• Is Cal Thomas Right or Wrong?

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    Although I
    don't often read Cal Thomas's syndicated column, I got a fair number
    of insights from his
    11 September 2007 column
    ("The only hope in the Iraq war
    is to win it"). After reading this article, I thought: if Thomas's
    assessment of the situation is correct, I, too, should be a big
    fan of the Iraq War. In a nutshell, here is what Thomas is saying.

    There is a
    big pool of Islamic terrorists. These terrorists hate us and are
    just waiting to kill Americans and level America. The only thing
    preventing the total destruction of everything we love is the U.S.
    military's presence in Iraq. In Thomas's words, a pullout would
    be "…followed by a huge terrorist base that would surely spawn
    new and more devastating attacks on the United States."

    This got me
    thinking. If you believe Thomas's assessment of the situation, you
    would be insane to oppose the Iraq War. You would also be more critical
    of "civil libertarians" such as those in the ACLU who
    throw barriers in the way of the government as it tries to spy on
    its citizens, some of whom could be murderous religious fanatics.

    Let's consider
    Thomas's assessment. If we believe his assessment, we should support
    the war and be less critical of the government's other actions.
    If we don't believe it, we should withdraw our support for the war
    and government spying.

    Lets take as
    a given that Thomas is right about the big pool of Islamic terrorists
    wanting to kill us. How is it possible that the war in Iraq is stopping
    them? Do they need to drive through the war zone and are just waiting
    for the fighting to pass? "I don't want to scratch the paint
    on my car, Mohammed. Let's wait for this thing to settle down."
    Have the American soldiers blocked all the exits from the country?
    Are the American soldiers too much fun to shoot at? Are the terrorists
    lost because all the street signs leading out of Iraq are filled
    with bullet holes? Or can the terrorists leave at any time, but
    they can't seem to pull themselves away, as if they are sitting
    in a comfortable chair watching TV after work? "Yeah, yeah,
    honey, I'll go over to America and detonate some bombs as soon as
    this war ends." None of this seems plausible to me. I fail
    to find any reasonable way to explain how the Iraq War is keeping
    these terrorists away from my neighborhood.

    Oh wait. Thomas
    says that the terrorists are already in this country. "[T]hey
    are even now building a religious and educational infrastructure
    inside the United States from which terrorist attacks could be carried
    out." This makes the argument for the war even more interesting.
    If the enemy is already here, why should our soldiers still be over

    Perhaps, just
    perhaps, Thomas isn't correct about the big pool of terrorists waiting
    to kill us. I flew to the East Coast for a business trip just a
    day after the post-9/11 air travel restrictions were lifted in 2001.
    Everyone was on edge and security was tight. Only poor shmucks like
    me who really had to fly were in the airport. The flight attendant
    was close to tears. As I took my seat in the rear of the airplane,
    I looked around at my fellow passengers, wondering if any were hijackers.
    Sitting in my seat I thought that while the passengers couldn't
    bring any weapons on board, I'd bet that there were makeshift weapons
    already on the plane. Right then I heard a chipping sound coming
    from the galley behind me. A single female flight attendant was
    using an ice pick to break apart ice cubes. There's the weapon!
    A hijacker would need only to wrestle that ice pick from the attendant
    — something many young strong men could easily do.

    Or consider
    another example. On 29 April 2007, a gasoline tanker truck was driving
    on a freeway overpass in Oakland, California. The driver crashed
    the truck and it caught fire. While the driver escaped the inferno,
    the fire was so hot that it melted the whole overpass and caused
    massive traffic problems.

    What am I getting
    at? Terrorist acts are pretty easy to perpetrate, especially if
    you don't care about getting caught or even losing your life. And
    especially if you want to lose your life as a supposed "martyr."
    A terrorist could have gotten that ice pick and hijacked my plane.
    A terrorist could drive a gasoline truck into a target much more
    valuable than an overpass. I bet that I could come up with a list
    of hundreds of good terrorist schemes. So could you. Forest fires?
    Dams? Bridges? Electrical systems? Military systems? Airplanes?
    Downtown buildings? Key people? Oh my, we live in a target-rich

    And if I chose
    to follow through, I could perpetrate these awful acts without nuclear
    weapons or a base in the Middle East. And I'm not even a professional.

    No, I'm not
    a terrorist. And neither are you. And neither is almost everyone
    else in the world. If terrorist acts are so easy and yet so rare,
    the only conclusion we can draw is that very few people are motivated
    enough to follow through on such bloodshed and destruction. That's
    a good thing.

    don't need to worry about me killing people; I'm morally and intellectually
    opposed to such acts and I've got too much to live for. And so do
    my neighbors. And so do you and your neighbors.

    Which leads
    to the conclusion that Thomas is wrong. The Iraq War is not the
    only thing stopping terrorists because it isn't stopping them at
    all. In fact, it may be the primary trigger for their warped immoral
    religious delusions.

    21, 2007

    L. Hooper [send him
    ] is a visiting fellow with the Hoover Institution. He and
    David R. Henderson coauthored Making
    Great Decisions in Business and Life
    (Chicago Park Press,

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