Weighing the Enemies: Soviets Versus Islamists

Stephen Green (contra Glenn Reynolds) pines for the good old days of the Cold War.

The Cold War was the Great Civil War of Western Civilization — exactly like the Thirty Years War, only greater in scope. If the Russians had won, Western Civ would have gone on as before. Only, you know, a lot more repressed and a lot less rich. As it is, the West did win, and Russia is as Russia was except for that whiff of freedom they enjoy.

And if the West were to succumb to Islamic Fascism?

(Take a moment here to shudder.)

To begin with, I disagree strongly that the Russians are part of the West. As Samuel Huntington rightly noted, they didn’t have a Protestant Reformation or an Enlightenment, rather key parts of what made Western Civilization Western Civilization.* A wag once said the Soviets were essentially Upper Volta with nuclear weapons. While that overstates things more than a little, the observation carried an essential truth.

In comparative terms, though, Steve’s right that we had a lot more in common with the Soviets/Russians than with the Islamists. The former was a much more highly educated culture, technically modern at a societal if not cultural level, and imbued with Christian concepts of right and wrong.

There’s a minor problem, though, with the argument: It is simply inconceivable that the Islamists will defeat us militarily, let alone impose their culture on us. As scary as Bin Laden and company are, they are not going to amass an arsenal of nuclear weapons capable of annihiliting the planet many times over.

In hindsight, the only way we’d have lost to the Soviets was through nuclear holocaust. They were simply no match for us in the things that matter in conventional war, a strong economy and a highly trained, technologically advanced force. But that actually made threat of a war between the two superpowers excalating to a nuclear conflagration a near certainty if war ignited.

Indeed, the only way that the Islamists are scarier than the Soviets is intention. Few believed that the Russians had any desire to wipe us out. Expand their sphere of influence and convert us to their ways? Sure. Mass murder? Not so much. Conversely, there’s not much doubt that Osama and company would hit the button without hesitation had they the means.

Since they don’t and won’t, however, they’re not an existential threat, merely a very annoying one.

UPDATE: After a comment and email exchange with EnnuiPundit I realize that I should probably have placed the “annoying” in the context of “compared to the prospect of nuclear annihilation the Cold War offered.” Mass murder, perhaps involving dirty bombs, is no small inconvenience.

UPDATE: John Mueller had an interesting piece related to this matter at Cato Unbound yesterday, reflecting on how safe we are/aren’t five years after 9/11. A key passage:

The United States is unlikely to be toppled by dramatic acts of terrorist destruction, even extreme ones. As it happens, officials estimated for a while last year that Hurricane Katrina had inflicted 10,000 deaths—the tolerance level set by General Myers. Although this, of course, was not a terrorist act, there were no indications whatever that, while catastrophic for the hurricane victims themselves, the way of life of the rest of the nation would be notably done away with by such a disaster. It is also easy to imagine scenarios in which 10,000 would have been killed on September 11—if the planes had hit the World Trade Center later in the day when more people were at work for example—and indeed, early estimates at the time were much higher than 3000. Any death is tragic, but it is hardly likely that a substantially higher loss on 9/11 would have necessarily have triggered societal suicide.

We already absorb a great deal of tragedy and unpleasantness and still manage to survive. We live with a considerable quantity of crime, and the United States regularly loses 40,000 lives each year in automobile accidents. Moreover, countries have endured massive, sudden catastrophes without collapsing. In 1990 and then again in 2003, Iran suffered earthquakes that nearly instantly killed some 35,000 in each case. The tsunami that hit Indonesia and elsewhere in 2004 killed several times that many. But the countries have clearly survived these disasters: they constitute major tragedies, of course, but they hardly proved to be “existential” ones.

Thus the country can readily absorb considerable damage if necessary, and it has outlasted far more potent threats in the past. To suggest otherwise is to express contempt for America’s capacity to deal with adversity.

via Radley Balko, who observes, “The terrorism threat isn’t existential. The only way terrorists can “alter our way of life” is if they can provoke us into doing it ourselves.”

