Monday, April 17, 2006

Mouthpieces and Nukes

Digby breaks down the lunacy that is Joe Klein's position on the use of tactical nuclear weapons(as seen on Crooks & Liars here).

John at Crooks and Liars caught Joe Klein in a perfect example of shallow, knee jerk, beltway conventional wisdom that has made him the object of ridicule among everybody who observes the punditocrisy.

He goes on about how the young people of Iran love us, blah, blah, blah, but then makes an emphatic point that we must not take nuclear weapons "off the table." Apparently he doesn't understand the difference between nuclear weapons being "on the table" in the event of an attack and nuclear weapons being "on the table" as part of the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptively attacking anyone who looks at us sideways.

Pre-emptive nuclear war has never been on the table. We don't want it on the table. It's, as Stephanopolous exclaimed, "insane." (The look on Klein's face when Steph did that was priceless. It was obvious that he thought he was saying something that everybody but the fever swamps believes is the sober centrist position.)

Klein sounds like he's repeating snippets of cocktail conversation he heard over the decades and just plugs in the one that sounds like it will make him appear to be the most serious. It's ridiculous that he's invited on all these shows when it's clear that he is not following the current debate.
Digby sums up the angle on Klein, so I'll just get into the merits of the argument itself.

Look: a nuke's a nuke. Period. There is hairsplitting over whether or not tactical nuclear weapons really qualify, because they don't do the same kind of damage, but the hairsplitting is essentially meaningless. This is not because of any empirical Truth about the power of nuclear weapons, but because there is a widespread and ironclad consensus on the dividing line that has been made between chemical explosives and nuclear weapons. One is acceptable, the other isn't.

The rule is clear: Thou Shalt Use Nuclear Weapons Only For Defense.

Guess what? It makes perfect sense. there is an upper limit to the amount of damage a regular weapon can do, but there is absolutely none to the upper limit nukes can do. Having the dividing line between the two means that there is no need for anybody to have to make the decision about what level of destructiveness is "acceptable" and what level isn't- the limits on the power of chemical explosives settles that question by themselves.

While the most powerful of regular weapons may do more damage than the weakest of nuclear weapons, using nukes would erase that line, and it would be acceptable for individual countries to decide when and where and how to set their limits. Sure, DoD might make the right choice, but will China do the same? Will North Korea? Will Pakistan? Will every other state or warlord that gets its hands on a nuke down the road be able to legitimately make that decision?

The Republican leadership purport to be conservative. Fine.
That's supposed to involve a respect for tradition. The traditional consensus that rules the use of nuclear weapons beyond the pale exists for damned good reasons, and they need to respect it. They want to find a way to take on Iran, that much is clear. It's a bad idea and I wish them nothing but ill luck in that misbegotten adventure, but whatever happens, we must agree: nuclear weapons are clearly and utterly Out Of The Question.

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