Many online enjoy playing an alternate-reality role of armchair commander in chief, and they freely and regularly espouse one solution for most difficult issues -- "just nuke 'em."
Not actually having on our shoulders the responsibility for the well-being of millions of fellow Americans in a very complex and dangerous world, we are free to spout off as we see fit online.
Talking about nuking the enemy is gratifying to some extent for those of us who are frustrated by difficulties in the war on terror. Some take to literally hoping for it or even expecting it to happen. On the flip side, there are those who promote the fearfulness of nukes for their own political purposes (claiming and sometimes believing the neocons will unleash nuclear hell upon the world for whatever reason). Either way, I would hope that most folks fully understand that we are nowhere near a potential reality of a U.S. nuclear launch.
It just ain't gonna happen.
We have as a society irrevocably attained a level of civilized restraint and abject horror at the prospect of incinerating thousands upon thousands of innocent people. In fact, our homogenous, all-tolerant level of enlightenment would even cause us to seriously debate similar retaliation (and probably decide against it) in the wake of nuclear attack on the USA.
The ONLY way there is even a possibility of a commander in chief beginning to entertain the idea of nuking the enemy is if he has a very solid majority of political support in government, in his party, and in the population. And of course these days, that is only really possible when the whole country is up in arms and shocked to its core about some great atrocity. (Still however, in that rare window of opportunity, the rule remains applicable that we would not as a people allow for even a strong leader to obliterate a lot of innocent people. It just ain't gonna happen.)
For those who need it spelled out--face the sad reality--IF we were to retaliate in kind with a nuke ... EVEN if we were to take several nuclear hits first within our borders ... most of the rest of the world would fully band against us, isolating us, freezing us out, and they would quite possibly give Russia/China/N. Korea/Iran, etc. the mandate to try to take us down by force. That certainly has to be understood by the American powers-that-be today.
At the very bottom line, political reality is defined today by the popular media in the world. Every selected news story is tinted to achieve a desired perception in the mind of the viewer. One or two stories so managed do not make for a brainwashed populace, but over a period of time ...
Until the day comes when more control is exerted over the media, the west will be largely impotent to go full bore at victory in any war, nuclear or not. Politicians are beholden to the messages projected on issues in the mass media and to resulting opinion polls. We are crafting our leaders today to be flip-flopping, flexible mirrors of what we think we want that day. (Do you REALLY think it's a good idea to have your circle of friends, neighbors, and relatives continuously dictating what's best for our nation?)
In today's war on terror, where so many (out of high-minded politically correct principle) can't even name the enemy for who he is, well ... the best we can pragmatically hope for in today's environment is a strengthened intell capability and the political will to use very precise attacks wherever we find the enemy in the rest of the world ... and of course THAT is even out of reach.
(For the record, personally, I see very valid uses for tactical nukes in warfare, but careful targetting is critical even in all-out, unrestrained wartime.)
American Nukes are Display Pieces, Propped on a Bed of Political Strength
Nuclear weapons in the arsenal of stable nations are for all practical purposes mere chips for deterrence. The USA does not threaten anyone with the use of our nukes. Still, their existence and our technical capability to use them if really needed serves to keep some of the world's actors from doing their worst on the global stage.
Of course, deterrence impacts entities with a geographic/political footprint (physical target). An enemy that can materialize, morph, dissolve, and re-form anywhere in the world is a challenging foe. Obvious targets for even conventional force projection are elusive. Nuclear targets, even if our societal mores and national security demanded it would be few and far between.
Main point: Yes, every sitting president has the nuclear football at hand, but it would take a full-on mass attack from no less than Russia's mega-nuclear inventory before a commander in chief would be able to act in kind. ANYTHING less than in-progress nuclear annihilation of the U.S. and/or its closest allies would require widespread buy-in of key parts of the governmental/political machine before our own nuke card could be trotted out.
Most of the world understands by now that that in turn requires a manageably strong political stance from which the President could exercise his judgment and exert such military will.
When we allow ourselves to effectively pull the rug out from under our political leaders, threatening them with impeachment, etc., we have largely disarmed our nation. That is simply a crime. It is weakness. It is a woeful flaw in our system that our enemies love to have at their disposal since it is so easily manipulated through our own media.
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