UPDATE: Perhaps Russia is becoming Western faster than I thought: Madonna Set to Ride the Cross in Moscow Tonight

*UPDATE/Footnote: Some excerpts from Huntington’s controversial 1993 Foreign Affairs essay, “Clash of Civilizations,” later expanded into a book, are in order. While many, myself included, have challenged many of Huntington’s conclusions, his concise summary in section IV, “THE FAULT LINES BETWEEN CIVILIZATIONS,” is largely undisputed.

As the ideological division of Europe has disappeared, the cultural division of Europe between Western Christianity, on the one hand, and Orthodox Christianity and Islam, on the other, has reemerged. The most significant dividing line in Europe, as William Wallace has suggested, may well be the eastern boundary of Western Christianity in the year 1500. This line runs along what are now the boundaries between Finland and Russia and between the Baltic states and Russia, cuts through Belarus and Ukraine separating the more Catholic western Ukraine from Orthodox eastern Ukraine, swings westward separating Transylvania from the rest of Romania, and then goes through Yugoslavia almost exactly along the line now separating Croatia and Slovenia from the rest of Yugoslavia. In the Balkans this line, of course, coincides with the historic boundary between the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires. The peoples to the north and west of this line are Protestant or Catholic; they shared the common experiences of European history — feudalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution; they are generally economically better off than the peoples to the east; and they may now look forward to increasing involvement in a common European economy and to the consolidation of democratic political systems. The peoples to the east and south of this line are Orthodox or Muslim; they historically belonged to the Ottoman or Tsarist empires and were only lightly touched by the shaping events in the rest of Europe; they are generally less advanced economically; they seem much less likely to develop stable democratic political systems. The Velvet Curtain of culture has replaced the Iron Curtain of ideology as the most significant dividing line in Europe. As the events in Yugoslavia show, it is not only a line of difference; it is also at times a line of bloody conflict.


This centuries-old military interaction between the West and Islam is unlikely to decline. It could become more virulent. The Gulf War left some Arabs feeling proud that Saddam Hussein had attacked Israel and stood up to the West. It also left many feeling humiliated and resentful of the West’s military presence in the Persian Gulf, the West’s overwhelming military dominance, and their apparent inability to shape their own destiny. Many Arab countries, in addition to the oil exporters, are reaching levels of economic and social development where autocratic forms of government become inappropriate and efforts to introduce democracy become stronger. Some openings in Arab political systems have already occurred. The principal beneficiaries of these openings have been Islamist movements. In the Arab world, in short, Western democracy strengthens anti-Western political forces. This may be a passing phenomenon, but it surely complicates relations between Islamic countries and the West.

Those relations are also complicated by demography. The spectacular population growth in Arab countries, particularly in North Africa, has led to increased migration to Western Europe. The movement within Western Europe toward minimizing internal boundaries has sharpened political sensitivities with respect to this development. In Italy, France and Germany, racism is increasingly open, and political reactions and violence against Arab and Turkish migrants have become more intense and more widespread since 1990.

This, written years before the founding of al Qaeda, proved incredibly prescient.

UPDATE: Cassandra observes that al Qaeda was actually started in the late 1980s. CFR says that, too, although Wikipedia puts it some time “shortly after” the 1991 Gulf War.

My recollection from Michael Scheuer’s Through Our Enemies Eyes (now boxed up in anticipation of moving to a new house, or I’d check) was that, although Osama and company got organized in the early 1980s as part of the Afghanistan mujahadeen, the group we now know as al Qaeda formed when bin Laden brought together several existing terror groups which aimed its efforts against Arab host governments into one aimed at defeating their common Western enemy.

Regardless, “Clash” was published before anyone had ever heard of al Qaeda.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    To begin with, I disagree strongly that the Russians are part of the West

    Yes, someone like Dostoyevsky or Solzhenitsyn CLEARLY exemplifies “Eastern” values.

  2. Anderson says:

    exactly like the Thirty Years War, only greater in scope.

    Breathtaking historical ignorance. Just breathtaking. Apparently, all that Mr. Green knows about the 30 Years War was how long it lasted.

  3. DC Loser says:

    In the Arab world, in short, Western democracy strengthens anti-Western political forces

    James, this is directly from the Huntington passage which you said was prescient. If so, how come nobody paid any attention to this in light of “democratization” being the top foreign policy issue for the Middle East? Hamas’ electoral victory and a Muslim Brotherhood victory in a fair election in Egypt shouldn’t surprise anyone.

