Nicholas Kristof describes a nuclear terror scenario and then writes:
That is what I find baffling: an utter failure of the political process. The Bush administration responded aggressively on military fronts after 9/11, and in November 2003, Mr. Bush observed, "The greatest threat of our age is nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in the hands of terrorists, and the dictators who aid them." But the White House has insisted on tackling the most peripheral elements of the W.M.D. threat, like Iraq, while largely ignoring the central threat, nuclear proliferation. The upshot is that the risk that a nuclear explosion will devastate an American city is greater now than it was during the cold war, and it's growing.What he doesn't seem to realize is that the resources needed to combat black market nuclear proliferation are completely different from the resources needed to overthrow Saddam Hussein, which are in turn very (although not completely) different from the resources needed to secure Afghanistan, and very different from the resources needed to suppress North Korea. One aspect of the War on Terror that's been very advantageous for our side is that there have been a lot of targets to go after that don't all require the same approach.
For example, we used mostly light infantry and special forces in Afghanistan because of the rugged terrain. We used a lot of armor and air support in Iraq. If we have to fight in North Norea we'll let the South Koreans do the ground-pounding and we'll provide sea security and air support from a few carrier battle groups (which are handy to have in the area to keep China on her toes as well). Stopping black market nuclear proliferation is mostly a job for the intelligence agencies, with support from special forces when necessary. Stopping open nuclear proliferation (which is pretty rare these days) is a job for diplomats, at which they've already been quite successful.
Note also that these resource limitations are useful for understanding why we went into Iraq when we did: because we had the capability, and it was an opportune time. We can't use those same resources for fighting black market nuclear proliferation, because that's not what heavy armor does. However, when the time is right, we will use those resources to provoke change in Iran and Saudi Arabia (not necessarily with direct military action).
Now that I think about it, I'm pretty amazed at how well our military planners foresaw some of these eventualities and structured our forces to allow for all these different scenarios. I know a lot of changes have been made in the past few years to optimize our forces, but our broad range of capabilities is still very impressive.
(HT: Hugh Hewitt.)