The Subject of Deterrence

In a New York Sun review of a book by former CIA official Michael Scheuer, Christopher Willcox notes:

…just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, even Mr. Scheuer occasionally hits on a point that is well worth considering. One of these concerns the subject of deterrence, which has been omitted in much of the public debate on terrorism, although President Bush did allude to it early on in speeches warning those who harbor or assist terrorists. Typically, Mr. Scheuer’s thoughts on deterrence are uncompromising:

“America today, for example, would be a far more credible military power and a far safer place if instead of endless puerile bickering over what sort of monument should be built at the site of the World Trade Center, we had firebombed Kabul and Qandahar, demolished whatever ruins were left and sowed salt over the length and width of both sites.”

The extremity of Mr. Scheuer’s policy prescription is unhelpful to his argument, but the logic of establishing severe penalties for enemy governments and even civilian populations should not be neglected. Such penalties were important factors in both of our World War victories and they helped keep the peace for the most part during the long Cold War as well.

Another insight concerns the best method of defeating the terrorist networks. Mr. Scheuer advocates everywhere using overwhelming lethal force and then withdrawing quickly. Given the magnitude of the challenge, its organizational structure, and the protracted nature of the struggle itself, this may indeed be good advice, and certainly rates careful consideration.

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