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If "terrorists are plotting to influence the US Presidential election", what outcome are they hoping for?
August 8, 2004 11:55 PM   Subscribe

Terrorism Question: I've heard repeatedly in the news and read in several news articles that terrorists are plotting against the United States in hopes of influencing the Presidential election. What does this mean, and how to they expect to influence it? [More Inside]

It would seem obvious that if there was another terrorist attack, the country would rally around George W. Bush, as they did after September 11th when his approval rating was at an all time high of 90%. Assuming this is true, when the White House says Al Qaeda is planning to influence the outcome of the election, aren't they effectively saying that the terrorists want Bush to win? Are they admitting that his policies are helping Al Qaeda's cause, and increasing the threat of terrorism worldwide? If the terrorists are endorsing Bush... shouldn't voters know this, and shouldn't that be motivation to vote against him?

Or am I wrong? Is the news media and the White House assuming that another terrorist attack would make Bush look like he's not doing his job, and alienate voters?
posted by banished to Society & Culture (39 answers total)
 
There are really several distinct angles to the question, and they don't really have much to do with each other. I would suspect that all infidels look alike to most 'terrorists', and by that I mean the truely fanatical members of terrorist organizations who really are bent on destroying the West.

As for Americans themselves, I think we can say that Bush was given a pass on Sept. 11th because the public was so surprised and disoriented by the attacks that all they really wanted was someone to tell them everything was OK. If something big happens again there will be room for a more critical judgment of the response, and if Bush pulls another 'the pet goat', he's toast, plain and simple.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:26 AM on August 9, 2004


I look it as if there is another terrorist attack, Bush won't have a leg to stand on as the only thing he's done in the past 4 years is pretend he's made some headway against the terrorists and claimed that America Is Safer Now. An attack would prove he's as full of shit as any intelligent person already thinks he is.
posted by dobbs at 12:37 AM on August 9, 2004


Sure, Bush is giving them "war with the west" they want. Different leadership may not fall for this trap. Kerry is a variable, with Bush you know there may be more mid east wars and more anti-american sentiment.

Why would the corporate media, most of which is owned by Republicans really address this issue? I don't see the logic in losing access to the white house, burning bridges, etc if you're main motivation is the bottom line and toeing the party line, especially when the GOP keeps promising more media deregulation.

Kerry's recent announcement of rolling back troop numbers in Iraq must have Al queda sweating. How are you supposed to recruit more foot soldiers when the "colonial enemy of Islam" wants to get out. How can you have a good old fashioned religious war without both parties being fundamentalists?

You can't. Al queda needs Bush and they know it. From Who would al queda vote for:
As Reuters reported an letter from an al-Qaeda group said “it supported U.S. President George W. Bush in his reelection campaign, and would prefer him to win in November rather than the Democratic candidate John Kerry, as it was not possible to find a leader ‘more foolish than you (Bush), who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom. … 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 civilisation. … Because of this we desire you (Bush) to be elected.’ It seems pretty clear this isn’t reverse psychology.
This may have been debunked, not sure.

On preview I strongly disagree that a major attack would hurt Bush. All Bush has to do is play the revenge card and "our intelligence isn't so good" and he'll me more popular than ever. If my fellow Americans haven't figured out how bad Bush is for us by now, I doubt more dead bodies is going to help.
posted by skallas at 12:41 AM on August 9, 2004


There are really several distinct angles to the question, and they don't really have much to do with each other. I would suspect that all infidels look alike to most 'terrorists', and by that I mean the truely fanatical members of terrorist organizations who really are bent on destroying the West.

I would suggest the Spanish attacks and their implications demonstrate that this isn't the case.
posted by biffa at 2:21 AM on August 9, 2004


I would think that if there was another terrorist attack just before the elections, Bush's popularity will lift again.

it comes down to whether al Queda want Bush in so that they have a guarenteed enemy to fight or if they want him out and take a gamble on someone we have no real idea of.

Unfortunately, I expect a lot of people have decided that al Queda just want blood regardless of the reason. I'm yet to decide on that one.
posted by twine42 at 2:36 AM on August 9, 2004


To me, two things seem obvious...
I've said this before, and on matters of international politics, I'm usually more wrong than right

1) Al Qaeda want Bush to stay in power. Every week he's in power probably guarantees another bunch of conscripts to the Al Qaeda cause.

2) Populist opinion would have it that terrorist attacks may keep Bush in charge, but despite the "cold dead hand" posturing of the American Right, I suspect that mob-opinion tends more towards a concept of retreat. I actually think that a terrorist attack near the elections would provoke a similar response as Spain. Kerry would win the Election, America would move out of the middle east, and after a year or so, Al Qaeda would be back to getting recruits the old fashioned way.
posted by seanyboy at 5:33 AM on August 9, 2004


There's a possibilty of this turning into something that's more suitable to the front page, but I've got one other point to make...

