America is not prepared for a "decapitating" strike

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Fraggle Rocker, Jul 12, 2007.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I copied that from the subhead of an op-ed in today's Washington Post. It got my attention because it makes it look like it's about Islamic terrorists, and it probably got yours the same way.

    It is, sort of. By "decapitation," Norman Ornstein means a strike that would kill many of the key people in the federal government. Consider:

    Each house of Congress requires half its members to be present in order to open for business. Deceased Congressmen can only be replaced by a special election that usually takes four months. In most states a governor can appoint someone to replace a deceased Senator, but there is no mechanism for replacing members of either house who are alive but incapacitated.

    Every person in the line of presidential succession is based in Washington.

    The Supreme Court requires six of its nine justices to function. If four of them are killed in one blow, the President or acting President must nominate a successor to at least one position and the Senate must confirm the nomination. If there is no president and no senate, there will be no Supreme Court.

    I suppose the terrorists have already thought of this so Ornstein wasn't afraid to put the idea in print: What if a suitcase nuclear bomb goes off near the presidential inauguration ceremony in 2008, 2012, etc? Both the outgoing and incoming president and vice president will be there, with most of Congress and the Supreme Court nearby. Some outgoing Cabinet members will be there too, but they all have packed and are leaving their posts, with no new ones appointed yet.

    There would be chaos. No president, no quorum to reconstitute Congress or the Supreme Court and therefore no Supreme Court to sort out the conflicting claims of the dozens of people who want to take power and either restore the government or establish a dictatorship.

    During the Cold War, we would have had 30 to 90 minutes to evacuate top officials from Washington or herd them into deep underground bunkers, before Soviet nuclear missiles destroyed the city. A cold rational analysis says that the threat of a terrorist nuclear attack is very unlikely--but if it does happen it is very likely that we will get no warning at all.

    It's not hard to put together a contingency plan for reestablishing an interim government. Making temporary appointments to the Senate and the House. Inserting a few figures in the presidential succession who are not ordinarily in Washington. Appointing chief judges of federal appeals courts to a temporary Supreme Court. Setting forth some pretty straightforward rules for replacing temporary appointments with permanent elected officials or their permanent appointees.

    A commission was formed in 2002, in the wake of 9/11, to put this contingency plan together. But in five years, the executive, legislative and judicial branches have refused to give it any attention. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts apparently spoke for everyone in our government when he said, "I just got here, and you want me to deal with the issue of my demise?"

    It's well known that many smart people fail to draw up wills, even though they know that it will leave a nightmare for their loved ones. Our government is leaving us with far worse than a nightmare: If it "dies," our Constitution could die with it.
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  3. te jen Registered Senior Member

    In the case of a decapitation strike, and assuming no one in the consitutional line of succession survived, I suppose that the highest-ranking military officer surviving could declare a national emergency, suspend the federal constitution and impose military law at the federal level, while coordinating with state governors to carry on civil rule under state constitutions. Federal martial law would continue until a new congress could be constituted, and then an election, appointment of supreme court vacancies, and so on.

    I've also worried about the State of the Union Address. It seems like a real bad idea to put the entire federal government in one building, even if you do draw straws and put the Secretary for Labor or Commerce or whatever in a bunker in case something bad happens.

    I could also imagine a group of people attempting to reconstruct a federal government being forced to call a constitutional convention, there being no specific language to deal with such a situation. Once a convention is called by the states, look out.
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Well yes, and that's the libertarian's nightmare. Remember that the most likely cause of this scenario will be a terrorist attack. We've already got a civilian president who's unclear on the difference between terrorism and actual war. What are the odds that we could put a professional soldier in charge of the country, right after an attack of that magnitude, and martial law will ever be lifted? Not to mention, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces absolutely must be a civilian or it just gets too scary.
    If there is one "business" in this country that could run with 100% telecommuting, it's the federal government. All their work requires is a computer and a telephone--and of course some 21st century aptitudes.

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    Send them all home and it will be impossible for anybody to kill very many of them at once.
    I should think it would take fifty years to get a new constitution ratified.

    Another more pleasant alternative is that the country could simply split into separate states. Countries have gotten way too big, requiring too many levels of government, which dissipate capital, stifle creativity, and at their highest levels reward people for being nothing more than popular. It would be nice to see a reversal of that trend.
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  7. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Imagine a military rule in the US with thousands of nuclear weapons at their disposal. Wow.
  8. te jen Registered Senior Member

    Perhaps we'd get lucky and have another George Washington, a man who could easily have been President For Life, but who turned it down.

    If you can negotiate the tidal wave of eighteenth century oratory, Washington's Farewell Address is illuminating:

    "However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."

    "The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty."

    "In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim. "
  9. Clockwood You Forgot Poland Registered Senior Member

    I can tell you one thing: We wouldn't be the only ones hurting.
    A large segment of the planet would evaporate in a succession of very bright flashes.

    Afterwards, what is left would embody every nightmare you ever had... and a few more you should be glad you missed.
  10. Repo Man Valued Senior Member

    Yes, yes, yes, nationalist bravado, blah blah blah.

