Cliff May

Other recommendations focused on ways to prevent explosives being placed aboard planes, but there was nothing about using such commonplace implements as box-cutters, to take control of a plane, nothing about fully fueled passenger jets being turned into missiles to bring down skyscrapers.

What recommendations might have been implemented to hijackers with homicidal/suicidal intentions from successfully completing their missions? To name just a few: installing fortified and lockable cockpit doors; training pilots to conduct abrupt maneuvers - e.g. dives and rolls - to disable passengers disobeying orders to sit down and buckle their seatbelts; training and arming members of flight crews; and placing air marshals on planes. Such recommendations are - at least in retrospect - conspicuously absent.

I bring all this up not to criticize Al Gore, though it does seem remarkable that, following this experience, he has made a career - and tens of millions of dollars and a Nobel Peace Prize and an Academy Award -- contending that he has identified the most critical threat confronting us, and that it is not terrorism, asymmetric warfare and Islamist imperialism, but rather global warming.

Actually, the preferred phrase is now "global climate change" (perhaps because there is little evidence of temperatures climbing in recent years). The received wisdom is that such change is being caused by people in the developed nations, that this will lead to calamity, and that the solution is to drastically alter the Western lifestyle - diminishing our living standards while giving governments and trans-national organizations vastly increased power over us.

But my point here is not to question the conventional climate change narrative; it is rather to illustrate how difficult it can be to recognize which challenges are most urgent. Finding solutions - real solutions -- can be even harder.

So when it comes to determining how much missile defense is sufficient; the consequences should Iran's ruling mullahs acquire nuclear weapons; whether it is excessively risky to treat international terrorists as criminal suspects rather than illegal combatants; whether coercive interrogations should ever be permissible; what would result from abandoning the battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan; which reforms will improve, not damage, America's health care system; and, yes, whether "climate change" should be at the top of the international agenda, as it was this week at the United Nations "summit" in New York, we would be wise to exercise caution.

If, as has been said many times, war is too important to leave to the generals, some other issues are too important to leave to politicians and their favorite experts. In a democracy, responsible citizens, sensible people, ordinary people -- people such as you and I -- need to resist the temptation to trust elites to handle things for us. We need, instead, to do the arduous work of figuring things out for ourselves. We need to deliberate and decide these issues as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.