In a desperate effort to revive his floundering presidential campaign, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo has returned to his unhinged and wildly irresponsible discussion of punitive bombing of Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia.
On “This Week” on ABC, he suggested that such threats against Mecca and Medina could serve to deter Islamic terrorists from staging nuclear attacks on the United States. In the Republican debate of August 5th, Representative Tancredo portentously intoned: “I read the national intelligence estimate. I see what they are planning. And I’m telling you right now that anybody that would suggest that we should take anything like this off the table in order to deter that kind of event in the Untied States isn’t fit to be president of the United States.”
His declaration drew warm applause from the Iowa audience, and many conservatives across the country (including numerous callers to my radio show) feel instinctively sympathetic to any pledge to use decisive force against our Islamist adversaries.
Rational consideration of Tancredo’s proposal, however, leads inevitably, inescapably to one of two conclusions:
1) He wants the United States to make empty threats that no Commander-in-Chief would ever dare to implement, or
2) He honestly expects our government to respond to a devastating terrorist attack with a course of action guaranteed to increase, rather than reduce, the chance of future assaults, while pushing our economy into ruinous chaos.
In the case of the first alternative, all students of history and statecraft understand the terrible danger when a nation makes promises it can’t fulfill, or pledges retaliation that it has no real intention of delivering.
Osama bin Laden has already derided the United States as a “paper tiger” based on our shameful retreats from Vietnam, Beirut, Somalia and, potentially, Iraq. In the event that our government declared its intention to respond to terrorist devastation by bombing Mecca, he and his colleagues might well feel tempted to subject the West to the ultimate humiliation by calling our bluff. Indeed, any calculating terrorist leader would rightly dismiss the possibility that America would actually conduct a devastating bombing raid against our most powerful Arab ally, thereby severely disrupting the flow of oil on which all Western economies depend. After sustaining the incalculable economic damage of a terrorist nuclear attack on American soil, no sane President would want to insure further commercial devastation by dispatching a fleet of bombers against symbolic targets in the nation with the planet’s richest known oil reserves.
The possibility of following through with such an attack remains so remote, so obviously counterproductive, that any pledge to undertake this response would only encourage jihadists to expose the hollowness of our rhetoric and the limitations of our power. In this sense, far-fetched public warnings about obliterating sacred shrines in Mecca and Medina might actually make terrorist violence more likely than ever. Making threats we don’t mean to actualize weakens, rather than strengthens, our national security.
Meanwhile, even a candidate as illogical and immature as Tom Tancredo should be able to calculate the catastrophic impact of a president ordering the actual incineration of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and Mohammed’s tomb in Medina. Every American understands that Islamo-Nazi terror arises from an all-consuming, suicidal rage against the United States – a rage already so powerful that it’s led thousands of “holy warriors” to blow their own bodies into pieces for the sake of murdering innocent Americans.
Representative Tancredo should confront a simple, obvious question about our terrorist enemies: if we turned the holiest sites in all of Islam in smoldering rubble, would their rage against us increase, or decrease?
Even a two-bit demagogue like the Colorado Congressman must acknowledge that anti-American fury in the Muslim world would not only intensify among jihadists, but would spread quickly among those previously identified as moderate or indifferent. If we feel menaced and overwhelmed by Islamic hostility today, one can only imagine the implacable hatred we would produce by deliberately destroying their holy places.
The violent reaction to such destruction isn’t the subject of mere speculation; it’s actually a matter of record. In February, 2006, operatives for al-Qaeda in Iraq exploded bombs that severely damaged the beloved golden dome of the Al Askari Mosque in Samara—an ancient site sacred to all Shi’ites Muslims. As expected – and, apparently, as intended – the Shi’ite response involved a ferocious increase in sectarian violence, with retaliatory slaying of literally thousands of innocent Sunnis. In light of this reaction to the incomplete destruction of a sectarian shrine, why would anyone expect a less violent result from the total destruction of a far holier Mosque in Mecca that’s equally sacred to Shi’ite and Sunni alike?
Among other things, a strike against the sacred cities of Saudi Arabia would fatally undermine our beleaguered and erstwhile allies in the Islamic world. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, for instance, who visited the White House earlier this week, would face new and irresistible pressure to distance himself from the Mosque-destroying infidels, or else share the blame with them for an atrocity against all of Islam.
Al-Qaeda and allied groups try to recruit future holy warriors by claiming that the United States isn’t simply defending itself and its interests, but rather pursues the implacable purpose of destroying Islam itself. Nothing could substantiate and underscore this argument more effectively than U.S. bombing strikes on non-military targets in Mecca and Medina. Destroying sacred buildings never serves to undermine or disarm bloodthirsty hostility, but only helps to mobilize such rage.
In October of 2000, howling Palestinian mobs opted for a Tancredo-like “retaliation” by ransacking one of the holiest sites of Judaism as part of the second Intifida. Without interference from Yassir Arafat’s security forces, these radicals destroyed and ultimately bulldozed to rubble the venerated tomb of the Biblical patriarch, Joseph. Rather than discouraging the Israelis, this wanton destruction of a cherished building stiffened their resolve to resist, obliterated their illusions and helped bring about the landslide election victory of a new, hard-line Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.