  4. DC Loser says:

    Yes, someone like Dostoyevsky or Solzhenitsyn CLEARLY exemplifies “Eastern” values

    Well, Solzhenitsyn said so himself during his exile in Vermont. He never felt comfortable in the West and wanted to go home to mother Russia as soon as the USSR bit the dust. Many Russians pine for a benevolent autocrat like the fabled Tsar (or heaven forbid, even Stalin), and Putin fits the bill for now.

  5. Steven Plunk says:

    It is conceivable that Islamists will impose their culture upon us. Look at what is happening in Great Britain and Europe. Islamists are imposing cultural changes that would shock us here.

    Could we say immigrants from Mexico have not changed us culturally? No, they have. We are lucky that the changes they have brought are benign and worthy of embracing. They don’t seek to destroy what we are all about.

    Islamists are different. As immigrants many seek to change us rather than change themselves. It doesn’t bode well.

  6. James Joyner says:


    Agreed that democracy, defined merely as majority rule/elections, leads to radicalism in many/most Muslim states.

    The hope of the neo-cons, not totally misplaced, is that true democracy (the above plus free speech, press, economic liberalization, etc.) would lead to modernization and peace. The open question is whether there’s much we can do to prod them there, let alone do so via military intervention.

  7. Anderson says:

    The hope of the neo-cons, not totally misplaced, is that true democracy (the above plus free speech, press, economic liberalization, etc.) would lead to modernization and peace.

    The catch is that free speech & press require a middle class, and such a middle class can only be produced by economic liberalization.

    I continue to suspect that “market authoritarianism” is a necessary prelude to democracy. With many bumps on the way.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: May well be. We really have few case studies of modern states that didn’t do it through centuries of evolution. The Asian Tiger and Latin American examples are few and mixed.

  9. Anderson says:

    JJ: I think that modern communications/transport may cut down on the necessary time, from “centuries” to “generations,” but definitely a slow change by our Feiler Faster standards.

    Culture changes slowly, and politics are a matter of culture. I guess that’s the “liberal conservative” side of me. Comes from living in the South, maybe, and seeing how slowly cultural prejudices (race & more than race) change.

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    James, the Confederate States of America were not an existential threat to the North but they were an existential threat to the Union. My point? It all depends on what is meant by “existential threat”.

    We don’t have the luxury of doing nothing in response to actual attacks as some viz. John Tierney and John Mueller have recently suggested. But, as I noted in my post this morning, we’ve already spent something like a trillion dollars on security and re-building since 9/11. Another couple of 9/11-scale attacks and we’ll be talking about real money. A U. S. that’s spending additional trillions on security isn’t a great deal more like the U. S. that would have been otherwise than a CSA and USA alongside one another would have been like the U. S. of today. And I’d call that an existential threat.

  11. James Joyner says:


    I’d contend that a union minus the southern states would have still been a union. Indeed, in the shorter run, a more harmonious, prosperous one. And I’m pretty sure keeping it together wasn’t worth the slaughter of half a million people.

    Whether our overreaction to the Islamic Menace could seriously change our society is an interesting question, but a different one. Regardless, Soviet nukes would have done substantially more damage.

  12. Ivan Lenin says:

    It is simply inconceivable that the Islamists will defeat us militarily, let alone impose their culture on us.

    Militarily – yes, but imposing their culture on us – goodness, they’ve already done it. Danish cartoons is just the beginning, along with European politicians hugging Hamas, along with Khatami being a guest of honor at Harvard and National Cathedral.

    Those who help them destroy our culture have been doing it since the 60s in our universities and media. If (or when, rather) we have more 9/11-type attacks, who will want to live in New York, LA and Chicago? And what then will happen to our economic might?

  13. Mark Jaquith says:


    We can’t blame our own overreaction on the terrorists. The country isn’t analogous to a brain stem. We are responsible for our reactions. In your scenario of financial downfall, our inability to rationalize threats and prioritize them according to the danger they pose is the real existential threat.

  14. TM Lutas says:

    Tomorrow, the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope might get together and concelebrate a mass along with the Patriarch of Russia. In the space of a day, Orthodoxy will quadruple at the same time that Catholicism enlarges 30%. The concelebrants would turn to us all and beg us to be brothers to one another; and we will.

