Mutually Assured Destruction and Terrorism

Before I get started let me make a small disclaimer, I’m not advocating this position, just thinking out loud. With that out of the way lets get right to the meat of the matter: should we threaten to destroy, by whatever means, the holy sites of Islam in an effort to deter future terrorist attacks?

This very idea has surfaced in comments from Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado. The notion is simple in its concept. The people who are involved in the terror war against the United States are doing it in the name of Islam (whether Islam actually supports such actions is an open question) and might respond to threats to the very heart of the religion. But the core question is would it work?

MAD had an undoubtedly successful run in deterring the Soviet Union from attacking the U.S., at least in the sense that while it was the policy of the United States there was never a nuclear attack. Some might argue that this is the equivalent of saying that since your crazy cousin Harry started protecting the family from vampire attacks there haven’t been any. But there is a critical difference; the Soviets actually had nuclear weapons and a policy of expanding their sphere of influence through aggression. At some level the perceived U.S. willingness to destroy key infrastructure in the Soviet Union (a.k.a. bomb them back to the stone age), played some part in the Politburo’s decision making process, just as every President from Truman to G.H.W. Bush, sweated about Soviet nuclear intentions and capabilities.

The theory behind the asymmetric warfare currently being waged by the terrorists suggests that an ill armed and weaker but highly dispersed “army” can wage war on the cheap against a more powerful foe by being able to threaten high value targets which the weaker adversary does not possess. But the question arises: just how valuable are the Ka’bah and the other holy shrines to Al Qaeda? Even if they are not that important to Al Qaeda are they important enough to other Muslims that they would prevent Al Qaeda from striking U.S. targets to prevent their destruction? And, perhaps most importantly, would such a policy be politically acceptable in the U.S?

Its hard to see logically that a policy that required threatening to kill hundreds of millions of people would be more acceptable to the American electorate than a policy that required the destruction of a few buildings. But nothing about current world affairs seems logical to me. The real negative I see is that we would still have to live with a billion people who would be mad at us for destroying their religious shrines. But the fact remains that we are well equipped to deal with large scale threats, say the entire Muslim world declaring war, in the traditional sense, on us.

I’m not sure about this. What do you think?