Since at least 1980 — with the infamous Reagan campaign ad claiming that that Ayatollah Khomeini wanted Carter to win a second term — it’s become an article of faith to some that Islamic fanatics want nothing less than Democratic hegemony over all branches of government. The Bushies resorted to this narrative in the weeks leading up to the 2004 elections, reviving the broad “vote for us or you’ll die” rhetorical strategy first introduced (no kidding) by John Quincy Adams in 1824, refined by Johnson’s “Daisy” ad in 1964, and deployed to mixed renown by defense hawks throughout the remainder of the cold war. As someone who doesn’t study voting behavior, I can’t say how persuasive this move actually is, but the evidence suggests that plenty of folks believe it’s effective enough to keep rolling out; like the “War on Christmas,” however, the “terrorists want Democrats” argument will probably grow stale enough even for ordinary people inclined to believe it.
Speaking of the War on Christmas, defender of the faith John Gibson recently rolled out the “insurgents want Democrats” argument again by quoting a Pentagon source who — praise be — argued that the insurgency in Iraq is being accelerated to arouse domestic opposition to President Bush and influence the mid-term elections:
Now why would Al Qaeda want to affect American elections?
Because Al Qaeda needs an American exit date in Iraq, and if the Democrats win, all indications are they will see to it that there is an exit date in Iraq.
Gibson doesn’t bother to explain how a Congress that has ceded virtually all of its oversight responsibilities to the executive branch is going to be capable — even in the event of a Democratic victory — of reversing the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. More substantively, as Marc Lynch explores, American commentators like Gibson evidently feel no need to ask serious questions about what exactly al-Qaeda “wants” in the context of US politics. Examining a long post that appeared recently on the al-Tajdeed forum (run by a Saudi dissident with well-documented ties to al-Qaeda), Lynch oberves:
The author’s premise is that al-Qaeda has consistently intervened in American domestic politics where necessary in order to ensure that America stays in Iraq. Whenever America seems like it might withdraw, he writes, Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri pops up to remind Americans that if they do then al-Qaeda will triumph in their wake – thus goading them to remain. This predictably silences those reasonable voices calling for withdrawal, who are even accused of national treason, and strengthens the voices of stupidity. The author offers several detailed examples, including the 2004 election in which bin Laden ensured that Bush would win and continue his policies in Iraq, and a Zawahiri video last year calling on Bush to flee Iraq and admit defeat which Bush used to silence his critics. Each time al-Qaeda’s leaders speak, he argues, Bush and his party are strengthened, and commit even more firmly to remaining in Iraq… while the mujahideen laugh from the depth of their souls.
The whole post is worth reading, if for no other reason than for its suggestion that al-Qaeda’s ability to effect US elections is as limited as its broader understanding of the American political process.