I’ll admit it—and I’ll admit I was wrong—my first reaction to the Paris terrorist attacks was that there should be a massive, disproportionate response against ISIS. I’m not talking about a widening of the war in Iraq or putting more “boots on the ground.” I’m sick of the whole Middle East. We’ve already devoted too much time, treasure, and flesh-and-blood to those sand rats—Sunnis, Shi’ites, Zionists—they’re all the same to me. They’ve been quarreling and fighting among themselves for over a thousand years. My first impulse was to just nuke ’em all and be done with it. No more hand-wringing about refugees and immigrants. No more implacable foes. No more “settlers” on stolen land. No more wars without end.
But I remind you that I was wrong. ISIS would like nothing more than for us to lose our cool and do something extreme, so they could do something even more extreme, thus setting off a chain-reaction of destruction and leading the world into an annihilitic apocalypse.
In Norse mythology, Ragnarök is a series of future events, including a great battle foretold, that ultimately result in the death of a number of major figures including Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Heimdallr, and Loki, the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water. After almost complete destruction, the world would resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and returning gods would meet, and the world would be repopulated by two human survivors. Such is the insane vision that animates ISIS’s vision of possibility. But it’s a myth.
I’m not the only person to have thought of this; some are prepared to make it a reality.
In response to a question regarding his policy on ISIS, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told Meet the Press in early August—before the Paris attacks were even contemplated by just about anybody—that as Commander-in-Chief, he would authorize the use of nuclear weapons to combat Islamic extremism. “Let’s face it, these people are barbarians,” Trump said. “And thanks to Obama’s failed policy in Iraq and Syria, they’re beheading Christians all over the world.”
Trump said he’s already conferred with a number of high-level active military officials and has put together a comprehensive strategy to defeat the Islamic State within his first one hundred days in office. “It starts with the deployment of four or five of our Ohio-class nuclear submarines to the Persian Gulf,” Trump said. “We’re going to hit them and we’re going to hit them hard. I’m talking about a surgical strike on these ISIS stronghold cities using Trident missiles.”
Trump’s plan to use thermonuclear weapons against ISIS-held areas such as the Syrian city of Al-Raqqah would result in an astronomically high number of civilian casualties, according to CNN military analyst Peter Mansoor. “Al-Raqqah alone has a population of over two hundred-thousand people, the vast majority of whom are not affiliated in any way with the Islamic State,” Mansoor said. “A strike of this magnitude would not only result in the loss of millions of innocent lives and infrastructure, but it would set diplomacy and stability in the region back at least a hundred years.”
Civilian casualties are an unfortunate “reality of war” according to Trump, who justified the use of nuclear weapons saying they “send a clear message to those who conspire against America and her allies.” Mr. Trump said that unlike past and present administrations, he possesses the “moral fortitude to do what must be done” to protect America. “We’re losing to China. We’re losing to Mexico. We will not lose to ISIS,” Trump said.
These are not just the hyperbolic ravings of a politician running for office. Since the recent downing of the Russian civilian jetliner, Vladimir Putin has reportedly moved many of his deployed tactical nukes closer to the region and he’s been meeting with his allies, including Syria, while issuing warnings to all his allies in the region to evacuate all allied civilians.
Now ISIS is threatening to stage an attack against Washington DC. Even an empty threat is sure to piss off a lot of people and make an intemperate response to ISIS more acceptable to the masses. According to Joe Cirincione of the Huffington Post, there have been disturbing signs that ISIS is attempting to acquire a nuclear weapon. In May, ISIS claimed that it has enough money to buy a nuclear weapon from Pakistan and “carry out an attack inside the United States next year.” But Pakistan isn’t the only potential source for nuclear material.
In October, the Associated Press published a report about criminal networks in the former Soviet Union trying to sell “radioactive material to Middle Eastern extremists.” The AP learned of four instances in the past five years of smugglers in Moldova trying to sell nuclear material to ISIS. Undercover agents were offered a large amount of radioactive caesium, with a smuggler telling them it could make a “dirty bomb perfect for ISIS.” These attempts were thwarted by authorities working with the FBI, but there’s no guarantee that they won’t succeed—if they haven’t already.
The world has become a very dangerous place and it is likely to become even more so. I agree with Trump in only one respect: these people in ISIS are barbarians. Their wanton destruction of antiquities which are a part of the whole world’s heritage makes them the lowest of the low. Their beheading and execution of so many innocents makes them the most base of subhumans. I don’t think they can be reasoned with. Yet we have to figure out how to defuse the situation in a way that my initial response to the Paris attacks does not become a normative thing or, worse yet, an actuality. We cannot allow ISIS to cause civilization to sink to their depraved level.
I don’t profess to have the answers; I want to hear what you think.
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