People state Al Qaeda's aims as being to destroy the West. I find this difficult to believe, and I think it's akin to saying (for example) that Esso's aim is to sell oil. I believe that just like western corporations, Al Qaeda's main aim is to be as big and as powerful as possible. The product they sell is terrorism, the thing that they really want is power and more market share.
posted by seanyboy at 5:40 AM on August 9, 2004


My take on this is that Al Qaeda's ideological leaders are not interested in such penny ante questions as US elections. They see this battle in terms of centuries, not years. The great American imperialists will remain the enemy whether there are five troops in the middle east or five hundred thousand. And there will always be recruits as long as there are poor, angry and easily swayed teenagers.

But with Al Qaeda becoming more of a dispersed ideology than an organization, there may be some affiliated groups that looked at Madrid and said, hmmm. I still don't think any of them care who is president, but they might be attracted to the propaganda coup of being able to claim to have shifted an election (and they could say that no matter which way it went, probably).

I strongly believe an attack would ensure Bush's reelection, with all the SUVs sprouting flags again, but there are others (see above) who think it would ensure his defeat.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:47 AM on August 9, 2004


They want to destroy the west because the west is stopping a new greater Islamic Caliphate or something. Our meddling/invading/pressure in the region, whether bec of Israel or oil, is the fuel on the fire. Osama's spoken of the fact that our troops were on Saudi soil (where Mohammed was) and that it was an abomination. Each time we prop up a dictator, or invade, or push for western-style democracy, etc, it stops the flowering of the kind of Islam Al Qaeda wants to see.

Bush is the best thing to happen to Al Qaeda ever.

/my opinion
posted by amberglow at 5:52 AM on August 9, 2004


Also, Skallas - that Al Qaeda letter saying they want Bush in office came from the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, which also took credit for the New York blackout last year. I say they are full of shit, but Ashcroft apparently believes them (he announced that AQ is 90% ready with a plot based on a Masri Brigades communique.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:05 AM on August 9, 2004


An attack prior to the election could either help or hurt Bush, depending. If in any way he or his administration fairly is to blame for lax security it hurts. If it looks to voters like all reasonable precautions had been taken then he probably gains some support.

The simple analysis of Spain is that an attack just prior to the election scared voter about Iraq and boosted the peace candidate. I think this is what the administration either fears or proclaims to fear. In reality it seems as if the Spanish voters were more upset by the government trying to blame the attack on Basque separatists, despite their knowledge that it was likely Al Qaeda, that turned the voters against the then current government. In either event if an attack occurs and it is not perceived to be Bush's fault it will only strengthen US resolve in Iraq rather than weaken it.
posted by caddis at 6:07 AM on August 9, 2004


... in Iraq?
posted by DrJohnEvans at 7:31 AM on August 9, 2004


Is anyone talking about polling places being bombed? If there was a pattern of bombings in the morning, terrorists could scare, say, urban voters away from the polls in the afternoon, skewing the election results.
posted by callmejay at 8:23 AM on August 9, 2004


It's fairly obvious to all but the most twisted that another attack in/on the US would help Bush get reelected. So it makes no sense to attack the US between now and Election Day.

We are not the pathetic weak people of Spain.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:42 AM on August 9, 2004


If this election is supposed to be all about security, a demonstration by the current adminstration that it is not able to competently protect the public would do nothing but shift the election to Kerry.

If the guy in the chair can't do his job, it's time to get someone else.
posted by bshort at 9:03 AM on August 9, 2004


BShort: You are so completely wrong.

Just as the Yankees lose games, and even the most competent political leader's actions may be associated with deaths, a President's policies/actions would have to be perceived as incompetent in the extreme for, in war time, the incumbent to lose.

In contrast, there have been no attacks on US soil since 9/11, and Iraq--despite the quasi-lunatic rantings of the Left--has actually gone well.

So, at this juncture, any attack that does occur would likely lead to rallying around President Bush.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:29 AM on August 9, 2004


Buuuut these are all personal opionions, and this is Ask, and nobody's going to get upset and start shouting, so you'll just have to take from it what you can.
Love, Sean.
And ParisParamus.
and bshort
posted by seanyboy at 9:32 AM on August 9, 2004


Er, Paris, rallying around Bush is what the terrorists want. So it would make perfect sense to attach before the election. Help's the terrorists' favoured boy get re-elected. Ne pas?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:41 AM on August 9, 2004


I laugh when I think about them bombing my polling place. It's a little Lutheran church two blocks from my house, in a residential Seattle neighborhood that will probably go overwhelmingly for Kerry. All my polling places have been tiny nonentities that never even look like polling places until the day of the election, when they put out a flag.

Maybe it's different in Manhattan or something.
posted by GaelFC at 9:48 AM on August 9, 2004


I searched for polls asking what effect a terrorist attack would have on the election, and it was hard to find data, but here are two results.

Time, 8/6. "If there were a terrorist strike before the November election, 66% say it would have little impact on their own vote. The remaining voters split on how an attack might affect their vote: 16% say an attack would make them more likely to vote for Kerry, while 15% say it would make them more likely to vote for Bush.
"Voters split about evenly when asked what impact they believe a terrorist strike would have on the election outcome: 30% say it would improve Bush's chances of election, while 31% believe it would improve Kerry's chances. " Note: In this poll, Kerry led Bush 48-43 overall.


