In the battle for endorsements in the presidential campaign, Barack Obama snared a strong nod from former Secretary of State Colin Powell and John McCain received an equally strong recommendation from al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda? Yes, you heard right, al-Qaeda! This endorsement indicates what has long been known: al-Qaeda is fairly sophisticated politically. And this doesn’t mean McCain is the more accomplished candidate—in fact, apparently the group believes he is the more gullible of the two men.
Quite bluntly, al-Qaeda says it wants McCain to win essentially because it thinks he is most likely to continue Bush’s macho “bull in the China shop” war on terror. There has been a lot of bull in the China shop, and al-Qaeda wants to make sure it continues.
According to al-Hesbah website, which has close ties to the group, “Al-Qaeda will have to support McCain in the coming election.” The website was confident that McCain would continue the “failing march of his predecessor.” The site argued that a terrorist attack could push the election into McCain’s column, and thus lead to an expansion of U.S. military commitments in the Islamic world in an attempt take revenge on al-Qaeda. The website already brags about having lured the Bush administration and the U.S. into a trap that has “exhausted its resources and bankrupted its economy” and expects that to accelerate if the even more hawkish McCain gets elected.
Most terrorism analysts would agree that al-Qaeda has successfully duped the Bush administration. Whether McCain, if elected, would fall into a similar trap is unknowable before the election. Sometimes politicians turn 180 degrees from their campaign rhetoric after being elected—after all, during the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush promised to give us a “more humble foreign policy” compared to the Clinton years of profligate small scale military interventions in the developing world. During the 2008 campaign, McCain has been a bigger hawk than even the president on Iraq, but I suppose it is at least possible that he could wise up after taking office.
Both Bush and McCain have macho tendencies and that’s what al-Qaeda brutally exploits. It is standard practice for weak actors, such as terrorist groups and guerillas, to bait the stronger party by attacking and then hope for excessive retaliation. Such overreaction makes it easier for such groups to garner more money and recruits for their causes and also to overextend the giant. Instead of trying to go after the al-Qaeda leadership using intelligence, law enforcement, and surgical Special Forces strikes in the shadows, Bush launched a high profile invasion and occupation of the Muslim land of Afghanistan—the very thing that drives radical Islamists to morph into terrorists. He then compounded the error by unnecessarily blundering into a second invasion and occupation of a Muslim land—Iraq—that had nothing at all to do with neutralizing the 9/11 attackers. Al-Qaeda is betting that McCain is an even bigger stumbling cowboy than Bush.
But al-Qaeda also may have lost sight of its original objective. Originally, the major goal of its attacks against the United States was to get “infidels” off Islamic lands. Now al-Qaeda seems to hope to provoke the United States into invading and occupying ever more Muslim lands—in order to exhaust the U.S. beyond being mired in its two existing quagmires and to drum up even more recruits and money for its cause. As with most maturing organizations, organizational survival and expansion become goals in themselves.
The Obama campaign, seemingly much more sophisticated than McCain’s effort, must be smirking as it holds its tongue about the endorsement of its rival by what is probably the most famous terrorist group in history, especially after McCain has ham-handedly attacked Obama’s association with Bill Ayers, a washed up domestic terrorist turned community activist, who hasn’t committed terrorism in decades. But the Obama campaign probably just wants to let al-Qaeda’s endorsement speak for itself. Ironically, in spite of getting an endorsement from the most heinous terrorist group in world history, McCain will probably try to continue to beat Obama over the head with Bill Ayers rap—much like the draft-evading Bush questioned the war heroism of John Kerry during the 2004 campaign.
If Bush fell into al-Qaeda’s trap from the right, however, Obama, if elected, could very well fall into it from the left. Muscular liberals often think that their foreign policy is very different from Bush’s neo-conservative fare, but it often gets us to the same place—in al-Qaeda’s crosshairs. Such liberals tend to use military power for “humanitarian” reasons. Even when such interventions don’t have ulterior motives—which, as in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti, they almost always do—they often make somebody very mad. For example, in the Muslim land of Somalia during the Clinton administration, bin Laden helped Somalis with the attack that killed 18 American troops and caused the U.S. to withdraw its forces from that country. Also, Obama has talked about getting more involved in the Muslim-inhabited region of Darfur in Sudan.
With talk of terrorist strikes this close to the election, it is possible that al-Qaeda could be once again trying to influence the outcome. In late October 2004, bin Laden released a video tape several days before the U.S. presidential election that warned of an attack, which John Kerry’s campaign believed tipped the electoral balance against them. According to Richard Clarke, the chief counter-terrorism advisor in the Clinton and Bush White Houses, U.S. intelligence analysts believe that that is exactly what bin Laden wanted to do. Similarly, in March 2004, al-Qaeda bombed a Spanish train in a likely attempt to throw the election against then-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who had been one of the few major U.S allies sending troops to help out in Iraq. It worked, Aznar lost, and Spanish troops were withdrawn from Iraq.
Let’s hope that the rhetoric on al-Qaeda’s website is just bluster, as in October 2004, rather than turning into an attack, as it did in Spain in March 2004. We want a fair election with no outside interference from evildoers.
by Ivan Eland
Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University.This article first appeared in The Independent Institute and is republished with permission.
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