The defeat of Spain's government in recent elections may have been brought about by terrorist train bombs that killed around 200 people and injured about 1500. Many have speculated that al-Qaida might try to manipulate America's upcoming presidential elections with similar attacks here.
Of course America is not Spain, and the general assumption seems to be that terrorist attacks shortly before our election would actually increase George W. Bush's chances of re-election. But some analysts fear that the terrorists will miscalculate and attack, hoping for the same results they got in Spain.
These analysts assume that al-Qaida wants Bush to lose the election. They may be wrong. In fact, the Sept. 11 attacks may have been intended to goad the United States into taking unwise military actions that would strengthen the extremists in the Middle East and in the Muslim world in general. If this was the goal, the Bush administration fell neatly into the trap.
Osama bin Laden may very well be thinking, "With enemies like George W. Bush, who needs friends?" The American overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan may have been justifiable, although even it helped to radicalize increasing numbers of people in Pakistan. But the American attack on Iraq must have totally delighted bin Laden, who hated Saddam Hussein and would liked to have taken him out himself. To have the United States do the job for him, and further stir up the passions of people in other countries among whom al-Qaida finds its recruits —what a windfall!
The attack on Iraq probably helped fuel recent assassination attempts on Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, whose cooperation with the United States has made him very unpopular in some circles. If Musharraf's regime is brought down, Al-Qaida agents have a good chance of grabbing control of a country that actually has atomic bombs. Another windfall for terrorists — and a disaster for the United States!
Why would al-Qaida want to bring down George W. Bush? Bush toppled an enemy of Osama bin-Laden who had no atomic bombs and who, if he had gotten some, would have been too paranoid to turn them over to al-Qaida. Saddam Hussein would quite rightly have feared that any weapons of mass destruction he provided terrorists might well be turned against him.
(Similar prudence might have prevented America from providing ground-to-air missiles to the guerrillas fighting the Communist regime in Afghanistan a quarter century ago. These people turned on us, and now we need to worry that the missiles might be launched against our own airliners.)
Why would al-Qaida want to bring down George W. Bush? His foreign policies may have actually improved al-Qaida's chances of seizing power, and not just in Pakistan. If Osama bin Laden could vote in his own interest, it is not hard to imagine him casting a vote for Bush.
Unfortunately, bin Laden's "vote" will probably take the form of outrageous attacks on civilian targets.
Perhaps there will be further terrorist strikes between now and the November elections, perhaps not. In any event, we should support the candidate we think can cope most creatively with America's foreign and domestic problems. We should not vote for or against any candidate because of terrorist manipulation.
Paul F. deLespinasse of Corvallis is professor emeritus of political science at Adrian College in Michigan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2004 Lee Enterprises