On HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher last night a guest stated assertively, several times, that a tactical nuke is exclusively defined as a weapon designed to penetrate underground installations like a conventional bunker-buster. While there is no precise definition, the term generally refers to a nuclear device that 1) produces an explosive yield measured more in kilotons than megatons and 2) is designed for use on a fluid, relatively nearby battlefield as opposed to a more distant fixed target like a military base or a city.
The individual was, I believe, Duncan Hunter (R – CA), staunch member of the Dunning-Kruger wing of the GOP. A syndrome which seems to afflict more and more conservatives these days. Hunter made this blanket claim, shooting down any skepticism by other panelists, with apparently little knowledge of the colloquial use of the term tactical nuke. He did so in a rather dismissive, smug manner and went on to imply that, since he served as a 2nd Lt in the US Marine Corp in Iraq, his view on any foreign policy issue, presumably including strategic and tactical nuclear devices, was beyond question. Among those views is Hunter’s more infamous statements that war with Iran will become necessary and the US should use nuclear weapons in a “massive aerial bombing campaign” together with conventional explosives.
Think Progress 12 Dec 2013 — Kingston Reif of the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation tells Defense News that, if carried out, Hunter’s plan “would have a devastating impact on US national security and dismember US power and standing in the world.”
“That a senior Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee is even suggesting such a possible course of action is the height of reckless irresponsibility and so far out of bounds it is astonishing,” Reif said. “The first use of nuclear weapons against Iran would guarantee a mad Iranian dash to acquire nuclear weapons to deter future such US attacks, likely convince other potential US adversaries in the region and around the world to acquire their own nuclear weapons to ward off a potential future US attack.”
Hunter may have simply lied, but more likely his seeming certainty on the definition of tactical nukes signaled a fundamental misunderstanding of basic terminology, or possibly elementary set theory. I.e., all A’s are C’s does not mean all C’s are A’s. It’s true that a nuclear bunker-buster might fit under the classification tactical, but all tactical nukes are not ground penetrating weapons. A sitting US congressman touting a military background should know this, especially if they’re going to present themselves as an uncontested expert on national television.
But there was one past statement Hunter made which we can all appreciate. “To be frank, with Iran’s government, the way that it is driven by radical extremist Muslims, that’s different from self preservation mindset that North Korea has in kind of the old Soviet model, that’s different from Iran’s government. When you’ll blow yourself up for your God that makes you more dangerous than the sense of self preservation that most people and most countries have.”
Indeed, when a person is so devoutly and unconditionally steeped into a belief system that involves promises of a life after death, a life free form all worry, stress, or threat of harm, they might consider the real world less valuable, and real lives less worthy of protection. Bronze-age faith plus space-age weaponry is a deadly, potentially genocidal combination on a global scale. If only Hunter and his partisan ilk could make the obvious, logical leap to their own party’s warmongers, legacy of manifest destiny, and after-life mythology for the True Chosen Faithful.