I'm certainly no military planner, but even I can comprehend why the imaginary terror scenarios Peggy Noonan summons to argue against military base closures will never happen.

Imagine they're planning that on the same day in the not-so-distant future, they will set off nuclear suitcase bombs in six American cities, including Washington, which will take the heaviest hit. Hundreds of thousands may die; millions will be endangered. Lines will go down, and to make it worse the terrorists will at the same time execute the cyberattack of all cyberattacks, causing massive communications failure and confusion. There will be no electricity; switching and generating stations will also have been targeted. There will be no word from Washington; the extent of the national damage will be as unknown as the extent of local damage is clear. Daily living will become very difficult, and for months--food shortages, fuel shortages.

Let's make it worse. On top of all that, on the day of the suitcase nukings, a half dozen designated cells will rise up and assassinate national, state and local leaders. There will be chaos, disorder, widespread want; law-enforcement personnel, or what remains of them, will be overwhelmed and outmatched.

Impossibly grim? No, just grim.

Actually, the scenario can be dismissed because it's incredibly impractical. If terrorists had a single nuclear device they would use it immediately, not wait to collect more to set them off all at once. Every day they hold onto a weapon is another day they risk getting caught without being able to use it at all. Steven Den Beste argued similarly last year.

The reason they are organized in cells is to minimize the damage when a cell is discovered. By the same token, they are unlikely to engage in an operation this huge because if it is compromised they lose too much all at once. If they had ten working nukes, they'd start ten totally independent plans instead of one grand ten-attack plan.

But that's not the least of their problems. It is not at all clear they actually have the human resources to engage in a plot of this magnitude. It is now known that the 9/11 attack was launched using their A-team; it required most of their best-quality willing martyrs just for that one operation. ...

I think I can plausibly argue that if al Qaeda had enough fissionables for a single nuke, they'd be working to use it immediately. They would not wait until they had as many as SR and Wretchard describe.

I cannot say that the 30-city scenario they describe is inconceivable but I do not find it remotely plausible. I don't believe that the resources are there, and I don't believe that it's the kind of plan al Qaeda would make even if the resources were there.

No terrorist group, or country, including the United States, has the ability to pull off the kind of attack Ms. Noonan envisions. In actuality, closing unneeded bases will allow us to redirect money towards more useful military endeavors and make us more prepared for the worst.



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