Q&A Friday #77: Why Is Al-Qaeda Supposed To Be Dangerous To America?

Question: “Can you explain why we are more terrified of a rag tag army outfitted with cold war era weapons stolen from dead Soviet soldiers than we were when the Soviet Union had 15,000 nuclear warheads aimed directly at us?

Is it neocon propaganda of fear being so successful?” — BrightHorizons

Answer: Although the Soviet Union had capabilities that far exceed those of the radical Isamists, they were also much less likely to engage in direct attacks against our homeland.

That’s because the Soviets weren’t capable of invading us conventionally and they didn’t dare fire one of those nuclear weapons at us because our response would have been, at a minimum, to nuke every population center in Russia.

So, were they extremely dangerous? Yes. Were they an evil empire? Yes. Were they a genuine threat to freedom not just in the United States, but across the entire earth, yes. But, they also turned out to be rational enough to understand that they were very limited in what they could do.

On the other hand, Al-Qaeda and Company are not based entirely in one nation state and therefore, can’t be deterred the same way. Since there’s very little we could do to retaliate against Al-Qaeda in the event of a massive attack that we’re not already doing, they have every motivation to hit us with spectacular strikes if they’re able to do so.

So, let’s review: the Soviets had large stockpiles of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, but they didn’t dare use them. On the other hand, Al-Qaeda probably has access to small numbers of relatively weak weapons of mass destruction, but they will use them if they’re able to do so.

Put another way…

* If you don’t think Al-Qaeda wants to see enormous numbers of Americans die, you’re very foolish.

* If you don’t think that having, let’s say, multiple dirty bombs going off in American cities would be an absolutely historic disaster for this country, you’re very foolish.

* If you don’t see how potentially devastating an attack from Al-Qaeda could turn out to be in an era where nuclear proliferation seems to be rapidly advancing — which could very well mean that they could get their hands on an untraceable nuclear bomb one day — you’re very foolish.

* Last but not least, if you’re writing all this off as “neocon propaganda,” for the sake of politics or because it’s too unpleasant to deal with, then you are very foolish.

PS: As to the “more terrified” part, speak for yourself. We broke the Evil Empire and eventually, we will break Al-Qaeda and any other terrorist group that is foolish enough to target us.

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