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Is the war in Iraq causing more terrorism? 

Don't Panic

"It must be summer rerun season, because I swear he's answered this one before."

I actually have answered this one before, in a slightly different form, and I'll probably answer it again, since it is the single most important question that Americans and their leaders confront.

The reason I'm revisiting the question now is because July's mass transit bombings in London have reinvigorated public debate about the question.

The two loudest voices in the debate are, as always, President Bush's and Prime Minister Blair's. After all, they're the men who led the U.S. and the U.K. into the war, and they've both got hordes of reporters and repeaters hanging on their every word.

Sadly, their voices aren't conveying much in the way of honesty. Both men contend that terrorists are not at all motivated by what we do in Iraq or anywhere else. Instead, they say, terrorism is solely the product of the Islamic terrorists' "evil ideology" (that's Blair's phrase) and "dark vision of the world" (that's Bush's phrase). If perpetrating such a childish view of the world wasn't bad enough, both men (and their supporters in government and the media) have taken to smearing people who disagree with them by calling them excuse-makers or justifiers of terrorism.

Political declarations and smear campaigns notwithstanding, there are more indications every day that the war in Iraq is causing more terrorism.

Take, for example, two recent studies about what motivates terrorists, one by the Saudi government, the other by an Israeli think tank. Both studies attempted to uncover what motivates terrorists using an innovative motivation-discernment technique known as "walking up to people and asking them."

The Saudi study was based on interviews with about 300 foreigners caught trying to sneak into Iraq to commit terrorist acts. Foreign fighters (also called jihadis) are the people carrying out the bulk of the deadly suicide attacks plaguing Iraq. The people interviewed in the Saudi study say they were motivated by a desire to drive infidels out of Arab Muslim lands. Translation: They're motivated, however stupidly, by something we've done.

The Israeli think tank study contradicts the Bush/Blair "this war is making us safer" argument even more strongly. Of the 154 foreign fighters in Iraq that the Israeli study tracked, "the vast majority of [non-Iraqi] Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq. Translation: The war in Iraq isn't drawing terrorists to Iraq, it's motivating people to become terrorists.

The Israeli and Saudi studies follow a report from earlier this year by the CIA's National Intelligence Council that describes Iraq as the world's new Islamic fundamentalist terrorist training ground. "The al-Qa'ida membership that was distinguished by having trained in Afghanistan will gradually dissipate, to be replaced in part by the dispersion of the experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq." Iraq, says the report, "could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are 'professionalized' and for whom political violence becomes an end in itself."

Oh, joy!

And what will these "professionalized" terrorists face when they try to attack the United States? How about a "rich menu of irresistable [sic] targets" that are "virtually unprotected."

Those scary descriptions come courtesy of Stephen E. Flynn, a senior fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Flynn points out that the government spends more in Iraq every three days than it has spent on seaport security over the past three years -- despite that our government has concluded that seaports are the most likely point of entry for a terrorist WMD attack.

Flynn also points out, in his book America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism, that for fiscal year 2005, the federal government has budgeted nearly three times more for military base security ($7.6 billion) than the Department of Homeland Security is getting to protect everything else.

Just a few things to remember when some jackass tries to tell you that this war is making you safer.

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