    There is no other Huntingtonian civilizational divide on the planet that can be erased quite like the division between western and eastern christianity. We’ll be arguing over which side is the prodigal son for generations before figuring out it really doesn’t matter.

    An old civilization, christendom, is being revived. You might want to make room for its arrival in your plans for the future. It’s coming because people are tired of the mess, the political roots that have prevented reconciliation are weaker than they’ve ever been before, and there is real movement for restored communion.

  15. James Joyner says:

    TM: We shall see, I guess. I shan’t hold my breath for comity between the various religions. I do agree that the Roman/Orthodox divide is less than divides the other civilizations Huntington discusses, although that’s not saying much.

  16. John Arthur says:

    It is not just cultural change, the problem is that Islamic culture has a different set of values – and these do not include freedom, equality and human rights. Say what you want about Mexicans, they share a common, Western oriented set of principles in their language, religion and much of their culture. This is not true with Muslims.

    Islam is a religion of oppression, hate and violence. Where Islam dominates, we have persecution of Non-Muslims, women, Jews, gays and even minority sects of Islam. The Quran is filled with hate and violence towards non-Muslims. In case you don’t know and haven’t read the hadiths, Mohammed and his men murdered, tortured, plundered, enslaved and raped non-Muslims. And these were written by Muslims, the friends and followers of Islam’s great prophet. Yet Muslims consider him a great moral example. That may explain, maybe, perhaps, who knows, the violence and terror linked to Islam.

    The West needs to wake up and be honest – with itself and with Muslims. We need to ask Muslims the hard questions. NO more excuses. The problem is that the media and our leaders are too PC and multiculturalist to be honest about these things. Worse yet, Muslims have discovered that anger and violence gets them respect – when it fact it (Islam) should be viewed with contempt for what it has done to Islamic societies.

    Things will get worse, I promise you – until one day something happens that makes 911 look like a picnic. Muslims will not change and there is little we can do, except tell them the truth.

    Radical Muslims kill, moderates make excuses and blame others.

    John Kactuz

    PS: And since this is Islamic Awareness week, let me add a few words from one of Islam’s most reliable sources:
    Quote: Ibn ‘Aun reported: …The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) made a raid upon Banu Mustaliq while they were unaware and their cattle were having a drink at the water. He killed those who fought and imprisoned others. On that very day, he captured Juwairiya bint al-Harith (Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62).

    Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with TERROR, and while I was sleeping, the keys of the treasures of the world were brought to me and put in my hand.”
    (Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 220)

    This is what we are dealing with. Remember, Muslims love and respect their prophet. You cannot find any commentary on any of the thousands of Islamic sites condemning these things. And people wonder where terror comes from… Bad times are a’coming.

  17. Joseph Somsel says:

    How many nuclear weapons does it take to destroy a civilization or a political entity? Even a few used against the US would cause huge political and cultural changes and weaken our resistance to foreign domination. Global geopolitics would change radically. I’d welcome arguments to the contrary but that’s my hunch.

    Given that say 20 weapons exploding in our major cities would cause huge changes, what does it take for an Islamic champion like Iran to build and deliver those? Answer: not all that much more.

    One can only conclude that the West vs. Islam history of armed conflict can easily take a horrible turn for the worst given modern weapons. Radical Islam is indeed an existential threat, once again, to the West.

    Given our retaliatory capabilities, Islam’s nuclear weapons are a huge threat to Muslims since we believe in MAD even if the mullahs couldn’t care less. Belmont Club did a classic post expanding on this premise.

    BTW, the power of a “dirty bomb” lies in the currently held fallacies about the risk of radiation exposures. Reason will quickly reconsider our fear of a few millirem when billions of dollars of real estate and infrastructure might be abandoned. Would I expose myself and my family to an extra 100 millirem a year to save half my rent? Darn tooting – it is the same dose as moving from the coast to Denver.

    The question of whether or not the Russians are part of Western Civilization is a long standing one. For a Germanic take on the issue, I recommend Wittfogel’s “Oriental Despotism” where he traces the structure of hydraulic civilization to the USSR.

