The October Surprise

In every Presidential election cycle there is talk of an October surprise. Usually the talk comes from the party out of power, which expects that the President, whether he is running for re—election or is term limited from doing so, has the ability to manipulate certain news events (generally international events) to assist his party in the election the next month.  In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson began serious peace talks with the North Vietnamese just days before the election.  The news undoubtedly contributed to tightening the race between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat Hubert Humphrey, though Nixon held on to win narrowly.

Occasionally the October surprise refers to a supposed effort by the party out of power to prevent something from happening that might aid the party in power.  Gary Sick created a now thoroughly—discredited theory that Ronald Reagan worked with the Iranians in 1980 to insure that the American hostages in Teheran were not released by the Ayatollah Khomeini prior to the November election, since this would have aided President Carter's re—election effort. The Iranians had toyed with the hapless Carter for 11 months, so it was not too likely that they would all—of—a—sudden decide to make him look good.  But conspiracy theorists have feverish imaginations, and see patterns of misbehavior almost everywhere. 

With the expectation of another tight Presidential race this year, the murmurings by Democrats about an October surprise by President Bush began early in this campaign cycle. No less a personage than former Secretary of State Madeline Albright was heard remarking off—camera that Osama Bin laden was probably already in captivity, waiting to be served up to the public as 'captured' just before the election.  Given the Democrats' paranoia about what Bush is supposedly doing to the country, and their feverish loathing of the President, it was not altogether clear that Ms Albright was joking about this.  I suspect that a fair number of Democrats believe the story will come true.

Were Bin Laden captured late in the election cycle, the Democrats' response would probably be that it should not have taken so long to do it, and had the President not gone into Iraq, we would have accomplished this years sooner.  Piling hypothetical upon hypothetical, my guess is that the public would be very pleased with Bin Laden's capture (or better yet, death), and regard Democrats' whining about the timing as sour grapes. When Saddam Hussein was captured in December, the President's approval ratings jumped ten points in a week.  Osama's capture or killing would be a much bigger deal. Even most Democrats believe he was involved with 9/11.

The big October surprise the White House fears this year has nothing to do with anything Democrats might do.  And Democrats, as Americans, should have the same fears as the President about this surprise. This October surprise would be a reprise of the train bombings in Madrid, which occurred just days before the Spanish parliamentary elections on March 11.  Given the fact that this is America, the great Satan itself, such an attack, if it succeeded, can be expected to be on a far grander scale than what occurred in Spain. Perhaps Paul Krugman, some hysterical Hollywood activists, and the organizers of might believe Bush's re—election would be a far greater catastrophe than another 9/11 type event occurring here. But I think most Americans, and maybe even most Democrats, would not think this way. 

Responding to the charges that the Islamic terrorists succeeded in getting Spanish voters unnerved enough to replace their pro—American government, Spanish officials of the newly elected 'surrender to terror' regime, argue that the shift in the electorate after the bombings resulted from anger at the government for misleading the public about the perpetrators of the attacks. It is in fact the case that the Spanish government did suggest that they believed the train attacks were the work of the Basque separatist group ETA in the first few days after the attacks.  In hindsight, that suggestion was not totally unreasonable. ETA had murdered over 700 Spaniards in hundreds of attacks through the years. There was no history of al Qaeda or other Islamic extremist groups committing terrorist attacks in Spain. Trains had been attacked by ETA before, if not on this scale.  And ETA could have tried to influence an election, just as the Islamic terror groups apparently did. 

But the opposition to participating in the war in Iraq was very strong in Spain, and regrettably, defeatism about standing up militarily to al Qaeda or to Islamic fascists wearing other stripes, has swept over most of Europe, including Spain.  So a majority of Spain's voters decided to raise their arms high in the air to beg al Qaeda to leave them alone in the future, if they elected a government that would run from Iraq.

More important than the truth about why Spanish voters shifted in the last few days before their election is what the Islamicists, who are at war with us, took from that attack and its aftermath. On this count, there is not a lot of argument. Their view can only be that they won, since the Spanish will to fight them collapsed.  In a similar situation, Israel's hasty and disorganized withdrawal from its southern Lebanon security zone in the spring of 2000 encouraged Arafat and his allies in the Palestinian terror groups to begin an intifada and abandon the Oslo 'peace' process just months later.  To their great credit, Israelis demonstrated tremendous resolve in resisting the brutal murderers of this intifada, and Israel has probably strengthened its strategic position by taking the fight back hard against the Palestinian terror groups.

Now, the results in Spain have made the terrorists believe they can change the course of Western elections. Al Qaeda, Iran, Syria, and the others who are trying to defeat us in Iraq, or weaken us at home, must have much greater enthusiasm and ambition for making America bleed badly just before the November election, whether in Iraq or in America.

I believe the country is highly vulnerable to more terror attacks. The 9/11 type of attacks are probably less likely due to improved, if still very imperfect, security at airports. My guess is that the type of passenger action which occurred on United flight 93, would be a lot more likely to occur in the future if terrorists succeeded in beating security and tried to repeat their hijack and crash into a building approach with airplanes.  But terrorists could hit malls, or refineries, or train stations, or schools, or buses, or highways. We are a large, trusting, open country.  We are not a small garrison state like Israel, with security guards everywhere, and military and intelligence services which work well together to foil the constantly planned Palestinian terror attacks. And most regrettably, it is likely that some of the bad guys who mean us harm are probably already in the country. So attempted attacks on the homeland may very well occur.

But I believe that what will be different here than in Spain will be our reaction. Americans have toughened up some during the last few years, and most of us understand that if we give up this fight, the game for all the West, and for civilization itself, is likely lost. We are also not cowards when struck.

It is hard to imagine how the Democrats, even the most hopeless partisans, could successfully spin an argument against the President, if new attacks occurred. Many Americans are aware of what happened in Spain, and are, as a result, less likely to choose to reward the attackers by giving them what they want. If al Qaeda makes clear, with the timing of the next attack, that it wants Bush gone, then he must be hurting them enough to make them want him gone.  Americans understand that the Islamic terror threat will not evaporate, if we just play nice. 

That message of appeasement is what one hears from the Chomskyites, leftists and Saudi—funded Middle East studies departments of America's elite universities —— that we bring these attacks on ourselves by our arrogant, imperialist behavior.  But as in so many other cases, it is the supposed sophisticates who are either clueless, or in some cases, working for the other side. The American people will know better.