Vote for National Survival

The financial drama that we've been living through is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of an attack against America. As I argued in previous writings, the first volley was OPEC's driving the prices at the pumps as high as needed to crack our economic resilience. The hard core (and ideological) oil-producing regimes have been trying to affect the minds of millions of Americans in the same way al Qaeda's propagandists did with the upset Spanish voters in March 2004.

OPEC has just launched its second offensive -- possibly its last before Election Day -- to reduce petrol production as prices fell. After hitting US citizens with an economic meltdown, it wants to smack them with a goods shortage crisis to force them into making the ultimate decision: jump into another realm. The current economically-induced crisis is only a treatment to provoke a regime change in America. As odd as it is, the forces pushing for the change "they need" have set the US Presidential election as a mechanism to morph this democracy into the uncharted future that awaits it, if the polls are on target.

Today Americans are readying, some have already begun, to elect a new President. This testimony I am putting forth aims at explaining my vision of this electoral benchmark in view of future developments, beyond November 4th, the next four to eight years and throughout the first part of the twenty-first century. This vote, more than any previous ones, can transform America's destiny radically, and with it, the future of many nations, particularly those civil societies suffering from oppression around the world.

My analysis is not sent out to influence the outcome of the election, for it is too small a breeze in a universe of extremely powerful winds driving the electorate, on both sides of the debate. The arguments I am advancing in this piece are the least visible in the agendas of both camps, at least in the next few days. But in the next decade and perhaps as early as the next few years or even months, historians and citizens will reexamine the dimensions of this discussion of the overarching grave menace hovering over US national security. This is why, as a scholar studying conflicts, I am writing about this particular election.

As an academic and counterterrorism expert, I do not get involved in partisan and strictly political processes. But as in 2004's Presidential election, this week's voting choice will affect the current and future national defense and survival of this country. Hence it is my duty as a citizen with knowledge in this field to share my views and projections with fellow citizens: For the choices given to voters are dramatically opposed in terms of defining the direction in which this country will move to defend its democracy and freedom around the world. 

The United States' Presidency is endowed with powers that can impact global history in addition to the evolution of America as a democracy and as a nation. In this era of confrontation with the global Jihadi threats and of proliferation of catastrophic weapons, the direction selected by the next US President will affect not only this generation but the next one as well. Hence, regardless of the voting results on the 4th and beyond, it is important to testify beforehand in writing, so that future readers would draw the lessons when confronted with similar choices. Therefore, my words will be rough and direct.

The national security experience

The US primaries produced two leaders and their running mates. With the utmost respect to their personal histories, sacrifices and achievements, are these three men and one woman the best choice that could have been given to Americans? Their supporters feel it is the case, while many others, including the partisans of those who were defeated in the parties' primaries, claim otherwise. In my realm of study and concentration the question is different, simply because I believe national survival trumps everything else, in these times of world threats.

I frame it as follows: are the four contending politicians as aware of the enemy as the leaders of the enemy are aware of America's weaknesses and resources? We will see. But I argue that we've seen US Presidents learning on the job, including the current president. On the evening of September 10, 2001, President George W Bush knew much less than Senators McCain and Obama on the evening of November 3, 2008; yet he confronted the country's enemies for seven years while learning on the job.

Today, the average citizen's instincts know more about the threat we're facing than the combined advisors of Presidents Clinton and Bush before the War on Terror, as per the 9/11 Commission findings. So based on their records, speeches, length of service and publications regarding the national threat, one can project that the four leaders America has to consider for the two top offices would be ranked as follows: Senator John McCain comes first, Senator Joe Biden comes second and Senator Barack Obama and Governor Sarah Palin come equally third. This ranking is quantitative and verifiable. Based on a simple examination of past decades regarding McCain and Biden, and years regarding Obama and Palin, the strict "experience factor" in matters of war and peace, national security and defense, undoubtedly among the four, McCain would be the top man for the job, followed by Biden.

Hence since the Senator from Arizona has selected Palin as his running mate, he thus would assume the responsibility of her choice as his replacement if God forbid the worse were to happen. On the experience factor alone, it is ineluctable that, according to the famous phrase of Senator Hillary Clinton, I would trust the judgment of the former Navy Pilot, if awakened at 3 AM to address a national security calamity. But let's go beyond the mere "experience factor."    

Choice on strategic direction

What counts at this stage, in addition to experience in matters of national security, is a sense of strategic direction into the future. Senator McCain often speaks of the man who will have to face incoming international crises. He is right on that point: conflicts are brewing and the next President will have to face them head on. Senator Biden has even alluded to crises being concocted to test Senator Obama (if elected). He may be right by accident. For I argue that what lies ahead of us is already happening and will happen: the forces aimed at confronting the United States and democracies around the world aren't holding their breath to decide if they will resume their offensives or drop their agenda, depending on who will seize the White House in November. These forces have their plans for both McCain and Obama. They do not tailor their world view based on the lucky winner of US election, rather they tailor their plans, speed and maneuvers to defeat America based on the direction adopted by the winner of the Presidential contest in this country.

Therefore if the enemy wages future campaigns based on its perception of the next US President's world vision and "generates crises" accordingly, then it is logical to compare the strategic agendas of both candidates regarding the confrontation to come. In other words, if the direction taken by the new President is new, and both candidates claim they will execute change, then it is a must to check these "new directions" and compare them with the potential threats.

Unfortunately the multiple debates between the Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees didn't leave us with significant information about the global vision of both campaigns as to what the threat is and how to defeat it. Perhaps the scrambling by both camps to respond to the dramatic financial crumbling kept them away from drawing the map of the future regarding the global conflicts we're engaged in. But that was a mistake in both camps, even though it was more politically profitable for the Obama ticket to concentrate on the economy, and it was a vital necessity for the McCain ticket to assuage the fears of everyday Americans, as polls showed the gap between the two camps.

Economy is a hostage to National Security    

What both campaigns have failed to understand or were unwilling to admit is the broader context of the economic quick sands we're in. Surely there are financial and managerial reasons behind the meltdown which we're witnessing. But this failure is happening within the context of a wider economic war waged against the United States for strategic reasons.

Two arguments should have been part of the debate. They will come to haunt the future of this country nevertheless.

One: a systemic economic crisis -- even if rooted in domestic mismanagement -- cannot be resolved outside a healthier international environment. That is a reality which only future economists will confirm for us. Short of unleashing a full economic revolution leading to energy independence, America is doomed to swim in financial tensions and crises: the time of insulation from overseas pressures is over. We are seven -- if not seventeen -- years late for our vital fight of energy independence.

Two: We are being attacked by an "oil empire," OPEC, which targets our ability to act internationally and eventually put us on our knees domestically. Not only our future economic renaissance is at risk but our present state of financial affairs is at a higher risk of further crumbling if we do not go on the offensive. Compare this with the state of the presidential debate: the answer is close to catastrophic. We're not even discussing it nor are we informing the public about the dangers looming on the horizons. The current economic crisis is only a piece of the mega economic debacle being prepared for us. The response to the current drama is not even economic and none of the campaigns have even addressed the mega level for fears of electoral snags.

