America’s nuclear arsenal maintained an uneasy peace for 50 years during the Cold War.

The leaders of the nuclear-armed Soviet Union knew beyond any shadow of any doubt that a nuclear attack on the U.S. – perhaps its only hope for defeating its archenemy – would lead to an all-out nuclear counter-attack and the virtual destruction of its “workers paradise.”

The policy was called MAD, for mutually assured destruction, but there wasn’t anything crazy about it. Until Ronald Reagan came along with his idea for an anti-missile strategic defense, this kind of nuclear deterrence was the only thing that saved the U.S. from certain attack.

The Cold War may be over, but the nuclear threat to the U.S. is not.

  • Russia, despite many arms-control agreements designed to make us safe, still maintains a nuclear arsenal large enough to destroy the U.S. many times over.

  • China is another growing nuclear power with the capability of destroying some major U.S. cities.

  • North Korea and other rogue nations are rapidly developing the capacity to target the U.S. with nuclear-armed missiles.

But all of those nation-state threats are mitigated somewhat by the concept of MAD as well as the very primitive stage of a missile defense program begun under Ronald Reagan.

The real potent threat, though, comes from enemies who would never consider firing a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile. The threat some experts and high-ranking government officials say is a virtual inevitability comes from nuclear-armed terrorists who covertly detonate one or more bombs after sneaking them into the U.S.

How do we reduce the likelihood of a catastrophe of that magnitude?

Some suggest we can leave it up to the Department of Homeland Security, a bloated bureaucracy responsible for welcoming into this country millions of unidentified, undetected illegal aliens, any one of whom could be involved in what al-Qaida calls its “American Hiroshima” plot.

Others suggest the answer is to fight nuclear proliferation, yet that idea is the equivalent of putting a nuclear genie back in a bottle. Dr. A.Q. Khan of Pakistan probably put the final nail in the coffin of that policy prescription.

Only Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and a GOP presidential candidate, among elected officials, has put forth the proposition that its time to make deterrence work for us, again, like it did with the Soviet Union.

Tancredo says we need to find that deterrent soon or face the inevitability of a nuclear 9/11.

I agree.

The nuclear terrorist threat today largely comes from radical jihadists. Though they are sometimes seemingly stateless players who don’t seem to put much value on their own lives, I have never believed these maniacs are invulnerable to real-world threats and immune to consequences.

There are so-called holy places and population centers they don’t want to see destroyed. There are nations and cities they don’t want to see vaporized. There are strategic sites they don’t want to see turned to glass.

I want to join my courageous friend Tom Tancredo today in publicly urging a national dialogue to identify those targets.

It is not pleasant business. But neither will be a nuclear attack on the U.S. We are talking about preventing an unthinkable nightmare scenario that is, as Tancredo and George Bush and Dick Cheney and many others have suggested, all but assured without a specific deterrence prescription.

It is important for our enemies to know what the costs will be for an attack on the U.S. It shouldn’t be a secret, any more than it was a secret to the Soviet Union.

Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the other Hitlers in headscarves who have sworn to bring the U.S. to its knees need to be told, in no uncertain terms, what the consequences of a nuclear or radiological attack on America will mean to them, their people and their so-called holy sites.

Here are some of the targeting ideas that need to be considered:

  • Mecca

  • Medina

  • Tehran

  • Qom

  • Karbala

  • Kufa

  • Najaf

  • Damascus

Perhaps all of the above.

Because of the nature of terrorism, it is often difficult to determine who is responsible. Therefore, targets need to be identified that will serve as deterrents for both Shiites and Sunnis. Sunni terrorists like bin Laden will need to understand that a nuclear attack on the U.S. will mean destruction of both Sunni and Shiite targets. Shiite terrorists like Ahmadinejad and his proxies in Hezbollah need to comprehend both Sunni and Shiite targets will be destroyed.

I know I will be pilloried for making these suggestions today. Understand it is not because I want to see Islamic cities destroyed by fire and brimstone. It is because I want to see U.S. cities spared from destruction.

Deterrence works. It is proven. Without it, I fear, we are inviting the deaths of millions of American civilians.

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