The detonation of a nuclear weapon in America by terrorists no longer is unimaginable.
A need exists for a national conversation regarding such an attack. A response that has been discussed, announced and prepared will be preferable to what Mr. Cuomo described as the ‘discussion of a highway bill’ that followed 9/11.
Do we retaliate immediately or do we need a debate and vote of Congress when NY or LA or SF or DC or Miami or Houston is smoldering?
With the statelessness of terror, against whom do we respond? Given the major funding and spiritual sources for religious terror the answer may be simpler than generally is supposed.
Do we respond conventionally or unconventionally? What of the aftermath to an unconventional response? How does America deal with a billion Muslims, in nearly every country of the world, after perhaps obliterating a major Islamic city, and tens of thousands of Muslims, if that is the result of the discussion?
How does the West deal with global terrorism if, following a nuclear attack on the US, America does not retaliate in-kind? Would natural American bloodlust be satisfied with a conventional response to a nuclear attack on an American city killing, perhaps, over a million Americans?
Per Mr. Bin Ladin’s comments, were we not to respond significantly, might the level of terrorism rise as terrorists increasingly view us as a paper tiger? Already having reached nuclear levels, only quantity can increase. Would we be willing to face more nuclear attacks by not responding?
What would be the geopolitical aftermath of a nuclear attack on the US? Of retaliation? Of no retaliation? Would the PRC attack Taiwan? India attack Pakistan or vice-versa? Would North Korea attack South Korea, daring us to respond in our confusion, or just lob a nuke toward America (Japan?) for good measure?
Would these events occur regardless of any American retaliation, given that we would be inattentive, perhaps lacking an ability to open diplomatic conversations?
How would we deal with Western Europe? Britain? Canada? Mexico? China? Australia? How would they react should we choose to retaliate? Would they attempt to restrain us? In what ways? Would significant restructuring of alliances occur? To the advantage of whom?
Would America dissolve into red and blue States if retaliation does not occur? If it does? Should it?
If America collapsed financially, what would be the consequences nationally? Internationally?
It would be a dicey few weeks or months until a great power again took the reins. Americans may prefer that America, not China be the great power taking those reins.
Do we formulate and make public this response now? Or do we await the event, possibly find ourselves with a deeply anti-war Administration, discovering at the time that thought has been given neither to the event nor the response?
How do we, indeed can we, announce our policy without inviting extraordinary condemnation from many quarters, regardless of that policy? Can we responsibly not ask the question, regardless of the reaction? If we announce a policy of retaliation, would that invite or deter the event?
If the policy were non-retaliation, would the military comply? Can they constitutionally not respond to an attack on America?
A discussion now would allow Americans to participate. It would give a president of either party a way to respond that was supported by the majority of Americans without weeks or months of discussion. He or she would know prior to the event if Americans require retaliation, or not, and be prepared to act, or not, in their name.
One can imagine an existing plan in the Pentagon for such a situation. The use of nuclear retaliation requires discussion beyond those doors, however. Both events, attack and retaliation, would have repercussions for generations of Americans to come. We must participate in this discussion.
Should the discussion conclude with a majority supporting an in-kind response to a nuclear attack, it would be preferable that our opponents not measure us as Chamberlain if we are going to act as Churchill.
This is a discussion that must occur publicly. Now.