But if we compare the two candidates on strategic economic levels, we can conclude as follows: Obama offers to resolve the economic crisis separately from the mega economic confrontation worldwide while McCain only shyly hints at a wider scale beyond the corruption in Wall Street and the mismanagement in Washington DC. McCain wants to stop sending 700 billion dollars to "regimes who do not like us." Obama wants us "not to borrow cash from China to send it to Saudi Arabia." McCain  timidly  tells us there is a foe out there somewhere, while Obama doesn't. Between the blur and the blindness, I chose the first.  

Are we at war or not?

Naturally McCain calls what we're doing since 9/11 a War on Terror. On Terror or on something else, that is another subject, but the former POW sees it as a "war," with a goal to attain and against a "foe." Obama rarely calls it a war, often putting the blame on the United States, and he is vague regarding the "enemy." In an article during the primaries, where my favorite candidate wasn't McCain, I wrote that a US President who doesn't see the enemy cannot defeat it. In the national election, I state even more emphatically that a candidate who does not admit that there is a war waged against our democracy can hardly defend us.

I would understand if Senator Obama proposes to end the War on Terror as a whole. I would obviously disagree that he can, but I would see his rationale of a unilateral pull out of the conflict which, by the way, could explain his platform of "sitting down" with actual foes such as Ahmadinejad, Assad and others. The problem remains that his position regarding the "what is" is still unclear. Is it that he doesn't believe that we were attacked in a global manner, or is it that he believes that we provoked such a Jihadi campaign? Well, between Obama's non recognition of the conflict and McCain's basic attitude that we are at war, regardless of how to win it and when, I'd chose the latter. 

Defining the Threat

In the last seven years, my main thesis in the defense of our democracy and of civil societies around the world recommended a clear cut identification of the threat. For if the latter was unidentified, unclear or subject to camouflage, the entire strategy of resistance to the menace would be ineffective and would put the homeland and allies under tremendous risk. President George Bush tried to identify the threat doctrine of al Qaeda, its allies and of the Iranian regime. But as of 2006, he retreated from educating the public on the foe's world vision. In this election campaign, we have two candidates with different visions on the threat. Senator McCain gives it a name: Radical Islamic Terrorism (he recently used the term "Jihadists" one time); and Senator Obama who doesn't identify the ideology of the terrorists. Naturally I would prefer the candidate who defines it, even if that definition needs to be improved, in this case, McCain.  

Iraq

Senator Obama voted against invading Iraq. That is a legitimate position. But one would need to know on what grounds? If the argument was that it was a strategic mistake to topple Saddam Hussein while we hadn't found Osama Bin Laden, then the next challenge will be in Darfur. Will we allow the genocide against Africans to continue in Sudan if we still haven't found the leader of al Qaeda in Pakistan? If Obama's logic is about not engaging in any action as long as "Waldo" is on the run, US efforts in rescuing endangered populations are then doomed.

But if the Senator from Illinois was opposed to the removal of Iraq's dictator because he prefers to leave the Shia and the Kurds to their horrendous destiny, then the matter is even more serious. Either way, I haven't seen or read an Obama explanation that considers the 2003 campaign in Iraq as a weakening of the War on Terror: For had this been the case, then Obama may have a legitimate point. But his votes in the Senate about the 2003 "invasion of Iraq," unless explained again, were an opposition to the War on terror not just the war in Iraq. [sentence corrected]

If elected President, Obama will remove the troops from Iraq without disabling Iran's and Syria's abilities and ambitions to penetrate their neighbor. For if he intends to engage with Tehran and Damascus to cut deals over Iraq, how can the latter be equipped strategically to perform what coalition forces are now achieving? An abrupt letting down of Iraq will lead to a catastrophic domino effect in the region opening the path to Iran to reach the Mediterranean with all the unfathomable consequences on world peace.

Undoubtedly the Bush Administration wasn't brilliant in managing the Iraq strategy. Surely there were other choices after Tora Bora in 2002 than Iraq. I'll address them in future writings. But since President Bush's team decided to do justice in Baghdad first, it could have done it faster, better and finished earlier. That is a valid critique of the Iraq war. Senator Obama's criticism is diametrically different. He was opposed to removing Saddam or any other dictator, by force or by any other means. The reality is that for a candidate "for change" as it is claimed, his platform seems to be of status quo, to the advantage of the Jihadists, Baathists and other authoritarian regimes from Tehran to Caracas.

Senator McCain has criticized the management of the War in Iraq; and he was right. He wants victory to be the benchmark of withdrawal; he is also right. But I haven't read yet what constitutes victory in Iraq. My sense is that many in Washington DC -- traumatized by the Jihadi propaganda -- aren't sharing yet with the American public what's lying ahead for us. This Presidential campaign is between a candidate, Senator Obama, who is not telling the people that he is against the whole war on terror; and the other candidate, Senator McCain who is not telling the voters how much more serious this war is with the Jihadists. In this case I would trust McCain simply because he has told us that we can't quit, even though we need miles of explanations for what is next.    

Afghanistan and Pakistan

Senator Obama stated that he would transfer troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to put pressures on al Qaeda. Taken as is, this statement is strategically sound. Moving forces from one battlefield to another is decided by strategists and is logical if the goal is to win in both places, i.e. in the war on terror.

But I am still unsure if Senator Obama's grand plan is about winning the War on Terror since I haven't seen his grand strategy about the confrontation with the Jihadists. Actually his opposition to the Iraq campaign, unlike Senator Clinton's criticism, is based on opposition to the idea that we are in conflict with a worldwide web of radical forces. Until I read otherwise, my conclusion is that Obama's long term strategy is to end the global war with the Jihadists and replace it with deals-cutting policies with radical regimes and organizations.

Hence in Afghanistan, his ultimate goal is to kill Bin Laden but to reintegrate the Taliban in Kabul. That would be the equivalent of eliminating Hitler but bringing back the Nazis to a post WWII Germany. His statements about attacking inside Pakistan if we have specific information about the location of Bin Laden are worrisome. He opposed sending troops to Iraq to save Shia and Kurds from Saddam, but he would order troops into a sovereign country, an ally and already at war with al Qaeda, to kill "Waldo." This proposition makes so little sense that I read it through the prism of reverse psychology.

In fact, since Senator Obama wants to quit in Iraq, reconciliation with the Taliban in Afghanistan and a non-intervention in Darfur, he probably decided to claim "offensive" in the only place where it will not happen. A massive US attack in Pakistan to finish off al Qaeda, unless authorized by Islamabad, is contrary to all strategic logic and could enflame the sole Muslim nuclear power with the cataclysmic risks it entails. My sense is that the Senator chose to make this bravado in public precisely because he will never issue that order if he is elected. Instead he will direct his diplomats to "sit down" with the Taliban and try to cut a deal.    

Senator McCain's approach is more simple and pragmatic. He wouldn't oppose sending troops from Iraq to Afghanistan if the military strategists would recommend so. He said a surge in Afghanistan may provide similar results as in Iraq: possible. I am not privy to his plans for "winning" in Afghanistan or his emergency plans for a dramatic development in Pakistan. But between an Obama policy that would lose Iraq, re-Talibanize Afghanistan and risk a nuclear flare in Pakistan, I'd still go with a more modest but realistic approach by McCain until better strategies are designed in the next four years.    

