My friend Rob Farley recently recorded an interesting diavlog with John Mueller, author of the new book Atomic Obsession. In his book, Mueller argues that fears of nuclear holocaust during the Cold War, and now of nuclear terrorism, are overblown.
In one funny segment, Farley and Mueller chuckle over the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) “awareness movement” — I think the “Pulsers” deserve their own spot alongside the Birthers and Deathers in the grand and glorious tapestry of goofballery that is the contemporary conservative movement — noting that achieving the sort of effect that they warn of — detonating a nuclear device at a high altitude, shutting down electrical power across most of the continental United States — would require a level of technical expertise that even the United States may not possess:
MUELLER: There’s a guy named Lawrence who used to be head of the Los Alamos lab, in weapons design, and in a recent book he asked somebody who knew all about EMP about that, and the idea that the North Koreans could do that, could basically wipe out the communications of the United States with a single bomb — I mean, right now their delivery system can barely hit the Pacific Ocean –but he didn’t even think the United States could do that. [...]
The technological ability to do that is fantastically high. It takes a huge amount of ability to even begin to do that.
Despite the effort that conservatives have devoted to this cause, it appears to have gained little traction in the mainstream media. The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, and other major television news organizations declined to cover the EMPACT conference. Indeed, even the neoconservative Weekly Standard, which seems perpetually on the lookout for ways to plug purported existential threats to the homeland, stayed away from Niagara. One Standard editor said in an interview with the author, “I don’t go for that EMP stuff. Kind of more interested in dangerous scenarios that might actually happen.”
Think about that for a moment: The threat from EMP is so remote that not even the Weekly Standard is willing to fear-monger about it. This hasn’t stopped two of the leading likely GOP presidential contenders, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, from making it a big part of their national security agenda. In terms of “serious ideas about things that might ever actually happen,” it’s the equivalent of a leftist candidate calling upon Americans to simultaneously begin chanting and thinking good thoughts about Al Qaeda in the hopes that our “love rays” will cause them to abandon their war against us. It’s a sad commentary both on the state of the GOP and on the nature of the U.S. national security debate that Gingrich and Huckabee’s advocacy of these ideas hasn’t prevented them from being taken (kind of) seriously.