Did al-Qaeda just endorse McCain?

Maybe. Maybe not. In any case, can we now stop arguing about what our enemies want and start thinking about what’s good for us?

If we assume that terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda have at least a basic grasp of U.S. politics, then we have a problem in interpreting the intended effect of their actions on our elections. Since they must surely know that their endorsement of a candidate is the kiss of death, anything they do that seemingly helps one candidate ought at first blush to be interpreted as an attempt to help his or her opponent. That’s especially true of kind words: a tape from Osama bin Laden saying “All good Muslims should vote for our brother Hussein Obama for President” could only be an attempt to elect McCain.

The famous bin Laden tape of October 2004, threatening further attacks on the U.S., certainly had the effect of helping Bush; according to Ron Suskind, the consensus in the intelligence community was that the tape was intended to do so.

On the other hand, it’s possible that some terrorists, like some other people, are stupid, or misinformed, or playing to their own constituencies. Nor, for that matter, is it obvious that they have a good understanding of their own long-term interests: it could be true, for example, both that bin Laden hates McCain and that McCain’s election would forward bin Laden’s cause, just as it could be true that bin Laden and McCain agree that Iraq is the “central front” in the war between al-Qaeda and the U.S. and that both of those hate-peddling dotards are profoundly wrong.

Thus the attempt by the McCain campaign, among others, to label Obama the “Hamas candidate” (in which McCain himself joined) fails to pass either the giggle test or the smell test. It’s just part and parcel of the dishonest and dishonorable and flat-out unpatriotic campaign McCain has been running.

Naturally, the McCainites are freaking out about a posting by a long-time poster on an al-Qaeda-affiliated website arguing that since McCain would be a loyal “son of Bush” his election would serve the terrorists’ ends. The fact that the posting was in Arabic and on a password-protected site not usually monitored by the Western press makes it somewhat more likely that it was intended sincerely rather than as a piece of reverse psychology, but of course it might be the case that Muhammed Haafid is one step more subtle than the average suicide bomber.

For what it’s worth, I agree with what Muhammed Haafid says, though not necessarily with what he believes. It seems obvious to me that the Islamic terrorist movements will be weaker, and the United States stronger to oppose them, under President Obama than would be the case under President McCain or is now the case under President Bush. But he and I might both be wrong.

At least, though, today’s revelation should be (though they probably won’t be) enough to get the McCain campaign and its wingnut fellow-travelers to STFU about the claim that Obama is the terrorists’ candidate. There was always something a bit perverse and disgusting about the idea that we ought to take strategic advice from our enemies, even in reverse.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com