Friday, July 23, 2004

Impending Ugliness

You think it's ugly now; just wait.

Tom Ridge says al Qaida may be entering the "operational or planning phase of an attack," yearning to hit America hard sometime before Election Day.

Since Sept. 11, only the most paranoid fringe players have asserted the cynical theory that the Bush Administration knew what was going to happen that day and let it happen for the sake of some agenda. Rather, Bush has been condemned for his clueless, slack-jawed response. Next time, if it comes, it will be different. If I'm right, the anti-war voices already are staking out their positions on the grassy knoll, ready to open fire with the lurid assertion that "Bush knew."

The virulently anti-war, anti-Bush Guardian newspaper in Britain runs an occasional series under the heading "Fortress America" Today's is titled George Bush's re-election hopes may well hang on al-Qaida's ruthless ingenuity.

The Guardian doesn't have the guts to come right out and say it. But the piece seems aimed at setting up a public suspicion that Bush knows an al Qaida attack -- gods forbid there should be one -- between now and November would assure his re-election, and that, if he has some inclination that one is coming, he might not try very hard to stop it. Here's the article's conclusion:

In a recent opinion poll for the Economist, handling the war on terror was one of the few areas in which American voters favoured Bush over Kerry. It seems likely there would be a wave of patriotic solidarity with the incumbent. In short, Bush's election chances may depend on the ruthless ingenuity of al-Qaida, while Kerry's election chances may depend on the ability of Bush's department of homeland security to combat it.

There's a paternalism in the institution of the presidency, and Americans will rally around an incumbent leader, even an unpopular one, in a national crisis. But the anti-war left has noticed that this can be thwarted, quickly and effectively, by deflecting the galvanizing effect of an attack into national anger at the administration. And their model is Spain.

"A major terrorist attack on the American homeland a few days before November 2 would almost certainly not have the effect that the Madrid pre-election bombing had, sending swing voters to the anti-war opposition," the Guardian writes. No, an attack by itself wouldn't. But a scandalous revelation that the Bush administration had let it happen surely would, and the Guardian surely knows this. As do others in its camp. It needn't be a full revelation; in a nation as split and jittery as we are this year, a strong suspicion, shouted loudly enough by reputable sources, might suffice.

In Spain, voters tossed the U.S.-allied Aznar government just days after a major terrorist attack. Nobody accused Aznar of complicity in the attack. But, they say, he knew that if voters connected the deaths to his unpopular decision to take part in the war to overthrow Saddam, they would swing behind his opponent. Aznar, the pundits say, too quickly blamed the terror bombings on Basque groups. Al Qaida turned out to be the culprit. The national anguish at the vicious murder of almost 200 citizens galvanized into anger -- not at the killers, but at the government that named the wrong suspect.

The U.S. is not Spain; it's hard to imagine that sequence happening here. But you can't blame the Bush-bashers for dreaming of the anger of U.S. voters if Bush or his cabinet were believed to have cynically allowed Americans to die for the sake of an election.

And you have to think some people in high places are already rehearsing what they might say in the days between a terrorist attack on the U.S. and the next presidential election.

As despicable as that would be, the Guardian piece veers right off the track into tin-foil-hat territory by suggesting that Bush's self-interest converges with bin Laden's. "Osama bin Laden ... must be backing an election victory for George Bush."

The object of the terrorist is often to reveal the "true" repressive character of the state against which the terror is directed, and thus win further support for the terrorists' cause. If the United States had just acted in Afghanistan, and then concentrated on hoovering-up the remains of al-Qaida, the United States might clearly be winning the war on terror today. But, as bin Laden must have hoped, the Bush administration overreacted, and thus provided, in Iraq and Guantánamo, recruiting sergeants for al-Qaida of which Osama could only dream.

"So in this looking-glass world of backhanded ironies ... al-Qaida terrorists will be backing Bush, because he's their best recruiter." And in that view, the article reports, the terrorists may well try to influence the American election by timing an attack to boost Bush into another four-year term.

OK, overlook the howler about putting Afghanistan in one category and Guantanamo in another: the Guardian, which editorializes tirelessly against Guantanamo, doesn't seem to realize that "the vast majority" of the detainees there were scooped up in the Afghan campaign.

The fact is, the Islamists don't need Bush's policies to bring in recruits. They have allies in mosques all around the world, tirelessly preaching Jihad, and filling the heads of uninformed young men with the most ludicrous lies about the U.S., the Jews, 9/11, you name it. If the U.S. had stopped with Afghanistan, the only difference would be that the outcry from the mosques and al Jazeera about human rights abuses, secret Mossad operations, and mass rapes of Muslim women by G.I.s would have been told about that country, rather than Iraq.

The Guardian doesn't document its suggestion that, the more America fights back, the more Muslims join the radicals. Perhaps in some cases that is so. But there is good anecdotal evidence from Iraq that our determined resistance to Islamist jihad dampens the enthusiasm of the enemy -- not all of them seem to want those 70 virgins right now. And a perception of our weakness, as in Fallujah, is regarded throughout the region as a wonderful gift to Islamist "recruiters."

You don't read about imams preaching, "go fight the Americans, they hit back hard." But you do hear a lot about them telling their followers how weak and decadent we are, for all our appearance of power. Fallujah, not Guantanamo, is their rallying cry.

As for Spain, Iraq al-Jihad, the al-Qaeda strategy document publicized after the Madrid bombings, shows that the terrorists didn't care a damn about the left-right nuances of the Popular Party and the Socialist Party. The Spanish elections were targeted for one reason: the Socialist Party had pledged, in its platform, to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq unless the U.S. got a U.N. mandate for them to be there.

To the Islamists, Spain was a soft ally that could be peeled away from the main target. And America is target number one. Al Qaida doesn't care that the "bring the troops home now" crowd supports Kerry. Their war on us goes on no matter who sits in the White House. Al Qaida loathes America and the West, and while the Guardian's pundits inhabit a space where the gap between Bush and Kerry is as wide as America, to al Qaida, they're both the same; a different face on the Great Satan.

But speaking of Islamist "recruiting," in Spain this year Al Qaida determined the outcome of a European nation's election. It asserted Islamic power in Spain in a way that it hasn't been felt since the 15th century. For once, a Western power knuckled under to Islamic force, not the reverse. Realities don't matter in the Islamic Middle East; in that world, perception rules. George Bush could say or do nothing that would send Islamist hotheads running to Osama faster than voters in Spain did.