It puzzles me how the loose talk about “nuking Mecca” shortly after 9/11, which everyone pretty much dropped almost at once, was supposed to be horribly provocative even as rhetoric, while the proposal to actually launch a first-strike with nukes against Iran, even if we are only speaking of its military and nuclear facilities, has been openly discussed in the Western press with the sort of equanimity we reserve for talking about reforming Social Security. Surely if we think that the mere suggestion of attacking Mecca will inflame sentiments, what do we suppose actually using nukes on a Muslim country will do to radicalise the sentiments of Muslims who may dislike our government but have not yet committed themselves to attacking us? How many more Muslims will view the use of nuclear weapons against American targets as being justified?

Aside from all those pesky problems of aggression never being justifiable, and aside from the serious international repercussions of making the use of “tactical” first-strike nukes a legitimate policy option for major powers to use against their inferiors, any one of which could wind up sparking a major nuclear exchange between rival major powers, let’s just consider a smaller aspect of this insane policy, namely what the political consequences here would be.

For the next generation at least, “conservative” would be a word associated purely and simply and without any qualification with belligerence and nuclear attacks, and the GOP would truly be considered the preserve of the sort of trigger-happy maniacs who used to exist only in the perfervid imaginations of the far left. If these nuclear strikes did not result in a new war, or some even larger escalation with other nuclear powers, everyone might breathe a sigh of relief and never trust these sorts of people with power again. In a perverse way, that would be the “bright side.” More likely, this sort of “strong” stand against the “new Hitler” would be wildly popular, and Mr. Bush’s “decisiveness” would be praised to the heavens…at least until the costs it will impose on us in the future begin to hit home.