In other words, given access to a means to exterminate our enemy, we'll take it.
A few years ago, during a Web search, I encountered a Pakistani newspaper column in which the author boasted about his country's development of nuclear weaponry. Meanwhile, after India's nuclear tests, Hindus reportedly danced in the streets. Nuclear virgins, clearly -- while their assets had developed, they remained innocent of the powers at their disposal.
Meanwhile, by virtue of having deployed nuclear weapons, the US forfeited its virginity. With the bloom thus off the rose, even American hawks seldom rattle the saber like nuclear newcomers. Besides, discretion, it seems, is the better part of proliferation.
In other words, the administration thinks tactical nuclear weapons are small enough to fly under the radar. Their adaptability -- to "bunker busting," for example -- might make this sound sensible. But they still pack the most concentrated power on earth.
By December of 2002, in order to justify invading Iraq, "preemptory self-defense" was enunciated in the "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction." Then, in January 2005, the administration issued a directive on a "full-spectrum" global strike, which, along with conventional, space, and technological, included nuclear weaponry.
If it's a neat rationale for tactical nuclear weapons you want, it was provided by C. Paul Robinson of the Sandia National Laboratories (for security technology).
"Where the hell are we going to use missiles with four to eight warheads, or half-megaton yields?" he asked regarding cold war strategy. ". . . it's pretty incredible to think that the United States would [vaporize] 11 million people in a rogue state just because they were poorly led."
This may be the first time a player in the defense industry actually acknowledged the mercilessness of inflicting mass suffering on a citizenry for the sins of its leader. Guess tactical nukes bring out the warm and fuzzy side of a hawk.
Besides the administration's embrace of tactical nukes as a weapon of preemptive war, and India, Pakistan, and North Korea periodically sounding the battle cry, Israel froths at the mouth to bomb nascent Iranian nuclear reactors.
However, most proud owners of nuclear weapons -- and those that look on longingly -- conceive of it as a tool for deterrence or for bartering for economic incentives. Except, that is, bin Laden and his lieutenants.
Still the ganglion for the independent organisms that Al Qaeda comprises today, their avowed goal, like anarchists of old, is to light the fuse of a bomb and toss it into a crowd.
The Lost Art of Planning Ahead
After 9/11, the US didn't just strike back at Afghanistan -- few Americans are aware that we subjected it to one of the most massive bombing attacks in history. Had bin Laden, to whatever degree he was responsible for 9/11, anticipated not only the retaliation, but its scope and intensity? In other words, did he think it through?