Thursday, September 26, 2002

Edit: Just to clarify the following post is not intended as an indictment of the Republican party, or as an intimation that they are in any way connected or sympathetic towards Al Qaeda. Just in case anybody's wondering.

Oh, and Digby needs to get a blog, dammit. Go read his stuff in the comments section, it's spectacular. I might start just posting it wholesale, especially posts #29 and #30.

A little while ago I wrote about the possibility that the reaction of the Bush administration was exactly the reaction that Osama Bin Laden was looking for. The core goal of Al Qaeda remains a war between the West and Islam, and Bin Laden knew that the U.S., dissatisfied with their relatively simple (yet utterly messy) campaign and current problem-filled situation in Afghanistan, would start casting about for a larger conflict. This casting about would mean that Al Qaeda-as-enemy would be replaced by theocratic Muslim-as-enemy and (Bin Laden hopes) we'd finally end up with Islam-as-enemy. Whether or not that actually happened at the time, there's no doubt that Al Qaeda must feel that an American overreaction to terror is their own best weapon right now.

An additional element that I hadn't mentioned, however is that Al Qaeda may have (and may continue to have) the opinion that the neo-conservative wing of the Republican party is the best weapon they have right now in bringing their goals about, both because of their harsh rhetoric against Islam and because of their embracing of American exceptionalism and "might-makes-right" unilateralism. Whether or not this is true is unimportant. Al Qaeda has no doubt seen the Republicans prosecute this coming war on Iraq (a country they have precious little to do with), and know that while a Gore administration would have definitely acted against Afghanistan, it would be very unlikely to the point of impossibility that it would have gone on to prepare to unilaterally invade Iraq. A unilateral U.S. war in Iraq is probably perceived by Al Qaeda to be in their interests, as they know that it would polarize the world against the U.S., alienate both Arab governments and Arabs themselves from the U.S., remove a secular dictator that wasn't overly inclined towards any more religiosity than was necessary to achieve his goals, and (as Al Qaeda is no doubt inclined to believe the worst about the U.S.'s desire and ability to engage in nation-building) leave behind a shattered Iraq that would be a bonanza for them in recruits, weapon sources, friendly warlords, and general good old fashioned chaos.

The U.S. pressuring Saudi Arabia would do wonders here as well, and there's no doubt that the neo-conservative wing of the Republican party has been very, very critical of the House of Saud lately, and the beating heart of the "after Saddam, Saudi is next" rhetoric that waxes and wanes nowadays. If Saudi is threatened, of course, Muslims all over the world develop an immediate interest in the situation, and all the inflamed rhetoric about nuking Mecca and the like is going to make them very concerned, indeed. If the U.S. acts, then Al Qaeda may feel that this (and the raft of American anti-Muslim rhetoric that already exists and will likely only increase) will be the spark that ignites Muslims around the globe to become antagonistic if not violent towards the U.S. and its allies. It wouldn't actually be that tricky- translating and circulating the sort of thing that gets published in right-wing magazines and newspapers daily would do a good job of it, especially if presented the right way and if American actions also seemed to back up this interpretation.

(Again, whether this will happen or not and whether it is actually in Al Qaeda's interests or not is functionally immaterial... the point is the perception.)

So, it's very likely that Al Qaeda would like nothing better than the continuation and elevation of Republican rule, as they believe that the Republicans are more likely to elevate the current conflict into a war between the secular west and Islam. This isn't because they like the Republicans or vice versa, far from it- they want conflict and antagonism, and the Republicans are far likelier to give it to them. (They're also more likely to support Bush, which means that Bush gets a far freer hand to elevate the war and thereby increase the likelihood of a negative Islamic reaction.) It won't make their personal lives any easier and it might end rather a lot of them, but the Al Qaeda leadership might be thinking that it would accomplish what they're really after.

Oddly enough, however, if true this provides a scary possibility regarding the current election. Current polls show that Democrats lead on economic issues and Republicans lead on foreign policy (read, terrorism) issues. Whichever issue dominates the minds of voters is probably going to decide which side wins the election, and both sides know that. If Al Qaeda knows that too, though, then they'd also know that they have a control over this situation very close to the infamous "Hamas veto". All they'd need to do to ensure their favoured outcome is to arrange for a terrorist act close to the time of the election. It wouldn't need to be that big, or that spectacular, and probably shouldn't be... because the press would be all over it regardless and too big an act might rally world opinion around the U.S. again. That means that Americans become more security-conscious, and even though it's very unlikely that the Repubs would be stupid enough to try to take over advantage of it, their advantage in national security issues would push them over the edge in this very closely-fought election. It probably wouldn't lead to a sweep, but they'd end up controlling the balance of power. The neo-conservative right would have a free hand and be very, very anxious to use it.

Then again, perhaps I'm wrong, and the leadership of Al Qaeda is neither this Machiavellian nor this in tune with American politics. Perhaps they don't want Republicans to win because they hate Bush, or perhaps they're somewhat unclear on what exactly a "Republican" is. Maybe their goal of a grand war between Islam and the West is being left alone right now in favor of sheer survival.

Still, if I were Tom Ridge, I might consider turning up that terrorism meter a notch.

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