Lebanon and Syria

Senator McCain committed to implement UNSCR 1559; that is, to disarm Hezbollah and support the Cedars Revolution in Lebanon. Senator Obama wants to "sit down" with Bashar Assad, Hezbollah's ally. Obviously, I support McCain on this issue.

Israel and the Palestinians

Both Senators have committed to "the security of Israel." In election times this statement is standard. Both Senators said they will support a two-state solution. At this stage of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, this is also a universally accepted deal. But Senator Obama's approach to the Iran and Syrian regimes indicates that he will press Israel and the Palestinian Authority to "sit down" with Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well. The pattern of bringing in the "radicals" (at the expense of the democracy-seekers) seems to be a future foreign policy doctrine for Senator Obama. In the case of the Israel-Palestinian process, it will only weaken the moderates among the Palestinians and undermine the rise of peace-seeking forces, knowing that Hamas ultimately doesn't want a Jewish state in the region and wants to obstruct the rise of a secular and democratic Palestinian state as well. Senator McCain, more cautious in this regard, supports the Camp David and Road Map processes, putting an Israel-Palestinian Authority agreement first. I would prefer this approach. 

Darfur

Senator McCain would send US forces under UN sponsorship to help establish a protection zone for the African Muslim people of Darfur. Senator Obama's approach of "cutting deals" with Tehran and Damascus cannot but follow the same logic to "cut a deal" with Khartoum's regime. In genocide interventions, there are no deals to be cut other than saving people from dying and being ethnically cleansed. Hence, without hesitation, I would side with the McCain readiness to help "save Darfur" on the ground, a slogan used by Hollywood figures without advancing any practical solution to the genocide issue.

Alliances 

Senator Obama's spokespersons claimed their candidate will build wider alliances and reestablish a multilateral approach to international relations. This is an excellent principle which I have been promoting in my last three books but the question is "alliance about what?" If Obama sought outreach to build the widest coalition of Governments to defeat al Qaeda and its ilk, this has already been done. If the projected alliance is to reach more countries, including those who oppose our confrontation with the Jihadists -- such as Venezuela, Iran, Syria, Sudan and North Korea -- then we will be defeating our original purpose. If Obama wants to enhance relations with Russia and India against the terrorists, he will have to define Jihadism as a threat, which he hasn't. He will have to agree with McCain and pre-2006 Bush that there are doctrines promoted by movements such as Wahhabism, the Muslim Brotherhood and Deobandism which are a common foe to this wide alliance he is seeking.

But that would contradict his opposition to the concept of a full confrontation with the Jihadi web. If by new allies he means France, Germany, the UK, Spain, and other European democracies, they are already in the fight with our common enemies. Even China is at war with the Jihadists. So who does Obama want to include in the projected new alliance? Unless the new coalition will be among those who want to end the War on terror. Senator McCain's more modest approach doesn't add much to the existing web of alliances. If elected he should break the taboos with other counter Jihadi countries and widen that type of alliance. He should do better than President Bush. I still prefer the modest advance of McCain over the foggy designs of Obama. 

America's image

Another slogan advanced by the Obama platform and inherited from the John Kerry Presidential agenda is the so-called "American image" worldwide and the necessity of reestablishing a "credible portrait." Well, this myth has to be aggressively responded to because it only serves the Jihadist propaganda. Indeed, what do we mean when we say that America's "image" has been muddied internationally? Is it because of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? And who are the people upset with the US image?

The Obama campaign and its intellectuals haven't answered much on this simply because this so-called PR problem is in fact a component of a Jihadi offensive worldwide to deter the United States from provoking democratic change in the Middle East. Washington's image is "ugly" by Salafi, Khomeinist and Baathist standards of course because American power (often used unintelligently) has caused the rise of freedom enclaves in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and beyond. That is why al Jazeera, al Aalam, al Manar and the Salafi web sites are exploding against "America's image." Surely the oil-producing regimes in the region and Hugo Chavez's oligarchic elite dislike American support of reformers and democracy forces. When America promotes democracy (with tremendous mistakes) of course the anti-democratic web will muddy its image.

So what is the image the Obama policy would like to reestablish? The photo ops with Iran's Mullahs, Damascus' bloody dictator, Caracas's populist leader, or Khartoum's genocide perpetrator? Some Obama future Presidential advisors (if he wins) have been advocating a policy of humanitarian aid only. They argue that the US should act as a peace force only. Who are they kidding? Why wasn't the US able to send humanitarian aid to the Kurds before the removal of Saddam Hussein, or establish a corridor in Darfur as long as Bashir is obstructing it, or help the North Koreans from starvation? The "academic circus" who pretend to understand the world better than your average citizen have shown us their brilliance in the 1990s. They were given eight precious years of a post-Soviet era and they failed miserably. 

McCain's plan for a better American image isn't clear but US actions to give democracy a victory are the best long terms investments to get that image restored, because unfortunately, the systemic failure of the Bush Administration to use its own resources in the so-called war of ideas is a fact. A McCain White House will have to reform all resources authorized by the taxpayers to draw support around the world from hearts and minds. A McCain Administration will have a severe uphill battle to reach out to the natural allies around the world, and the Greater Middle East in particular: the peoples. Unfortunately, as we know from their advisors-to-be, an Obama Administration will cozy up with the oppressors worldwide as a way to "change" America's image. It will only send humanitarian assistance -- and cameras to cover the show -- if and when the bad guys allow it. That is not a change in image that the masses around the world would want to see. My choice is between the uncertain success and the certain failure, I take the first.   

Defeating Racism in America

One noble cause I would support without hesitation is to see a minority man or woman become the President of the United States. What a joy to see the son of an immigrant, a matter I can relate with directly, enter the White House. This is the country I decided to emigrate to almost twenty years ago. In the past quarter of a century, I saw the nation I joined wholeheartedly rapidly rejecting racism. An African-American General in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then Secretary of State, and then an African American woman becoming a national security advisor only to succeed her predecessor as a Secretary of State as well. A Middle Eastern American from Michigan becoming an Energy secretary, Hispanics and Asians across Congress and the executive powers including in the cabinet, and finally a half African American nominated for the Presidency of the United States, and very possibly a head of state in 2009.

That's how racism has been defeated at the highest levels. But I resent the imposition of an ideological worldview on good hearted Americans under the aegis of the racism issue. For Senator Barack Obama to be nominated by a major Party is an ultimate defeat to racism. But his election to the Presidency is about his agenda not his (half) race. We would be all happy to see a minority becoming a President but not to use such an equation to give a pass to an international agenda which would hurt minorities and underdogs around the world.

To defeat racism and oppression of minorities worldwide the next President of the United States should be determined to save Africans from genocide, ethnic minorities from persecution in the Middle East and women from suppression across the Third World. That mission isn't determined by skin color in Washington but by commitment to confront the oppressors of any type around the world.

Had the Obama agenda been unequivocally pro-freedom internationally, rejecting concession to totalitarianism, and very precise in identifying the threat doctrines of the terrorists, then he could have won my support with little questions asked.    

The heart of the matter

Unlike many of my colleagues with whom I share counterterrorism views for the future, my choice for the next President was not shaped by the most visible components of the debate. It wasn't "Joe the plumber," "spreading the wealth," the real estate crisis, the financial meltdown or the battle for taxes. These are crucial issues but I believe the economic problems we're facing need more than one presidency and a mixture of solutions to address them and solve them. Pure Socialism or unleashed Capitalism aren't going to fix the economy or satisfy the frustration of millions of Americans over the next decade.