Would anyone expect the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims to react with less indignation to the eradication of Mecca and Medina than did Israelis to the obliteration of Joseph’s tomb?
Of course, apologists for the crazed, delusional rhetoric of Tom Tancredo might argue that bombing holy structures in Mecca and Medina represents only the beginning of a new and necessary “no more Mr. Nice Guy” strategy for the United States – an appropriate but insufficient retaliation for terrorist excesses by Islamists. According to such logic, the American military ultimately will move from blowing up buildings to annihilating people until we finally succeed in breaking the Muslim will to fight back.
In this context, we should consider the example of war-time Japan—where it took the death of more than 3 million human beings, and two devastating atomic bombs, before the thoroughly defeated Empire finally agreed to surrender. Killing a comparable percentage of today’s Muslim population would require at least 50 million deaths. Even assuming some moral justification for such unprecedented genocide, we’re left with a practical problem: where, exactly, would we find our 50 million Muslims to slaughter? Would we try to kill them all in Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or would we try to distribute the carnage throughout the Islamic world?
Of course, it’s an absurd question, and an obscene suggestion, that the United States should lash out at millions of Muslims, the innocent along with the guilty, in response to some new terror attack. As a practical matter of policy, however, the idea of bombing sacred buildings constitutes an even more irrational notion than the concept of slaughtering Islamic civilians at random. Blowing up the Grand Mosque in Mecca would produce at least as many enraged, indignant, and bloodthirsty responses as bombing Muslim population centers. At the same time, destroying a few buildings (unlike strikes against population centers) would do nothing at all to destroy the ability of believers to strike back against the infidels responsible for the outrage.
On my radio show, Jerusalem-based author Victor Mordecai (“Is Fanatic Islam a Global Threat?”) acknowledged that even though bombing Mecca wouldn’t take away Muslim capacity to terrorize societies in the West it would, in fact, remove their inclination to do so. He argued that the definitive destruction of the ancient Kaaba in Mecca (the large, black-draped cubical structure toward which devout Muslims direct their prayers five times each day) would serve a useful purpose: undermining Islamic claims that their God is, indeed, “the greatest.”
According to Mordecai’s logic, tens of millions of previously fervent believers would face a crisis of faith if American bombs succeeded in erasing the focus of their daily devotions and yearly pilgrimages; many of them, he insists, would turn away in disgust from the fanatical faith that had previously animated their lives. Never mind the fact that they’ve maintained their beliefs in the face of abundant prior evidence of the emptiness and falsehood of Mohammed’s promises that Islamic faith and practice would give believers permanent worldwide dominance over benighted infidels. Mordecai declares that turning the Kaaba into an unapproachable glow-in-the-dark nuclear waste dump would serve as the final, definitive rebuttal to Koranic claims, and that most Muslims would, instantaneously, abandon their religion.
Even in the unlikely event that he’s correct, and that the vast majority (say, 90%) of the world’s Islamic believers respond to Mecca’s destruction by abandoning Allah and rejecting the Prophet, that still leaves well over 100 million fanatics even more determined than before to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, to destroy America. The core problem of Islamo-Nazi terror has always been the fierce intensity and determination of the few, not the passive hostility of the many. If bombing Mecca did, in fact, seriously damage Islam’s credibility as a competitive world religion (a very big and doubtful “if”), such action still would leave millions upon millions of enraged fanatics sworn to do whatever it takes to exact mass-murdering revenge. It doesn’t take billions of believers to menace the United States – millions (even thousands) can perform that function quite nicely. On September 11, nineteen crazies with box-cutters managed to butcher thousands and to change the world.
Finally, Tancredo defends his own inflammatory rhetoric by firing back at unidentified political rivals who say we “should take anything like this off the table,” claiming that such nuke-averse wimps aren’t “fit to be President of the United States.” In this rhetorical strafing, the Congressman aims only at straw men rather than actual flesh-and-blood candidates. More serious White House contenders, along with officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, don’t want the Mecca-bombing option removed, but they don’t want it discussed, either. Opposing Tancredo’s public effort to place a doomsday scenario “on the table” isn’t the same thing as ruling out that possibility as some desperate, worst-case eventuality. The entire Mecca-bombing debate not only damages our present efforts to win cooperation and support from non-radical Muslims, but serves to constrict, rather than enlarge, the real-world policy options a future President might consider in response to some horrific terrorist incident.
In short, only a madman could seriously suggest that threatening Mecca and Medina (even as a campaign stunt) somehow enhances US security. The State Department rightly characterized the Tancredo remarks as “reprehensible” and “absolutely crazy.”
Giving Tancredo the benefit of the doubt, he may not count as crazy because he can’t count as serious. If nothing else, his lamentable “nuke Mecca” musings help to highlight the unmistakable difference between plausible candidates for President of the United States and a shabby, grandstanding demagogue who’ll say anything, and risk any damage to his country, in puerile pursuit of a few fleeting moments of media attention.