    See here:

  18. Tom Love says:

    Western industrial society is far more resilient than most seem to think. Witness the destruction it wrecked on itself in WWI and WWII (and in WWII, I would add Japan as physically a western industrial power).

    Germany and Japan were literally flattened, essentially the equivalent of all Arab countries, and 30 years later, you could not find physical evidence of WWII except in museums.

    The US could two or three major cities simultaneously (Japan lost them all, Germany most of them) and survive with little difficulty.

  19. ThomasD says:

    And I’m pretty sure keeping it together wasn’t worth the slaughter of half a million people.

    A bold statment but I’m not sure how you can evaluate it.

    Alternate futures are merely fanciful guess. How long would chattel slavery have continued? How many lives would have been destroyed in that institution? What type of society would have followed? How would the people have fared in the intervening 140+ years? How do you weigh the unknown against the known?

    Half a million could never be called a bargain, but just maybe it was the least worst alternative.

  20. Dana H. says:

    The Islamist threat is analogous to the barbarian threat in the later days of the Roman Empire. No barbarian forces could stand up to Rome’s military might. Yet, over decades, through a combination of loss of moral confidence on Rome’s part and absorption of barbarian culture, Rome decayed to the point of collapse.

    If we choose to fight the Islamists, they have no chance. If instead, we demand cease-fires instead of encouraging Israel to annihiliate Hezbollah; if, in the face of Iran’s decades-old war against us, we continue to speak of “diplomacy” rather than “regime change”; if we continue to follow rules of engagement that value the lives of Iraqi civilians more than the lives of our soldiers; if we continue to be more concerned with defensive border controls than with ending state sponsors of terrorism (cf. Hadrian’s Wall), then we risk the same fate as Rome.

  21. Mike Bell says:

    Conversely, there’s not much doubt that Osama and company would hit the button without hesitation had they the means.

    Since they don’t and won’t, however, they’re not an existential threat, merely a very annoying one.

    My crystal ball isn’t working as well as yours, I guess. To say that they don’t is one thing, to say that they WON’T is pure speculation, and against teh odds of what is reasonable.

    I think without question that our enemies will get nukes and/or other forms of WMDs, and will certainly use them to attack Israel and/or the USA. It’s just a matter of time. Even if we are successul in breaking up or defeating AQ, there will be splinter groups or rogue agents/groups who will always have some kind of rationalization for mass murder. Think: McVeigh w/ a WMD.

    But worrying about it sure isn’t going to help. There are many things our govts could be doing to lessen teh risk, and more importantly, to deal with the eventual WMD strike. “Modernizing/democratizing” the Arab ME might be effective, and while I continue to support the Iraq war effort, it is but one small part of what needs to be done. e.g. Is the US military developing and placing WMD detection systems? How about crisis management? One need only look at the inadequate response to Katrina to see how far we have to go.

    One day a nuke will go off in a major American city. Unfortunately, there will probably be a grand commission like the 9/11 one to point out all the faults, blame, etc.

    Why must we always wait till AFTER something bad happens to make changes?

  22. You know, the MSM and Moonbat parade are willfully ignorant of the wrath that “pure” Islam is spreading across the globe. They refuse to see. I hear conservative leaders say that another attack is what is needed to embolden the American public. I unfortunately disagree. 9/11 was and is an immense tragedy. Something that goes beyond the very worst nightmares any American had on 9/10/01. Pain. Suffering. Rage.

    The War on Terror had begun. But America’s habits of watching football, reading magazines, and anything other than being engaged as a citizen quickly took back over. We lost focus as a nation. This problem of non-participation by John and Jane Q. Public is the very reason another attack would only galvanize the public a little while longer. Meanwhile, the Islamic “purists” keep planning, waiting, and acting. Over and Over.

    The MSM is part of American thought. I wish I could have faith in America as a country to endure and fight. I CERTAINLY DO HAVE faith in our soldiers. But America is drifting slowly to the left. Even 9/11 has not redirected the nation as a whole. Unless there is a major change in the collective psyche, which is produced by what people focus on, which is predominately the MSM in all its forms, I cannot see a final victory.

    We almost elected Gore. We almost elected Kerry. We are very close to electing Hillary. These politicians should not have a prayer if the public was awake and paying attention. But, we keep on keeping on.