Maybe the two party system isn't able anymore to provide full answers in the 21st century. As a Political Scientist and a US citizen I think that the American system will correct itself gradually simply because there are no larger middle class societies around the world than the American one. The swing between liberal and conservative measures every decade or so are regulating factors until an appropriate system is found. But this normal swinging is now occurring during a world conflict and can be affected by outside forces aiming at the nation as a whole. It is Constantinople which is targeted, not its emperors. Those who are set on voting for Obama because they fear for their social security and healthcare and those who want McCain because they fear high government taxes are right to be concerned in their own way. I am concerned for a state of affairs where we may not have a national homeland, let alone either high taxes or a solvent social security program.

Homeland Security First

Yes, we need to live our lives the best we can; consequently, we need to make the best decisions about the next President and his agenda. But all that has to happen not in a void, but in the context of a secure homeland. Twice in this decade we saw the country vacillating. In September 2001, the coming down of the twin towers was an end of a peace era. Last September 2008, the coming down of our financial towers was an end of an era of economic security. Beware of a "September" that could bring down the towers of our national security.

The flames of the urban uprisings in France, of the train bombings in Madrid, of the subway blasts in London and the school massacre in Beslan are only handwriting on the wall. The OPEC aggression against the US economy, the formation of gas cartels by Iran, Qatar and Venezuela with the enticement to Russia to join; all that are just ominous signs of what is ahead. And in such a world environment, US homeland security seems to be where the final game will be played. As an analyst of terrorist strategies, I do believe that the most dangerous stages for our national security are yet to come and my concerns are very high as to how to address them.

The penetration of our systems, including educational, legal, bureaucratic, technological, defense and security by the Jihadists is ongoing and is projected to expand. The world may have harsh crises but no crisis can equate the collapse of US Homeland Security. Al Qaeda has often stated that it wishes to commit genocide of four million Americans, including women and children. Iranian President Ahmadinejad and his regime have openly stated that a world without America is possible and better. These attitudes, if anything, indicate that the American national homeland is a target, a real target. If the enemy is successful one time in blasting our defense system to the core, the entire debate about the economy is over because there won't be one to discuss.

There are large segments in our society which have been disabled from understanding that the nation is at risk. They were made to think that this war against us is a matter of foreign policy and a President who can just "talk" to some people out there will simply solve it and maintain the paychecks flowing. Many among us don't understand that the world around us can simply crumble if we don't have leadership that can strike a balance between defending the country and the free world and at the same time managing the economy successfully. But the bottom line is that these two are linked, deeply linked.

Senator McCain declared that the threat to the Homeland is a movement and an ideology, Jihadism. Senator Obama didn't tell us if that is his view as well. Instead we saw shreds of political alliances between his campaign and groups affiliated with this particular ideology. I am not impressed with the "Weather Underground" network story as much as I am concerned about the access the political Jihadists will have to US National Security.

If that happens, Homeland Security will be at risk. Hence until I get answers to this fundamental question from Senator Obama's campaign, I do have a national security concern. Until then I can project a spread of Jihadi sympathizer networks within the country and even throughout many layers of Government. Over four years, and possibly eight, such a growth would become malignant. Over less than a decade, Americans could find themselves in situations never experienced since the Civil War.

One ballot today -- regardless of the sincerity and good intentions of candidates in November 2008 -- can affect where and how future generations will have to fight for survival years from now. A strong counter argument was made to me about my concerns: among the national security advisors and experts to enter the executive branch with an Obama Presidency are people who see this threat with clarity, so why the concern? My answer as an analyst in Jihadi long term strategies is that, in the absence of a defense doctrine that identifies the threat, no one can guarantee that the enlightened counter terrorism experts potentially moving in as of January 2009 will be there the following year, in four or even eight years from now. This is the real bottom line.

If the Obama campaign had provided a strategic document on the Jihadi threat, my entire case wouldn't have been necessary. I haven't seen such a document or even a simple statement. Moreover, what convinced me that we're dealing with a potential change toward the worse in US National Security are the writings and declarations of those who constitute the Senator's academic and security elite. In fact, not only we may get four more years of the Clinton eight years -- when the Terrorist doctrine was missed catastrophically -- but we could get four years of unparalleled threat growth. I do hope I am wrong and I am still hoping I will get answers before Election Day.        

Freedoms and Educating the public

Last but not least, and for the first time since the end of the Cold War, there seems to be a concern about a scrupulous respect for freedom of the press and of expression in some "ideological" quarters of a potential Obama Administration. Although I do believe that the Senator from Illinois has kept a strong record on the necessity of a balanced debate regarding the nation's fundamental issues, and although Senator Biden has been a proponent of free speech, there are signs that radical groups could use Government positions to harass media that would be critical of an Obama Administration on national security grounds.

What's more is the dangerous possibility that (short of a counter Jihadi doctrine) elements of Wahhabi and Khomeinist advocacy circles would take advantage of a "new direction" to strike at the counterterrorism community in the private sector, targeting the advances made for the last seven years in educating Americans about the threat. Such a development would be a red line for the nation's defense. To be direct about it, already under the Bush Administration, the Wahhabi and Khomeinist lobbies have wreaked havoc throughout the bureaucracy, blocking major reforms needed to educate civil servants and citizens to learn about the threats looming over the country and its next generations. Under a McCain Administration there are no guarantees that the "Jihadophile lobby" will recede, but chances are much higher for new counterterrorism education to make a breakthrough than under an Obama Administration.

Under the latter, Muslim reformers in America won't have an equal chance with the Jihadi pressure groups to have their message received by their communities. Middle East dissidents will have their stories marginalized in the public sector so that it won't perturb the deals to "be cut with the regimes in the region." All that is predictable and projectable, hence the options are really limited if not set in terms of choice.

The choice  

On the one hand, Senator Obama has a character to be admired and has skills to make other politicians jealous. He would make America look very good. Had we not been in a confrontation with the Jihadist forces worldwide, I would have gladly voted for him. Strange as it may be for many of my colleagues, his alleged "socialism" doesn't intimidate me, nor does his "radical liberalism." America's society will only absorb what it can digest.

On the other hand, Senator McCain is a national hero and a product of real American traditions. I would have liked for him to have been elected in 2000 so that he would have been the Commander in Chief on September 11 (with all respect due to President Bush). There are other men and women who are also qualified to lead this nation in these politically and economically trying times such as Senator Clinton, Governor Romney and others. But our political process has selected McCain and Obama and one of them has to become the President.

"Primo vivere" says the Roman adage. You've got to survive first and you've got to be free too. I have learned this the hard way. Hence in this 2008 Presidential election, I will vote on national security, that is national survival. All other issues are linked to our ability as a nation to make it through these very critical years. After having reviewed the two platforms from that perspective, and short of discovering what can change my analysis in the next few days, I wish Senator Obama good luck and, as a registered independent, I will vote for Senator McCain for the President of the United States.

Ultimately Americans will decide about their future and whatever it will be, we will continue to try to make it better for our children.  

