Is al Qaeda trying to influence the American presidential election?
Former counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke recently suggested that al Qaeda may be trying to do so. After describing al Qaeda's recent attacks in the Middle East (Yemen, Pakistan), Clarke stated that these strikes may have been primarily geared at aggrandizing al-Qaeda's capabilities via the media. He then concluded that "Even more likely is the possibility that al Qaeda would hope the ["media-amplified"] attack would benefit John McCain. Opinion polls, which, as noted above, al Qaeda reads closely, suggest that an attack would help McCain. Polls in Europe and the Middle East also suggest an overwhelming popular support there for Barack Obama. Al Qaeda would not like it if there were a popular American president again."
Clarke does not, however, explain why it is that al-Qaeda eschews a "popular president"or what that even means. Nor does he explain why al-Qaeda would want McCain, of the two candidates, the one who has been more forthright about associating Islamic ideology with al-Qaeda.
Moreover, the recent attacks in Yemen and Pakistan reveal very little: Islamist organizations have been attacking "apostate" governments from the beginning, well before 9/11; there is no reason to tie these events to American elections and certainly not see them as benefiting McCain.
That said, there is plenty of evidence that al-Qaeda has long been interested in influencing the outcome of American elections. Their primary method is propaganda -- those many chastising al-Jazeera communiqués by Osama bin Laden and his Second Ayman Zawahiri that have become mainstays over the years. The most obvious example is when a long bin Laden video surfaced days before the 2004 presidential election (Bush and Kerry).
Then, bin Laden repeatedly portrayed Bush as a war-mongering racist (Bin Laden once even managed to sneak in a remark about the treatment of the American natives at the hands of the white man, and Malcolm X-quoting Zawahiri the treatment of his "black brothers" in America). Bin Laden further depicted Bush Sr as a wanna-be "monarch," who established his sons on "thrones," and was responsible for "the mass slaughter of [Muslim] children."
Bush Jr was portrayed as being "blinded by the black-gold [oil]," which he killed "millions of children in Iraq" for. Bin Laden even managed to mock Bush for the now infamous anecdote -- thanks to Michael Moore -- concerning the president reading a goat-story to children when the strikes of 9/11 commenced.
Bin Laden concluded by saying that peace and security do not revolve around presidential candidates, but are rather in the hands of the people. But he also knew that the people's will is made manifest in the president they elect. In other words, by mercilessly bashing Bush, his father, and his party, with nary a word about Kerry, he simultaneously implied that, if anyone, only the latter has a chance of ushering in peace and security.
More interestingly, in this same pre-2004 election harangue, bin Laden voiced no complaints or grievances concerning the eight year interval separating the father from the son -- the "Clinton era" -- further fueling the notion that the liberal Clintonesque Democrats, ever celebrating diversity, tolerance, and equality, will set the world to right.
At any rate, it is important to note that bin Laden's pre-2004 election message offered nothing new, simply that long list of endless, ever-morphing grievances, with the usual assertion that if only Americans would vote for someone who ameliorates these grievances -- not another "war monger" -- the war would end.
It should be clear by now (see the AQ documents in The Al Qaeda Reader) that the "grievance-mantra" is simply a smokescreen for a much more existential animus that has little to do with America's temporal actions. In other words, all foreign policy aside, bin Laden has made it perfectly clear that nothing less than submission to Islam, what Islamic law demands, will ever guarantee peace between the West and al-Qaedist radicals. Al-Qaeda has repeatedly stated this in their clandestine writings to Muslims. Even so, being utterly incapable of understanding theological doctrines and motivations, let alone apparently even appreciating textual evidence, the Left seems to still be convinced that the root problem is foreign policy, and that the solution is appeasement and concessions. Ex-Cia analyst Michael Scheuer, for instance, not only willfully chooses to ignore the blatant evidence contained in The Al Qaeda Reader concerning that organization's ultimate motivations, but he dismisses it, that is, their own words, as a "neo-con" ploy -- perpetrated by yours truly -- while continuing to characterize bin Laden as, at once, Robin Hood, St. Francis of Assisi, and Thomas Jefferson.
