By Carl Pearlston
It is truly ironic that the presidential hopes of the Democrats seem to be contingent on the Republican administration's continued detection and prevention of al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the homeland. As Hillary Clinton acknowledged last year, an attack on the US would significantly and negatively affect Democratic chances. While the public has become apathetic and negative about the war in Iraq, a direct attack on the US would tend to unite the public against the common enemy, just as happened on 9/11. Another such attack, which certainly is being planned , would produce a similar reaction, to the detriment of the party out of power.
So if the Republicans continue to do the fine job they have in detecting and deterring terrorist attacks for the past 6 ½ years, they are more likely to be turned out of office for their sterling performance, than if they lapse and an attack takes place. Logic would indicate that the Democratic Congress would try to bolster the administrations' ability to detect such attacks, by passing the proposed, now stalled, FISA legislation, since it would be directly to their electoral interest. But logic is not politics.
Meanwhile, the administration is faced with the question of how to get credit for the 6 ½ years of no attacks on the US. At the time of 9/11, it was thought almost inconceivable that there would not be another attack within 6 months or a year, but now the public takes security for granted. In facts, efforts to protect the public can arouse its ire, as with airport inspections. Just this month, Secretary Chertoff of Homeland Security complained that not enough attention was being paid by the media to the UK trial of eight airline terrorist bombers, who, 18 months ago, planned to blow up seven airliners (Air Canada, American, United) while en route over the ocean from England to the US, using liquid explosives and soft drink containers. As Chertoff stated, restrictions on hand-carried liquids were imposed because of that plot, but people wondered if the threat were real. He urged the media not to bury the stories, but to fully inform the public so they would understand that the attacks were almost ready to be implemented.
Contrary-wise, as John McCain has noted, if al-Qaida steps up its attacks in Iraq before the election, that will work against the administration since the public has grown manifestly tired of the Iraq war, not seeing it related to terrorism at home, and would view any set-backs there as a further reason to lose confidence in the administration and elect the Democrats who promise to end that conflict. For that very reason, President Bush announced a halt to further troop reductions after July, in order to forestall any pre-election war gains by al-Qaida in Iraq.
There is, thus, an almost symbiotic relationship between the political parties and al-Qaida, in which the electoral chances of the former are dependent on the tactical decisions of the latter. If al-Qaida chooses to focus on Iraq and defer attacks on the US, the Democrats will profit, and that is indeed what seems to be the case. Indeed, in 2006, Ayman al Zawahri, al-Qaida's no. 2 man, claimed that credit for the Democratic congressional victory belonged to the terrorists because of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently, he has declared that the Iraq war is the central focus of the jihadist conflict with the US and the West. This is the war that al-Qaida cannot afford to lose.
Does this mean that al-Qaida is making a deliberate choice to not attack the US and to focus on Iraq in order to better the Democrats' chances? al-Qaida has a history of making statements to influence US elections. In 2004, the group responsible for the Madrid train bombing, said it supported President Bush in his re-election bid, since they feared Kerry would abandon the war and, through diplomatic cunning, subvert the Jihadist movement. Just before the election that year, Osama bin-Laden issued a videotape denouncing President Bush. While initially seen as an endorsement of Kerry, CIA analysts later interpreted it as a subtle endorsement of the president, who could be expected to continue a war that the jihadists wanted and believed they were winning at the time. A termination then might be seen to diminish bin-Laden's leadership role because of the rise of al-Zarqawi in Iraq, who could have claimed to have beaten the Americans. Now, al-Zarqawi is dead and the tide seems to have turned against al-Qaida in Iraq due to the US military surge. Logic indicates that al-Qaida would now want a US leader like Clinton or Obama, both of whom have promised to terminate the conflict by withdrawing US troops. This is also the consensus of other terrorist groups, as quoted last year in the book Schmoozing with Terrorists.
It will be interesting to see if the US public will vote to give the terrorists what they want.
This is Carl Pearlston's first contribution to Enter Stage Right. © 2008 Carl Pearlston.