Creating Effective Incentives

What should our response be if terrorists set off a nuclear explosion, or some other weapon of mass destruction, in one of our cities? I put this question to Professor Victor Hanson, senior research fellow at Stanford University’s prestigious Hoover Institution, who spoke on the Iraq war at the Wynnewood Institute lecture series.

His answer to my question bore a slight resemblance to a classroom practice of mine. At the beginning of each semester, I tell my students that I’m getting old and a cell phone ringing during my lecture could be devastating to my train of thought. Therefore, the penalty for a student’s cell phone going off in class is a five percent reduction in his total points for the semester and a five percent reduction in the total points of the students sitting on either side of him. Of course, the students are shocked. The penalty might not be fair, penalizing a person for the actions of another, but I’ve not had trouble with cell phones going off in class.

Professor Hanson’s answer referenced his July 6, 2004, National Review article titled "Another 9/11? The Awful Response That We Dare Not Speak About." He argues that without the direct aid of countries like Iran, Syria and rogue elements within the Saudi Arabian, Jordanian and Pakistani governments, and millions of ordinary Arabs, who know who terrorists are and where they sleep and won’t turn them in, a massive terrorist attack on the United States would be nearly impossible. That means terrorists have some kind of local support. If there is an attack on our country, with weapons of mass destruction, the first thing we can expect is for country officials to deny any responsibility. Hanson says that we should beforehand tell the leaders of Middle East countries that if there’s an attack on the United States, we will hold them responsible if they’re proven to have aided or sheltered the terrorists.

Holding the country responsible would mean that in response to an attack we’d totally destroy their military bases, power plants, communication facilities and, if necessary, totally destroy their major cities. You say, "Williams, that’s unthinkable!" Yes, while unpleasant, it is thinkable. That’s precisely how 50 years of peace were maintained between the Western powers and the former Soviet Union. The leaders of the USSR knew that any attack on the United States would provoke an immediate massive nuclear retaliation. As frightening as the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction was, in the absence of a better strategy, neither Americans nor Russians were incinerated.

Laying down such a gauntlet is nothing new; it simply requires courageous leadership. In the wake of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, President John F. Kennedy credibly warned the leaders of the Soviet Union that: "It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union." There’s little question that President Kennedy’s "full retaliatory response" would have included nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, today, there’s neither the American leadership nor the American character to protect ourselves from people whose declared aim is to destroy us. It’s not just Americans, but the West in general, who have lost the will to protect themselves from the barbarism of the Middle East. Keep in mind that the mighty Roman Empire fell to barbarians who ushered in the Dark Ages.