Al-Qaeda and Islamists in general know and rely on such unbridled Western liberal guilt. Indeed, it is not implausible to say that, based on history -- from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton -- al-Qaeda has reasoned that it is always best to have a Democrat in office, someone who, while not taking radical Islam seriously, that is, not appreciating its metaphysical components, will try to appease by making "physical" concessions. And above all, someone who will not wage an offensive war against the terrorists, thereby giving al-Qaeda types worldwide that one thing they desperately need: Time. Time to regroup; time for the Western economy to falter ("We will bleed you like we did Russia"); time for Muslim nations to grow stronger, possibly acquiring nukes. Time to resurrect the caliphate.
Based on all this, what can one expect from al-Qaeda in regard to the upcoming presidential elections?
For starters, it must be understood that al-Qaeda's 9/11 attack, followed by their many grievance-filled communiqués -- which have only received more credence by the liberal Left's assent -- have already taken a toll on American society, mostly by making widespread the notion that "more of the same," that is, another Republican WASP president, will only lead to more of the same strife and terrorism. Hence that profound Democrat slogan: "Change."
This may be precisely what al-Qaeda hoped for with the 9/11 strikes -- to convince Americans that Muslims are really angry, and to reinforce this fact with a barrage of indoctrinating communiqués insisting that this anger is entirely related to US foreign policy. Thus the need for "change," the need to break away from Bush and his party, a popular if unconscious position that an increasing number of Americans from across the political divide seem to be taking. And while al-Qaeda may have planted this seed, the Left has run with it.
Enter Barack Hussein Obama, the ultimate representation of change, literally and figuratively: not only is he a liberal Democrat (i.e., "tolerant," "peace-minded," even "enlightened"); he is black (i.e., understands what it means to be a minority, to be the "other"); and his name is Barack Hussein Obama (i.e., as opposed to yet another George or John -- very Christian names -- he has a decidedly Arab/Muslim name that will surely endear Muslims to America). Who better to make peace with the rest of the, especially Muslim, world? Who better to make them like us?
This notion was most recently articulated by Jesse Jackson who "promised ‘fundamental changes' in US foreign policy [if Obama wins], saying America must ‘heal wounds' it has caused to other nations, revive its alliances and apologize for the ‘arrogance of the Bush administration.''' Concluded Jackson: "Barack is determined to repair our relations with the world of Islam and Muslims. Thanks to his background and ecumenical approach, he knows how Muslims feel while remaining committed to his own faith."
Lest anyone assume that al-Qaeda is not sophisticated enough to connive such a feat of reverse psychology to their benefit, the Madrid bombings of 2004 should be recalled: three days before Spain's general elections, explosions in Madrid commuter trains planted by al-Qaeda operatives killed 191 people and injured approximately 1,460.Three days later, Jose Zapatero and his ultra-liberal Socialist party -- which also went on to legitimize gay-marriage in Spain -- won the election. There is good reason to believe that the Socialist party received a big boost in votes precisely because of the Madrid bombings, as many people were convinced the attack came in response to their involvement in Iraq.
The very day after winning the elections, Zapatero promised to withdraw Spain's 1,300 troops from Iraq, saying, "The war [in Iraq] has been a disaster [and] the occupation continues to be a disaster. It has only generated violence." One month later the last of Spain's troops left Iraq. Bin laden must have been delighted, evinced by the fact that he often indicated this Spanish response as a step in the right direction. More telling is the fact that the first question Jamal Zougam (one of the arrested suspects of the Madrid bombings) asked upon arriving at the Courthouse on 15 March 2004: "Who won the election?' He must've been pleased to know that the terrorist attack achieved the desired result.
Yet while bin Laden's 2004 "political campaigning" worked in Spain, it failed in the US. (After all, Kerry -- not to mention Obama's running mates -- were all white.) Will al-Qaeda try again to influence this year's elections? It may well have reasoned that it's not necessary; the leftist media has already done the job.
Bottom line: without 9/11, the meteoric rise of Senator Obama would have been inconceivable. In this sense, then, Osama paved the way for Obama.
Raymond Ibrahim is the translator and editor of The Al Qaeda Reader.