Dr. Walid Phares is an academic, author and analyst.
The financial drama that we've been living through is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of an attack against America. As I argued in previous writings, the first volley was OPEC's driving the prices at the pumps as high as needed to crack our economic resilience. The hard core (and ideological) oil-producing regimes have been trying to affect the minds of millions of Americans in the same way al Qaeda's propagandists did with the upset Spanish voters in March 2004.

OPEC has just launched its second offensive -- possibly its last before Election Day -- to reduce petrol production as prices fell. After hitting US citizens with an economic meltdown, it wants to smack them with a goods shortage crisis to force them into making the ultimate decision: jump into another realm. The current economically-induced crisis is only a treatment to provoke a regime change in America. As odd as it is, the forces pushing for the change "they need" have set the US Presidential election as a mechanism to morph this democracy into the uncharted future that awaits it, if the polls are on target.

Today Americans are readying, some have already begun, to elect a new President. This testimony I am putting forth aims at explaining my vision of this electoral benchmark in view of future developments, beyond November 4th, the next four to eight years and throughout the first part of the twenty-first century. This vote, more than any previous ones, can transform America's destiny radically, and with it, the future of many nations, particularly those civil societies suffering from oppression around the world.

My analysis is not sent out to influence the outcome of the election, for it is too small a breeze in a universe of extremely powerful winds driving the electorate, on both sides of the debate. The arguments I am advancing in this piece are the least visible in the agendas of both camps, at least in the next few days. But in the next decade and perhaps as early as the next few years or even months, historians and citizens will reexamine the dimensions of this discussion of the overarching grave menace hovering over US national security. This is why, as a scholar studying conflicts, I am writing about this particular election.

As an academic and counterterrorism expert, I do not get involved in partisan and strictly political processes. But as in 2004's Presidential election, this week's voting choice will affect the current and future national defense and survival of this country. Hence it is my duty as a citizen with knowledge in this field to share my views and projections with fellow citizens: For the choices given to voters are dramatically opposed in terms of defining the direction in which this country will move to defend its democracy and freedom around the world. 

The United States' Presidency is endowed with powers that can impact global history in addition to the evolution of America as a democracy and as a nation. In this era of confrontation with the global Jihadi threats and of proliferation of catastrophic weapons, the direction selected by the next US President will affect not only this generation but the next one as well. Hence, regardless of the voting results on the 4th and beyond, it is important to testify beforehand in writing, so that future readers would draw the lessons when confronted with similar choices. Therefore, my words will be rough and direct.

The national security experience

The US primaries produced two leaders and their running mates. With the utmost respect to their personal histories, sacrifices and achievements, are these three men and one woman the best choice that could have been given to Americans? Their supporters feel it is the case, while many others, including the partisans of those who were defeated in the parties' primaries, claim otherwise. In my realm of study and concentration the question is different, simply because I believe national survival trumps everything else, in these times of world threats.

I frame it as follows: are the four contending politicians as aware of the enemy as the leaders of the enemy are aware of America's weaknesses and resources? We will see. But I argue that we've seen US Presidents learning on the job, including the current president. On the evening of September 10, 2001, President George W Bush knew much less than Senators McCain and Obama on the evening of November 3, 2008; yet he confronted the country's enemies for seven years while learning on the job.

Today, the average citizen's instincts know more about the threat we're facing than the combined advisors of Presidents Clinton and Bush before the War on Terror, as per the 9/11 Commission findings. So based on their records, speeches, length of service and publications regarding the national threat, one can project that the four leaders America has to consider for the two top offices would be ranked as follows: Senator John McCain comes first, Senator Joe Biden comes second and Senator Barack Obama and Governor Sarah Palin come equally third. This ranking is quantitative and verifiable. Based on a simple examination of past decades regarding McCain and Biden, and years regarding Obama and Palin, the strict "experience factor" in matters of war and peace, national security and defense, undoubtedly among the four, McCain would be the top man for the job, followed by Biden.

Hence since the Senator from Arizona has selected Palin as his running mate, he thus would assume the responsibility of her choice as his replacement if God forbid the worse were to happen. On the experience factor alone, it is ineluctable that, according to the famous phrase of Senator Hillary Clinton, I would trust the judgment of the former Navy Pilot, if awakened at 3 AM to address a national security calamity. But let's go beyond the mere "experience factor."    

Choice on strategic direction

What counts at this stage, in addition to experience in matters of national security, is a sense of strategic direction into the future. Senator McCain often speaks of the man who will have to face incoming international crises. He is right on that point: conflicts are brewing and the next President will have to face them head on. Senator Biden has even alluded to crises being concocted to test Senator Obama (if elected). He may be right by accident. For I argue that what lies ahead of us is already happening and will happen: the forces aimed at confronting the United States and democracies around the world aren't holding their breath to decide if they will resume their offensives or drop their agenda, depending on who will seize the White House in November. These forces have their plans for both McCain and Obama. They do not tailor their world view based on the lucky winner of US election, rather they tailor their plans, speed and maneuvers to defeat America based on the direction adopted by the winner of the Presidential contest in this country.

Therefore if the enemy wages future campaigns based on its perception of the next US President's world vision and "generates crises" accordingly, then it is logical to compare the strategic agendas of both candidates regarding the confrontation to come. In other words, if the direction taken by the new President is new, and both candidates claim they will execute change, then it is a must to check these "new directions" and compare them with the potential threats.

Unfortunately the multiple debates between the Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees didn't leave us with significant information about the global vision of both campaigns as to what the threat is and how to defeat it. Perhaps the scrambling by both camps to respond to the dramatic financial crumbling kept them away from drawing the map of the future regarding the global conflicts we're engaged in. But that was a mistake in both camps, even though it was more politically profitable for the Obama ticket to concentrate on the economy, and it was a vital necessity for the McCain ticket to assuage the fears of everyday Americans, as polls showed the gap between the two camps.

Economy is a hostage to National Security    

What both campaigns have failed to understand or were unwilling to admit is the broader context of the economic quick sands we're in. Surely there are financial and managerial reasons behind the meltdown which we're witnessing. But this failure is happening within the context of a wider economic war waged against the United States for strategic reasons.

Two arguments should have been part of the debate. They will come to haunt the future of this country nevertheless.

One: a systemic economic crisis -- even if rooted in domestic mismanagement -- cannot be resolved outside a healthier international environment. That is a reality which only future economists will confirm for us. Short of unleashing a full economic revolution leading to energy independence, America is doomed to swim in financial tensions and crises: the time of insulation from overseas pressures is over. We are seven -- if not seventeen -- years late for our vital fight of energy independence.

Two: We are being attacked by an "oil empire," OPEC, which targets our ability to act internationally and eventually put us on our knees domestically. Not only our future economic renaissance is at risk but our present state of financial affairs is at a higher risk of further crumbling if we do not go on the offensive. Compare this with the state of the presidential debate: the answer is close to catastrophic. We're not even discussing it nor are we informing the public about the dangers looming on the horizons. The current economic crisis is only a piece of the mega economic debacle being prepared for us. The response to the current drama is not even economic and none of the campaigns have even addressed the mega level for fears of electoral snags.

