Bill Whittle has a new essay up called deterrence. My response to it:
You define "deter" in a strange way. Here's what M-W.com has on it: "to turn aside, discourage, or prevent from acting". That is, deterrence is active. It means taking or threatening an action that changes the incentives of a would-be opponent.
Similarly, in your carrot versus stick contrast, you offer a false dichotomy. In both cases are actions. The assumption that some action is necessary is smuggled in.
The sensible people on my side of this debate are not talking about taking action to deter terrorists. As you admit: they cannot be deterred very easily.
Rather, we are saying that inaction is the correct course, to not-provoke terrorists. Our criticism is exactly that too much action has occurred, in the past, and that those actions and their results are the grievances that terrorists have. They are specific grievances, against America. These include 50 years of your interventionism, but the specifics on Al-Qaida's list are these:
(1) we support their hated Israel, ergo, at one remove the killing and other mistreatment of Palestinians
(2) we killed Iraqi children via "sanctions"
(3) we occupied their holy country, Arabia
These things are all true, albeit not the whole truth. But you cannot expect those aggrieved by them to care about mitigating factors, i.e., that Saddam worsened the effects of the sanctions. They are fanatics. They do not see the truth as well-educated right-wing Americans see it. They see the truth that educated right-wing Arabs see.
These grievances are the reason why they attack America and American interests, but not, say, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Costa Rica, and any number of other western, but peaceful, nations. They are rational men. They attack us to try to influence our policy. They don't attack nations whose policy they don't care about one way or the other.
Now we've added a new grievance to the list: we have occupied Iraq. A whole generation of Iraqis is being radicalized against us. (Cough Abu Ghraib cough.)
You don't "deter by being nice". Deterrence is applicable only in the context of conflict. Rather, what my side sees (and your side apparently does not) is that ideally you remove conflict in the first place by being nice.
"Deterrence" assumes conflict is not tractable. It is usually better than appeasement (i.e., being nice when conflict is intractable). But it is not better than simply having no conflict to begin with.
I suggest that, ideally, America should have no conflict with the world. America's policy should be viewed with indifference by the world. In the past it was fairly safe to do things that caused distant peoples to hate you. They'd attack your colonial army, maybe, but the home front was too far to attack. In this era of technology, breeding hate is no longer safe. Therefore it behooves us to stop breeding it.
That is the lesson of 9-11.
And the historically clear way to produce indifference amongst distant people is quite simple: don't hurt them. Trade peacefully with them if possible, otherwise, leave them alone. Make simple and clear boundaries that they agree on. Spank them if they aggress, otherwise, nothing. This is isolationism, in a nutshell.
The nuclear genie is not going back into the bottle. In the long run, terrorists will get nuclear weapons if they want them. (Is anyone so daring as to say, no terrorist will ever get a nuclear weapon?) When that time comes, I hope that they no longer have serious grievances against us. And if we want that to be true in, say, 20 years, we'd better start now, acting inoffensively in the world. This means pulling back from the world militarily. Trade peacefully; let them run their own affairs without interference from us.
Meanwhile, our new policy of preemptive attack against a weak country (Iraq), but not other recent or soon-to-be nuclear states (Pakistan, Iran, perhaps North Korea) sends a clear signal to every third world dictator type: get nukes ASAP if at all possible. That is, our belligerence is arguably counterproductive on the issue of nuclear proliferation.
Given that terrorists will almost certainly get their first nuke from a nuclear state, and probably a non-Western nuclear state, is that sort of belligerence really in our interest? I think not. We are not deterring in Iraq; in fact, we are making nuclear terrorism against the USA more likely.
Well, it's too late to change what we've done in Iraq, but it's not too late to change our policy and firmly disavow what President Bush and his people did. That's a good reason not to vote for Bush.
Not that I'm voting for Kerry. As you say, he's basically Bush lite. He's in cuckoo-land if he thinks that "alliances" are going to get us anything in Iraq. I don't think he thinks that, actually; I think he's too smart. I'm not voting for either him or Bush. Badnarik remains my choice.