    Once again, if attacked by a multinational terrorist organization, no central command center, no single nation of origin or refuge; where do you strike back with nuclear weapons? Where you think they might be? Maybe some totally unrelated country just to demonstrate how angry we are? "We showed those Falkland Islands now didn't we!"
  11. desi Valued Senior Member

    If that happened I'd probably change my name to Max and go about the countryside in a fast V8 looking for fuel as I go on many a merry misadventure.
  12. Mr. G reality.sys Valued Senior Member

    Yes, it is.

    The 2nd Amendment.

    America isn't defined by its imperial elites.

    America is defined by individual Americans acting in their collective best interest.

    May the best American collective win.

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  13. madanthonywayne Morning in America Registered Senior Member

    Oh, I think we could figure out what part of the globe to target. A military government brought to power by a terrorist strike would not be concerned with political correctness. "Kill 'em all, and let God sort 'em out" would be the rule of the day.
  14. te jen Registered Senior Member

    Okay, hang on a minute. I don't envision a huge nuke vaporizing all of D.C.. I imagine that it is not difficult to build an extremely low-yield weapon based on the Hiroshima gun-type bomb. The Hiroshima bomb was "only" seventeen kilotons, and I can imagine that fuel of an iffy quality with a marginal design might only generate five kilotons or less. Big enough, of course (the Oklahoma City conventional weapon was only .002 kilotons) but not like what all of us children of the Cold War think of when we think of nuclear strikes.

    Besides the obvious consternation that would dwarf 9-11, I think that state and local government would morph to accomodate the lack of a federal government. The states would take up the slack and the average citizen would see little change. Except for those living inside the I-495 Beltway, of course.

    There'd be nobody to retaliate against.
  15. radicand Registered Senior Member

    If you are a libertarian, then already know that it (Constitution) has one foot in the grave as it is.
  16. superstring01 Moderator

    I have taken some time to respond to this because I had to call my friend who is a secret service officer (actually works at the white house-- he hates Bush with a passion... but that's another story). From what he tells me, as a rule, at any given time at least ONE cabinet member must be located outside Washington D.C. Although the government doesn't always disclose the information as to where the current 16 succession-abled are (two are disqualified as having not been natural born citizens), he assures me that at any given time there are usually three to four of them outside the beltway but never less than one outside Washington D.C. at any time.

    This was standard practice during the Cold War and was firmly re-enforced after the 9/11 attacks.

    In any event where the government were nearly wiped out, the existence of a Supreme Court would be the least of the national concerns... for the first few weeks. Martial Law would very much be in place.

    This very issue requires very little research. It is a matter of law that during any joint meetings of the branches of government one previously selected member of the current cabinet is secreted at an undisclosed location. Since the term of the outgoing president is the only thing that expires with the inaugriation of a new one, the various Secretaries are still legally in control of their departments and in the line of succession until they tender their resignations to the new president (usually the next day after the inaugriation) and are promptly replaced.

    Actually-- it would be far more dangerous to nuke D.C. the day after all the cabinet members have resigned because then there would be NO legal Secretaries (having not been approved by the Senate) and the only legally able people would/could be dead.

    (it should be noted, that the most powerful suitcase nuke on Earth would only do about a half mile of destruction... I doubt one so small would be powerful enough to kill all it's intended victems)

    In such a time, I firmly believe that we would be the closest to national collapse that we will ever come... but I also believe that people would rise up and create a new government within the framework of the Constitution or a new one.

    This I agree with-- there needs to be more spelled out in legal form as to how far down the line of succession goes. It should also include the state governors as well.

    Last edited: Jul 14, 2007
  17. Repo Man Valued Senior Member

    I do not share your apparent confidence that an actual military target could be found. And if you are suggesting that a large number of non-combatant casualties would be acceptable in order to get to a few known terrorists who may have been involved in planning a strike on us; well, that would make you no better than them.

    I'd like to think that cooler heads would prevail, but I thought that sanity would eventually prevail before we invaded Iraq as well. I was wrong.
  18. Mr. G reality.sys Valued Senior Member

    No. It would make us their survivors.

    And our children. And our grandchildren.

    It's about the DNA. It's not about our need to place your personal need to like yourself above decisions affecting millions that you're intellectually unwilling to address.
  19. madanthonywayne Morning in America Registered Senior Member

    At some point, when fighting a war, being perceived as "better" than the enemy is not an issue. Did we worry that nuking Japan would make us no better than them? Or that firebombing Germany would make us no better than them? Fuck no.

    When the majority of the country doesn't really believe we're at war. When most citizens don't believe there's really a threat, then we worry about such perceptions.

    But when we've been attacked in such a way as to actually feel threatened, such nicities go out the window.
  20. Repo Man Valued Senior Member

    Japan was not harboring a few terrorists; we were at war with the entire nation. The same was true of Germany. And we weren't attacking them for revenge, we were attacking them to make them stop fighting. So, if those responsible for attacking us (more likely those suspected of that) are hiding in, say, Indonesia, you have no problem killing hundreds of thousands, or even millions, for revenge? What if they are in Saudi Arabia? How about Turkey? What if the nation where they are hiding in is willing to turn them over, but cannot find them? Too slow, too bad?

    You are admitting that you are not unwilling to slaughter possibly millions of non-combatants in a revenge attack. This makes you no better than the 9/11 attackers. Way to cede the moral high ground. How exactly are the other nations of the world supposed to decide who the good guys are again?

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