But if we compare the two candidates on strategic economic levels, we can conclude as follows: Obama offers to resolve the economic crisis separately from the mega economic confrontation worldwide while McCain only shyly hints at a wider scale beyond the corruption in Wall Street and the mismanagement in Washington DC. McCain wants to stop sending 700 billion dollars to "regimes who do not like us." Obama wants us "not to borrow cash from China to send it to Saudi Arabia." McCain  timidly  tells us there is a foe out there somewhere, while Obama doesn't. Between the blur and the blindness, I chose the first.  

Are we at war or not?

Naturally McCain calls what we're doing since 9/11 a War on Terror. On Terror or on something else, that is another subject, but the former POW sees it as a "war," with a goal to attain and against a "foe." Obama rarely calls it a war, often putting the blame on the United States, and he is vague regarding the "enemy." In an article during the primaries, where my favorite candidate wasn't McCain, I wrote that a US President who doesn't see the enemy cannot defeat it. In the national election, I state even more emphatically that a candidate who does not admit that there is a war waged against our democracy can hardly defend us.

I would understand if Senator Obama proposes to end the War on Terror as a whole. I would obviously disagree that he can, but I would see his rationale of a unilateral pull out of the conflict which, by the way, could explain his platform of "sitting down" with actual foes such as Ahmadinejad, Assad and others. The problem remains that his position regarding the "what is" is still unclear. Is it that he doesn't believe that we were attacked in a global manner, or is it that he believes that we provoked such a Jihadi campaign? Well, between Obama's non recognition of the conflict and McCain's basic attitude that we are at war, regardless of how to win it and when, I'd chose the latter. 

Defining the Threat

In the last seven years, my main thesis in the defense of our democracy and of civil societies around the world recommended a clear cut identification of the threat. For if the latter was unidentified, unclear or subject to camouflage, the entire strategy of resistance to the menace would be ineffective and would put the homeland and allies under tremendous risk. President George Bush tried to identify the threat doctrine of al Qaeda, its allies and of the Iranian regime. But as of 2006, he retreated from educating the public on the foe's world vision. In this election campaign, we have two candidates with different visions on the threat. Senator McCain gives it a name: Radical Islamic Terrorism (he recently used the term "Jihadists" one time); and Senator Obama who doesn't identify the ideology of the terrorists. Naturally I would prefer the candidate who defines it, even if that definition needs to be improved, in this case, McCain.  

Iraq

Senator Obama voted against invading Iraq. That is a legitimate position. But one would need to know on what grounds? If the argument was that it was a strategic mistake to topple Saddam Hussein while we hadn't found Osama Bin Laden, then the next challenge will be in Darfur. Will we allow the genocide against Africans to continue in Sudan if we still haven't found the leader of al Qaeda in Pakistan? If Obama's logic is about not engaging in any action as long as "Waldo" is on the run, US efforts in rescuing endangered populations are then doomed.

But if the Senator from Illinois was opposed to the removal of Iraq's dictator because he prefers to leave the Shia and the Kurds to their horrendous destiny, then the matter is even more serious. Either way, I haven't seen or read an Obama explanation that considers the 2003 campaign in Iraq as a weakening of the War on Terror: For had this been the case, then Obama may have a legitimate point. But his votes in the Senate about the 2003 "invasion of Iraq," unless explained again, were an opposition to the War on terror not just the war in Iraq. [sentence corrected]

If elected President, Obama will remove the troops from Iraq without disabling Iran's and Syria's abilities and ambitions to penetrate their neighbor. For if he intends to engage with Tehran and Damascus to cut deals over Iraq, how can the latter be equipped strategically to perform what coalition forces are now achieving? An abrupt letting down of Iraq will lead to a catastrophic domino effect in the region opening the path to Iran to reach the Mediterranean with all the unfathomable consequences on world peace.

Undoubtedly the Bush Administration wasn't brilliant in managing the Iraq strategy. Surely there were other choices after Tora Bora in 2002 than Iraq. I'll address them in future writings. But since President Bush's team decided to do justice in Baghdad first, it could have done it faster, better and finished earlier. That is a valid critique of the Iraq war. Senator Obama's criticism is diametrically different. He was opposed to removing Saddam or any other dictator, by force or by any other means. The reality is that for a candidate "for change" as it is claimed, his platform seems to be of status quo, to the advantage of the Jihadists, Baathists and other authoritarian regimes from Tehran to Caracas.

Senator McCain has criticized the management of the War in Iraq; and he was right. He wants victory to be the benchmark of withdrawal; he is also right. But I haven't read yet what constitutes victory in Iraq. My sense is that many in Washington DC -- traumatized by the Jihadi propaganda -- aren't sharing yet with the American public what's lying ahead for us. This Presidential campaign is between a candidate, Senator Obama, who is not telling the people that he is against the whole war on terror; and the other candidate, Senator McCain who is not telling the voters how much more serious this war is with the Jihadists. In this case I would trust McCain simply because he has told us that we can't quit, even though we need miles of explanations for what is next.    

Afghanistan and Pakistan

Senator Obama stated that he would transfer troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to put pressures on al Qaeda. Taken as is, this statement is strategically sound. Moving forces from one battlefield to another is decided by strategists and is logical if the goal is to win in both places, i.e. in the war on terror.

But I am still unsure if Senator Obama's grand plan is about winning the War on Terror since I haven't seen his grand strategy about the confrontation with the Jihadists. Actually his opposition to the Iraq campaign, unlike Senator Clinton's criticism, is based on opposition to the idea that we are in conflict with a worldwide web of radical forces. Until I read otherwise, my conclusion is that Obama's long term strategy is to end the global war with the Jihadists and replace it with deals-cutting policies with radical regimes and organizations.

Hence in Afghanistan, his ultimate goal is to kill Bin Laden but to reintegrate the Taliban in Kabul. That would be the equivalent of eliminating Hitler but bringing back the Nazis to a post WWII Germany. His statements about attacking inside Pakistan if we have specific information about the location of Bin Laden are worrisome. He opposed sending troops to Iraq to save Shia and Kurds from Saddam, but he would order troops into a sovereign country, an ally and already at war with al Qaeda, to kill "Waldo." This proposition makes so little sense that I read it through the prism of reverse psychology.

In fact, since Senator Obama wants to quit in Iraq, reconciliation with the Taliban in Afghanistan and a non-intervention in Darfur, he probably decided to claim "offensive" in the only place where it will not happen. A massive US attack in Pakistan to finish off al Qaeda, unless authorized by Islamabad, is contrary to all strategic logic and could enflame the sole Muslim nuclear power with the cataclysmic risks it entails. My sense is that the Senator chose to make this bravado in public precisely because he will never issue that order if he is elected. Instead he will direct his diplomats to "sit down" with the Taliban and try to cut a deal.    

Senator McCain's approach is more simple and pragmatic. He wouldn't oppose sending troops from Iraq to Afghanistan if the military strategists would recommend so. He said a surge in Afghanistan may provide similar results as in Iraq: possible. I am not privy to his plans for "winning" in Afghanistan or his emergency plans for a dramatic development in Pakistan. But between an Obama policy that would lose Iraq, re-Talibanize Afghanistan and risk a nuclear flare in Pakistan, I'd still go with a more modest but realistic approach by McCain until better strategies are designed in the next four years.    

