With the publication of two incendiary pieces of propaganda in recent weeks, the level of political discourse between parties has descended into the ranks of presumptive second guessing and outrageously speculative sloganeering. Painting the other guy as Osama's favorite is the new all-purpose character smear among partisans in this fiercely contested election.
First, an independently produced bumper sticker featuring the slogan "Kerry is bin Laden's Man/Bush is Mine" appeared in Louisville, Ky. and received the blessing of local Republican authorities. Jack Richardson IV, chairman of the GOP in surrounding Jefferson County, applauded the sticker's message, saying "Why wouldn't Kerry be bin Laden's man? Bush certainly isn't bin Laden's man." When county GOP headquarters began distributing the stickers, Democrats protested and Richardson replied, "I make no apologies for it."
State level Republicans responded harshly to the Jefferson County GOP's official embrace of the mudslinging slogan, however. Rep. Anne Northup, who represents the district where the bumper stickers were distributed, disavowed the attack, saying, "What campaigns need to center on, debates need to center on and the party needs to focus on are ideas." Richardson defended the stickers' message as a way to stir "legitimate debate as to who will best protect this country in the war on terrorism," but said he planned not to continue offering them at the GOP headquarters. Due to the stickers' popularity—Richardson says the office ran out in a few days—he will now refer interested individuals to the original manufacturer.
On the Democrats' side of the battlefield, op-ed columnist Paul Krugman issued a retaliatory war-cry in the July 20 issue of the New York Times, where he described a hypothetical, terrorism-enhancing "Arabian Candidate" who "would serve [the terrorists'] cause while pretending to be their enemy." Obviously implicating Bush in this thinly veiled caricature, Krugman denounced every aspect of the president's handling of 9-11 and Iraq, ultimately concluding that "nothing in Mr. Bush's record would make [the terrorists] unhappy at the prospect of four more years." While Krugman did acknowledge that, "in reality, all infidels probably look alike to the terrorists," the substance of his editorial points irrefutably at Bush for "play[ing] with eerie perfection into Osama bin Laden's hands."
So who's right? Let's assume for a moment that these claims are serious, and that the exercise of debating which candidate the terrorists prefer has some merit. (Bear with me.)
In March, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, a terrorist group that claims ties to al Qaeda, sent a statement to Arabic newspapers that declared the group's support for President Bush in the election. The statement said that terrorists could not hope to find a candidate "more foolish than you [Bush], who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom." It went on to explain that "Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization. Because of this we desire you [Bush] to be elected."
Clearly the possibility exists that the group was using reverse psychology to influence voters toward Kerry. Of course, the same principle could apply to a May 27 report on CNN that said, "There is some speculation that al Qaeda believes it has a better chance of winning in Iraq if John Kerry is in the White House." But since nothing from a terrorist's mouth can ever be taken at face value, the debate quickly becomes circular, pedantic and fairly pointless.
It is worth considering, however, the extent to which Bush's policies have favored or hindered the terrorists' cause. In Against All Enemies, ex-counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke accused his former employer, the Bush administration, of "deliver[ing] to al Qaeda the greatest recruitment propaganda imaginable and mak[ing] it difficult for friendly Islamic governments to be seen working closely with us." Another Washington insider, a senior intelligence official writing as "Anonymous" (actually Michael Scheuer, forced by the CIA to withhold his name), also lays the blame on the president in Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror for making conditions more favorable to terrorism: "I'm very sure they (al Qaeda) can't have a better administration for them than the one they have now," he said.
Even the State Department admitted, after claiming erroneously that incidents of terrorism had declined, that incidents were actually at an all-time high in 2003 due to the dispersion of al Qaeda's central authority into numerous, regionally based cells. The same report showed that the number of post September 11 attacks was double the number prior to the World Trade Center bombings.
So it seems that despite all the rhetoric, the world under Bush has become more favorable to acts of terrorism. Whether this logically leads to al Qaeda supporting Bush's re-election is absurd and immaterial, since Kerry has yet to prove himself a worthy foe of terrorism. Neither candidate is in a position to brand the other “bin Laden's man.”
Both sides need to tell the partisans to leave the mud at home.