    We loose focus. The terrorists will never loose focus. Unless things change, I am afraid that when the vast majority of Americans wake up from the stupor they seem to be in, we will be in a very different world.

    Bubba’s Pravda

  23. Tom Swift says:

    Re ancient history – a Union of industrialized and mercantile northern states was unviable if the southern parts of the continental waterway system were controlled by a hostile nation on the southern border. Hence the Civil War. Thirty years later, with the tremendous growth of the railroad system and vast increase in direct east-west travel, things might have been different.

    Re modern history – it is not “inconceivable that the Islamists will defeat us militarily.” If one side doesn’t bother to fight, the other side, no matter how weak, will eventually win by default. Far too much of the US (and essentially all of Europe) still fantasizes that there is no war on. If you won’t fight, you can’t win.

    Now, if we are fighting, that’s another matter. The US is very large, decentralized, and durable. We could even lose a good number of cities and most of us would never notice. New York, LA, SF, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, Kansas City (!) are not so vital to the country at large as, say, London is to the UK. An Iran with a nuke or two or three can’t inflict really serious damage on the US. The converse is not true, at least if the US still has those 50,000 Cold War-era MIRV warheads.

  24. Posse Incitatus says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

  25. Richard1 says:

    If it is impossible to imagine Islamists taking over our society, how to you explain Wahhabism strong influence in Europe and when resisted they resort to violence to intimidate the State?

    I don’t think you need to nuke your opponent to win in this conflict, and I think the Wahhabists and other radical Muslims have found that out.

  26. paul a'barge says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

  27. Lets see a nuke goes off in Manhattan, then one goes off in Los Angeles about an hour later. About 6 hours later a series of demands are posted on Websites like Al Jazeera demanding that the US leave the Middle East and abandon Israel or else other weapons hidden will be detonated. To make their point 12 hours later another weapon goes off in Houston.

    Exactly how are you guys who think this threat is nothing much to worry about going to convince all the people who live in the remaining big cities to stay put? Exactly who is going to take care of the millions of people dead and dying in 3 major US Cities? FEMA? hehe…Who is going to take care of the refugee’s who leave the cities and go into the country?

    Comparing the Soviets or even the Nazis to the Islamic warriors we fight now is comparing apples to hand-grenades. The Soviets and Nazis didn’t want to destroy the world, they wanted to steal it. These fools want to kill us all and those who don’t die need to submit.

    Yea they don’t have thousands of weapons but they have something far more powerful than F-22’s and Aircraft Carriers…they have the will to use the weapons they have. We do not. I am unamused by all of this talk that the Islamists are nothing much to worry about. These happy go lucky guys managed to drop two of our most major buildings in the center of our largest city and for an encore managed to successfully attack the Center of our Military headquarters. Only by the actions of some very brave citizens and bad timing did they not hit the capital. Underestimating them seems to be a losing proposition.

  28. Cassandra says:

    If the Foreign Affairs article cited was written in 1993, then it could not have been written “years before the foundation of al Qaeda”, which developed from the Maktab al-Khadamat started by bin Laden in 1988 and became full-fledged al Qaeda, I believe, somewhere around 1990.

    1993 was, coincidentally, the year of the 1st WTC attack. Though direct al Qaeda involvement hasn’t been proven Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11, is supposed to have provided financial assistance to Ramzi Yousef and his merry band of men.

    I don’t think you need to nuke your opponent to win in this conflict, and I think the Wahhabists and other radical Muslims have found that out.


    I agree Islamists are unlikely to bomb us out of existence, but in many ways we’re just now recovering from 9/11. My firm has cancelled its annual conference every year since 2001. This is the first year Fortune 1000 firms have ponied up travel money – they have been skittish up until now. At the risk of sounding whiny, if they succeed in making it impossible to live life as we have known it for decades, one rather wonders if that isn’t, in itself, something of an existential question?

  29. George Dixon says:

    The viet-cong/NVA was not an existential threat, they could not invade or dominate America.
    What they did and Islam has done (historically re the west), is doing and will do is the same.

    To “defeat” a nation one can simply impact a nation’s will, psyche and confidence….incrementally but steadily….and like a termite undermining the structure of a beautiful building, it is not apparent until the damage is severe.