Lebanon and Syria

Senator McCain committed to implement UNSCR 1559; that is, to disarm Hezbollah and support the Cedars Revolution in Lebanon. Senator Obama wants to "sit down" with Bashar Assad, Hezbollah's ally. Obviously, I support McCain on this issue.

Israel and the Palestinians

Both Senators have committed to "the security of Israel." In election times this statement is standard. Both Senators said they will support a two-state solution. At this stage of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, this is also a universally accepted deal. But Senator Obama's approach to the Iran and Syrian regimes indicates that he will press Israel and the Palestinian Authority to "sit down" with Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well. The pattern of bringing in the "radicals" (at the expense of the democracy-seekers) seems to be a future foreign policy doctrine for Senator Obama. In the case of the Israel-Palestinian process, it will only weaken the moderates among the Palestinians and undermine the rise of peace-seeking forces, knowing that Hamas ultimately doesn't want a Jewish state in the region and wants to obstruct the rise of a secular and democratic Palestinian state as well. Senator McCain, more cautious in this regard, supports the Camp David and Road Map processes, putting an Israel-Palestinian Authority agreement first. I would prefer this approach. 

Darfur

Senator McCain would send US forces under UN sponsorship to help establish a protection zone for the African Muslim people of Darfur. Senator Obama's approach of "cutting deals" with Tehran and Damascus cannot but follow the same logic to "cut a deal" with Khartoum's regime. In genocide interventions, there are no deals to be cut other than saving people from dying and being ethnically cleansed. Hence, without hesitation, I would side with the McCain readiness to help "save Darfur" on the ground, a slogan used by Hollywood figures without advancing any practical solution to the genocide issue.

Alliances 

Senator Obama's spokespersons claimed their candidate will build wider alliances and reestablish a multilateral approach to international relations. This is an excellent principle which I have been promoting in my last three books but the question is "alliance about what?" If Obama sought outreach to build the widest coalition of Governments to defeat al Qaeda and its ilk, this has already been done. If the projected alliance is to reach more countries, including those who oppose our confrontation with the Jihadists -- such as Venezuela, Iran, Syria, Sudan and North Korea -- then we will be defeating our original purpose. If Obama wants to enhance relations with Russia and India against the terrorists, he will have to define Jihadism as a threat, which he hasn't. He will have to agree with McCain and pre-2006 Bush that there are doctrines promoted by movements such as Wahhabism, the Muslim Brotherhood and Deobandism which are a common foe to this wide alliance he is seeking.

But that would contradict his opposition to the concept of a full confrontation with the Jihadi web. If by new allies he means France, Germany, the UK, Spain, and other European democracies, they are already in the fight with our common enemies. Even China is at war with the Jihadists. So who does Obama want to include in the projected new alliance? Unless the new coalition will be among those who want to end the War on terror. Senator McCain's more modest approach doesn't add much to the existing web of alliances. If elected he should break the taboos with other counter Jihadi countries and widen that type of alliance. He should do better than President Bush. I still prefer the modest advance of McCain over the foggy designs of Obama. 

America's image

Another slogan advanced by the Obama platform and inherited from the John Kerry Presidential agenda is the so-called "American image" worldwide and the necessity of reestablishing a "credible portrait." Well, this myth has to be aggressively responded to because it only serves the Jihadist propaganda. Indeed, what do we mean when we say that America's "image" has been muddied internationally? Is it because of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? And who are the people upset with the US image?

The Obama campaign and its intellectuals haven't answered much on this simply because this so-called PR problem is in fact a component of a Jihadi offensive worldwide to deter the United States from provoking democratic change in the Middle East. Washington's image is "ugly" by Salafi, Khomeinist and Baathist standards of course because American power (often used unintelligently) has caused the rise of freedom enclaves in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and beyond. That is why al Jazeera, al Aalam, al Manar and the Salafi web sites are exploding against "America's image." Surely the oil-producing regimes in the region and Hugo Chavez's oligarchic elite dislike American support of reformers and democracy forces. When America promotes democracy (with tremendous mistakes) of course the anti-democratic web will muddy its image.

So what is the image the Obama policy would like to reestablish? The photo ops with Iran's Mullahs, Damascus' bloody dictator, Caracas's populist leader, or Khartoum's genocide perpetrator? Some Obama future Presidential advisors (if he wins) have been advocating a policy of humanitarian aid only. They argue that the US should act as a peace force only. Who are they kidding? Why wasn't the US able to send humanitarian aid to the Kurds before the removal of Saddam Hussein, or establish a corridor in Darfur as long as Bashir is obstructing it, or help the North Koreans from starvation? The "academic circus" who pretend to understand the world better than your average citizen have shown us their brilliance in the 1990s. They were given eight precious years of a post-Soviet era and they failed miserably. 

McCain's plan for a better American image isn't clear but US actions to give democracy a victory are the best long terms investments to get that image restored, because unfortunately, the systemic failure of the Bush Administration to use its own resources in the so-called war of ideas is a fact. A McCain White House will have to reform all resources authorized by the taxpayers to draw support around the world from hearts and minds. A McCain Administration will have a severe uphill battle to reach out to the natural allies around the world, and the Greater Middle East in particular: the peoples. Unfortunately, as we know from their advisors-to-be, an Obama Administration will cozy up with the oppressors worldwide as a way to "change" America's image. It will only send humanitarian assistance -- and cameras to cover the show -- if and when the bad guys allow it. That is not a change in image that the masses around the world would want to see. My choice is between the uncertain success and the certain failure, I take the first.   

Defeating Racism in America

One noble cause I would support without hesitation is to see a minority man or woman become the President of the United States. What a joy to see the son of an immigrant, a matter I can relate with directly, enter the White House. This is the country I decided to emigrate to almost twenty years ago. In the past quarter of a century, I saw the nation I joined wholeheartedly rapidly rejecting racism. An African-American General in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then Secretary of State, and then an African American woman becoming a national security advisor only to succeed her predecessor as a Secretary of State as well. A Middle Eastern American from Michigan becoming an Energy secretary, Hispanics and Asians across Congress and the executive powers including in the cabinet, and finally a half African American nominated for the Presidency of the United States, and very possibly a head of state in 2009.

That's how racism has been defeated at the highest levels. But I resent the imposition of an ideological worldview on good hearted Americans under the aegis of the racism issue. For Senator Barack Obama to be nominated by a major Party is an ultimate defeat to racism. But his election to the Presidency is about his agenda not his (half) race. We would be all happy to see a minority becoming a President but not to use such an equation to give a pass to an international agenda which would hurt minorities and underdogs around the world.

To defeat racism and oppression of minorities worldwide the next President of the United States should be determined to save Africans from genocide, ethnic minorities from persecution in the Middle East and women from suppression across the Third World. That mission isn't determined by skin color in Washington but by commitment to confront the oppressors of any type around the world.

Had the Obama agenda been unequivocally pro-freedom internationally, rejecting concession to totalitarianism, and very precise in identifying the threat doctrines of the terrorists, then he could have won my support with little questions asked.    

The heart of the matter

Unlike many of my colleagues with whom I share counterterrorism views for the future, my choice for the next President was not shaped by the most visible components of the debate. It wasn't "Joe the plumber," "spreading the wealth," the real estate crisis, the financial meltdown or the battle for taxes. These are crucial issues but I believe the economic problems we're facing need more than one presidency and a mixture of solutions to address them and solve them. Pure Socialism or unleashed Capitalism aren't going to fix the economy or satisfy the frustration of millions of Americans over the next decade.

