…

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  13. Phil says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Friedman’s observation…I’ve heard it put this way: “If the 20th Century was the American century, the 21st Century will be the Asian century.”

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  17. Coon says:

    I, as well, have a very pit-bull who may be the most supportive animal I have ever owned. Quickly, a fresh dog breed will appear together for your media to blast, as they have performed rotties and dobies in earlier years. Unfortunate that media sensationalism breeds a lot inaccurate information.

  18. Adam Zang says:

    Are you ever going to teach a basic retrieve?

  19. mersin emlak says:

    Hi there…Man i just love your blog, keep the cool posts comin..holy Thursday

  20. According to, there are lots of unaccounted for nukes laying around in the old soviet republic where there are lots of people that would sell tehir grandmother, let alone a nuke.

  21. Acrylic says:

    The world is always looking its balance point, once the American enemy is Unisoviet now is Al-Qaeda

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