Does bin Laden want Kerry to Win?
The administration has trotted out its newest sophistry. (Well, it’s been floating around for awhile, but it’s suddenly being pushed hard.) It goes like this: the al Qaeda attack on trains in Madrid affected Spanish elections, causing Spain to elect an administration that is softer on terrorism than the previous one. Therefore it is likely that al Qaeda will try to strike in the U.S. before our elections in order to influence our election, specifically by bringing it about that we elect a Democratic Kerry administration that will be softer on terrorism than a Republican Bush administration.
(I want to make it clear that what I’m saying here should be taken with a grain of salt. The relentless mendacity of the Bush administration has, I often worry, driven me over the edge. I’m so angry at the administration that I even take my own judgments about it with grains of salt. So you should do likewise. Nevertheless, I think that what follows is true. Else I wouldn’t write it.)
Many Republicans honestly believe that Bush would be more effective against terrorism than Kerry would be, and they think that al Qaeda knows this. Consequently they believe that al Qaeda has an interest in trying to help Kerry get elected. Other Republicans don’t believe this, but are saying it anyway for political purposes. And lots of Republicans actually believe it, but they believe it because they have talked themselves into doing so.
I, like many others, however, believe that the Bush administration has botched the conflict with al Qaeda. In fact, I cannot imagine any plausible course of action that could have been more disastrous. This administration was so eaten up with derision for the Clinton administration that it ignored their warnings about al Qaeda. They ignored their own PDBs indicating that an attack in the U.S. was imminent, and consequently did nothing to prevent 9/11. After 9/11, the administration radically overreacted. It first pushed for passage of the Patriot Act, doing bin Laden’s work for him by undermining the very liberal principles that he is trying to destroy. Then the administration squandered the good will the rest of the world had for us after 9/11, alienating our allies and, in fact, the rest of the world by—among other things—attacking Iraq on obviously trumped-up charges about WMDs, and by announcing that anyone who wasn’t with us was against us. Worse, by failing to commit enough and the right kind of troops at Tora Bora Bush allowed a cornered and wounded bin Laden to escape our grasp.
Stunning, astounding, incredible as those failures are, they all pale in comparison to the Administration’s greatest error. Failing to decapitate al Qaeda at Tora Bora was a blunder of historical proportions, but the reason the administration failed to do so is even more astounding: they wanted to preserve our troops for an attack elsewhere. If the planned attack had been against a more dangerous enemy, then this would have been rational. But, of course, it wasn’t. Even had we allowed bin Laden to slip away merely because we didn’t want to commit enough troops, or because we didn’t want to undertake such an expensive effort, this would have merely been an act of astounding incompetence. But instead the administration withheld troops in order to strike elsewhere. And, again, if the country we ultimately attacked had merely been unconnected with bin Laden in any way, this action would have merely been tragically idiotic. But no. The Bush administration allowed bin Laden to escape so that we could attack one of bin Laden’s enemies, the man bin Laden himself called “a bad Muslim.”
Imagine bin Laden’s relief—and disbelief. To get a sense for it, I suppose you’d have to contemplate something like the following scenario: you have been wounded and cornered, without hope of escape, by a ravenous tiger. You see it approach your for the kill…but, as you prepare to make peace with your maker, the tiger not only turns and runs away, but runs into the next county and eats somebody you really hate. Greater good fortune bin Laden could not have imagined. But, of course, there’s more. Incredibly, we have yet even to mention the worst of it. Not only did the Bush administration let bin Laden escape, not only did they attack and depose his great enemy, not only did they alienate our allies and anger the rest of the world, but on top of it all they galvanized the Muslim world against us and created a recruiting goldmine for al Qaeda. Greater incompetence and a more resounding failutre can hardly be imagined.
I’ve toyed with the idea that bin Laden planned it all this way. At first I dismissed this idea because I thought it unlikely that he was smart enough to formulate such a plan. Now I reject the idea because I think it unlikely that he’s stupid enough. He would have to have predicted that the U. S. would undertake almost the worst conceivable course of action at almost every point. Incredibly, of course, that is exactly what we did do. Only an idiot would have predicted it.
I’ve heard reports that, when bin Laden and his evil minions got word that the WTC had actually collapsed after the attacks, he said that he had hoped, but not expected, that this would happen. Perhaps he might say something similar about our actions since 9/11. On second thought, I doubt that he hoped or even envisioned the overwhelming victory we have handed him thus far. Again, he simply isn’t that stupid.
If we look back—or if bin Laden were to look back—to where we all stood on September 12th 2001, looking forward to 2004, what we would see would be a spectrum of possibilities, some better for us, some better for bin Laden. But from that perspective, a reasonable person would have predicted that the real possibilities ranged from a total victory for the U.S. to—just possibly, and on the worst end of the spectrum of possibilities—a more limited victory, with al Qaeda more-or-less intact, but badly wounded. I doubt that any reasonable person could have predicted that 2004 would find bin Laden still at large, al Qaeda largely intact and deluged with recruits, our allies resentful and distant, and America deeply divided. And this is not yet even to mention the fact that polls show that most Iraqis see us as occupiers rather than liberators, and that picture and videotapes showing torture of Iraqi prisoners by American troops are almost guaranteed to make that situation worse.
So when the Bushies say or—as they more often do—slyly suggest that bin Laden will try to influence the election in order to remove Bush from office, I suggest we remind them of the facts above. Even if bin Laden is dumb enough to think that Bush is more dangerous to him than Kerry would be, let us hope that the American people are not.