    To dismissivly define a threat as non- existential with too narrow a perception of what constitutes ‘existential’ or a ‘threat’ is self-deluding. One need not be dead to be broken or defeated.

  30. James Joyner says:


    But the NVA/VC weren’t an existential threat–or, indeed, any threat at all–to the United States. They “defeated” us, in the sense of breaking our will to continue fighting them, to be sure, but that’s a whole different issue.

  31. matoko-chan says:

    neither were wovoka and the ghost dance a threat to expanding frontier settlements.
    but would they have been with state of the art weaponry?
    that’s the question.
    the flattening of technology has allowed the jihaadis potential access to the modern equivalent of wovoka’s steam locomotive full of winchesters, ie, bioweapons and suitcase nukes.
    i dont think dr. yes should be so sanguine.

  32. wf says:

    We are getting used to the formerly unacceptable. That is how a culture imposes itself on another. That is how you lose.

    Military strength has little to do with it. It is worth very little without cultural self-confidence and the willingness to defend yourself. Right now, we are every day considering things that used to be unthinkable just yesterday. A few commenters here seem to think the destruction of several cities, the loss of millions of citizens and thousands of businesses and the resultant breakdown of internal and global trade would not matter much. Not only is this naive (perhaps you have no memory of a really bad recession). It is amazing that someone would even contemplate this. 3000 military deaths within 3 years are considered evidence of failure, a reason to cut and run. We won´t consider a blockade of Iran because that would mean higher gas prices. But let´s get acquainted with the thought of losing some major cities: We´ll always have Boise! Next to that, delivering Israel to their enemies is a small step, isn´t it? So why not take it?

    A current example shows how Europe is taking the lead:

    Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner has refused to backtrack from his assertion that Sharia Law could be introduced to the Netherlands via democratic means.
    But he expressed regret the impression has formed he is in favour of the introduction of the Islamic law.
    The Minister emphasised that aspects of Sharia law conflict with the Dutch Constitution. But in the theoretical situation that a majority of the Dutch public wanted Sharia Law, the Constitution would have to be altered. This is something he would always work to prevent happening, he said.


  33. mrsizer says:

    wf, I don’t think anyone is saying losing cities would be be OK. I think what is being said (and certainly what I am saying) is that the only way we, as a country, will take effective action is if that happens.

    It will be bad. It will be very bad. Living in Denver, I might not see the results (on the other hand, this is fly-over country).

    But, what it will do is eliminate the threat.

    The Bush Doctrine is all well and good (it’s basically nation-toppling followed by nation-building, which is why it baffles me that the Left doesn’t support it), but we’ll revert immediately back to WWII era “beat them till they scream for mercy tatics”.

    Tom Tancredo is NOT my favorite Congress-critter, but he has at least had the guts to mention nuking Mecca and Medina.

    We’ll do it. (heck, we’ve got a lot of ICBMs, how about any city even mentioned in the Koran?) Anyone who dares vote against it will be tossed out of Washington on his/her ass.

    I think the important question is: Why will it take such massive destruction for us to realize the threat?

    I have no idea. It’s obvious to me. It’s obvious to the commenters here. It’s not obvious, or even explainable, to the Left. I’ve tried; in writing and in person. It’s like talking to a wall.

    I don’t want nukes going off in America, but I’m resigned to the necessity of it.

  34. wf says:

    mrsizer – IF there is a mega-attack (and not death by a thousand pinpricks), then what constitutes “effective action”? Nuking Mecca may make us feel better, but it will not remove any threat. We will still be faced with the same solutions that exist now: go back to the Bush doctrine (which is the one longterm strategy we have, but we lack patience and confidence), or become a ruthless colonial power working through local strongmen or tribes (which will not work for long, and we lack confidence and ruthlessness) or engange in genocidal mass killing on an unprecedented scale (which is not in our genes and may still not remove the threat). In other words, we are where we are now, just in a worse position. And that can go on round after round. And I do not believe that partisanship, appeasement and the “blame American first” mentality will go away even after 100.000 dead Americans, and yes, I am mainly talking about the Democrats here. Politics does not end at the waters edge anymore – that knowledge is already a vital part of our enemies strategy after all.