Maybe the two party system isn't able anymore to provide full answers in the 21st century. As a Political Scientist and a US citizen I think that the American system will correct itself gradually simply because there are no larger middle class societies around the world than the American one. The swing between liberal and conservative measures every decade or so are regulating factors until an appropriate system is found. But this normal swinging is now occurring during a world conflict and can be affected by outside forces aiming at the nation as a whole. It is Constantinople which is targeted, not its emperors. Those who are set on voting for Obama because they fear for their social security and healthcare and those who want McCain because they fear high government taxes are right to be concerned in their own way. I am concerned for a state of affairs where we may not have a national homeland, let alone either high taxes or a solvent social security program.

Homeland Security First

Yes, we need to live our lives the best we can; consequently, we need to make the best decisions about the next President and his agenda. But all that has to happen not in a void, but in the context of a secure homeland. Twice in this decade we saw the country vacillating. In September 2001, the coming down of the twin towers was an end of a peace era. Last September 2008, the coming down of our financial towers was an end of an era of economic security. Beware of a "September" that could bring down the towers of our national security.

The flames of the urban uprisings in France, of the train bombings in Madrid, of the subway blasts in London and the school massacre in Beslan are only handwriting on the wall. The OPEC aggression against the US economy, the formation of gas cartels by Iran, Qatar and Venezuela with the enticement to Russia to join; all that are just ominous signs of what is ahead. And in such a world environment, US homeland security seems to be where the final game will be played. As an analyst of terrorist strategies, I do believe that the most dangerous stages for our national security are yet to come and my concerns are very high as to how to address them.

The penetration of our systems, including educational, legal, bureaucratic, technological, defense and security by the Jihadists is ongoing and is projected to expand. The world may have harsh crises but no crisis can equate the collapse of US Homeland Security. Al Qaeda has often stated that it wishes to commit genocide of four million Americans, including women and children. Iranian President Ahmadinejad and his regime have openly stated that a world without America is possible and better. These attitudes, if anything, indicate that the American national homeland is a target, a real target. If the enemy is successful one time in blasting our defense system to the core, the entire debate about the economy is over because there won't be one to discuss.

There are large segments in our society which have been disabled from understanding that the nation is at risk. They were made to think that this war against us is a matter of foreign policy and a President who can just "talk" to some people out there will simply solve it and maintain the paychecks flowing. Many among us don't understand that the world around us can simply crumble if we don't have leadership that can strike a balance between defending the country and the free world and at the same time managing the economy successfully. But the bottom line is that these two are linked, deeply linked.

Senator McCain declared that the threat to the Homeland is a movement and an ideology, Jihadism. Senator Obama didn't tell us if that is his view as well. Instead we saw shreds of political alliances between his campaign and groups affiliated with this particular ideology. I am not impressed with the "Weather Underground" network story as much as I am concerned about the access the political Jihadists will have to US National Security.

If that happens, Homeland Security will be at risk. Hence until I get answers to this fundamental question from Senator Obama's campaign, I do have a national security concern. Until then I can project a spread of Jihadi sympathizer networks within the country and even throughout many layers of Government. Over four years, and possibly eight, such a growth would become malignant. Over less than a decade, Americans could find themselves in situations never experienced since the Civil War.

One ballot today -- regardless of the sincerity and good intentions of candidates in November 2008 -- can affect where and how future generations will have to fight for survival years from now. A strong counter argument was made to me about my concerns: among the national security advisors and experts to enter the executive branch with an Obama Presidency are people who see this threat with clarity, so why the concern? My answer as an analyst in Jihadi long term strategies is that, in the absence of a defense doctrine that identifies the threat, no one can guarantee that the enlightened counter terrorism experts potentially moving in as of January 2009 will be there the following year, in four or even eight years from now. This is the real bottom line.

If the Obama campaign had provided a strategic document on the Jihadi threat, my entire case wouldn't have been necessary. I haven't seen such a document or even a simple statement. Moreover, what convinced me that we're dealing with a potential change toward the worse in US National Security are the writings and declarations of those who constitute the Senator's academic and security elite. In fact, not only we may get four more years of the Clinton eight years -- when the Terrorist doctrine was missed catastrophically -- but we could get four years of unparalleled threat growth. I do hope I am wrong and I am still hoping I will get answers before Election Day.        

Freedoms and Educating the public

Last but not least, and for the first time since the end of the Cold War, there seems to be a concern about a scrupulous respect for freedom of the press and of expression in some "ideological" quarters of a potential Obama Administration. Although I do believe that the Senator from Illinois has kept a strong record on the necessity of a balanced debate regarding the nation's fundamental issues, and although Senator Biden has been a proponent of free speech, there are signs that radical groups could use Government positions to harass media that would be critical of an Obama Administration on national security grounds.

What's more is the dangerous possibility that (short of a counter Jihadi doctrine) elements of Wahhabi and Khomeinist advocacy circles would take advantage of a "new direction" to strike at the counterterrorism community in the private sector, targeting the advances made for the last seven years in educating Americans about the threat. Such a development would be a red line for the nation's defense. To be direct about it, already under the Bush Administration, the Wahhabi and Khomeinist lobbies have wreaked havoc throughout the bureaucracy, blocking major reforms needed to educate civil servants and citizens to learn about the threats looming over the country and its next generations. Under a McCain Administration there are no guarantees that the "Jihadophile lobby" will recede, but chances are much higher for new counterterrorism education to make a breakthrough than under an Obama Administration.

Under the latter, Muslim reformers in America won't have an equal chance with the Jihadi pressure groups to have their message received by their communities. Middle East dissidents will have their stories marginalized in the public sector so that it won't perturb the deals to "be cut with the regimes in the region." All that is predictable and projectable, hence the options are really limited if not set in terms of choice.

The choice  

On the one hand, Senator Obama has a character to be admired and has skills to make other politicians jealous. He would make America look very good. Had we not been in a confrontation with the Jihadist forces worldwide, I would have gladly voted for him. Strange as it may be for many of my colleagues, his alleged "socialism" doesn't intimidate me, nor does his "radical liberalism." America's society will only absorb what it can digest.

On the other hand, Senator McCain is a national hero and a product of real American traditions. I would have liked for him to have been elected in 2000 so that he would have been the Commander in Chief on September 11 (with all respect due to President Bush). There are other men and women who are also qualified to lead this nation in these politically and economically trying times such as Senator Clinton, Governor Romney and others. But our political process has selected McCain and Obama and one of them has to become the President.

"Primo vivere" says the Roman adage. You've got to survive first and you've got to be free too. I have learned this the hard way. Hence in this 2008 Presidential election, I will vote on national security, that is national survival. All other issues are linked to our ability as a nation to make it through these very critical years. After having reviewed the two platforms from that perspective, and short of discovering what can change my analysis in the next few days, I wish Senator Obama good luck and, as a registered independent, I will vote for Senator McCain for the President of the United States.

Ultimately Americans will decide about their future and whatever it will be, we will continue to try to make it better for our children.  

Dr. Walid Phares is an academic, author and analyst.