Zogby, 3/21. "If a major terrorist attack were again to hit the United States, 51% of likely voters prefer to be led by Bush as compared to Kerry with 40%." Note: In this poll, Kerry led Bush 48-46 overall.
posted by msacheson at 9:57 AM on August 9, 2004


My search for poll data from above.
posted by msacheson at 9:59 AM on August 9, 2004


In contrast, there have been no attacks on US soil since 9/11, and Iraq--despite the quasi-lunatic rantings of the Left--has actually gone well.

So, at this juncture, any attack that does occur would likely lead to rallying around President Bush.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:29 AM PST on August 9


First, you claim "no attacks" as if it's a positive for Bush (and it is a positive for all of us; we're all on the same team here), then you say an attack would "lead to rallying around President Bush". Wouldn't an attack be a failure of Bush's administration to prevent an attack? Contradiction, ne pas?
posted by msacheson at 10:09 AM on August 9, 2004


I believe I read in the Times (can't find it now) that the terrorists love Bush because he places the war in a religious context (what they want!). Also, Bush's approval ratings in Arab countries are 98% negative. In other words, he's a uniter, not a divider.
posted by xammerboy at 10:14 AM on August 9, 2004


There's no contradiction because people, when scared, go cautionary/conservative; they DIG IN. That's what reelecting Bush would be.

Why would terrorists want Bush to win? Kerry wants to give more respect to the horrific idea of collective security (horrific and the "collective" includes Chirac and Company).

Implicit in the other poster's reasoning (and probably left-leaning reasoning, generally), is that this is all a big joke; not a fight for our survival, and that changing horses in mid-stream is a reasonable idea. Politics in Europe may be viewed as a big sport for the simple reason is the Europeans don't have the military or the balls to go kill bad people. Hopefully, we're different.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:43 AM on August 9, 2004


Gael, it's mostly public schools, libraries, churches, and community centers/social service places here
(like everywhere else in the country, i think)--I vote at a gay church. : >
posted by amberglow at 10:45 AM on August 9, 2004


I suspect that mob-opinion tends more towards a concept of retreat - Posted by seanyboy.

When I read this, my mind went to the MOB.
posted by grateful at 11:02 AM on August 9, 2004


ParisParamus,

Thanks for the reasoned reply. Good answer, but I disagree about who the terrorists would prefer to win.
posted by msacheson at 11:04 AM on August 9, 2004


Comparing to Spain doesn't work. Firstly most of the population was against the Iraq war, secondly the attack was thought to be provoked by Spain's participation in that war, thirdly the government made a hash of lying in an attempt to cover up. I don't see any similarities in America.

For what it's worth, I think people are too entrenched for another attack to make much difference. Kerry supporters will say it proves Bush is asleep at the wheel, Bush supporters will say it proves that the terrorist threat is every bit as serious as they said. Sure, if it could be proved that Bush had let it slip through then he'd be in the shit - problem is that that would take weeks at least by which time the election would have passed.

Finally, if I was a terrorist I'd be hard pushed to see any difference between the two. They both wanted the Iraq and Afghan wars and neither wants to pull out, they both talk tough on terrorists, neither is likely to release all the guys in Gitmo.
posted by dodgygeezer at 11:45 AM on August 9, 2004


"The message also addressed the speculation that the terrorists would try to replicate their political success in Spain by disrupting the November U.S. elections. “We are very keen that Bush does not lose the upcoming elections,” the authors write. Bush’s “idiocy and religious fanaticism” are useful, the authors contend, for they stir the Islamic world to action."
The New Yorker
posted by xammerboy at 12:30 PM on August 9, 2004


a President's policies/actions would have to be perceived as incompetent in the extreme for, in war time, the incumbent to lose.

How fortunate for John Kerry, then, that President Bush's policies and actions are incompetent in the extreme.
posted by Vidiot at 12:50 PM on August 9, 2004


Why would terrorists want Bush to win?

Er... because Bush makes it dead easy for the terrorists to recruit new members? Because Bush has and is framing this as a religious war, which makes jihad a lot more plausible? Because Bush has proven to be ineffectual at stopping terrorism?

Come on, Paris, give your head a shake! Bush is a terrorists best friend. Surely you are not so blind as to be incapable of seeing that truth!
posted by five fresh fish at 1:25 PM on August 9, 2004


"Er... because Bush makes it dead easy for the terrorists to recruit new members?"

This might be true, but I'd have to think about it; are you suggesting that the reality of weaker Kerry could not be spun by Bin Ladden, Yasser, Hamas, etc., to be just as bad? I fail to see how its obvious that Bush being "more bad" does not coincide with a prospective terrorist perceiving a greater chance of being killed or being ineffectual with a President Bush.

In any case, John Kerry is a fake fraud: he was amore Hawkish on Iraq--until he decided to run for office.

PS: Please tell me which countries, experts and/nor international organizations did not believe Iraq had WMDs on the eve of the Iraq War?
posted by ParisParamus at 1:40 PM on August 9, 2004


Yeah, they may stir a few nuclear explosions over Tehran into action...
posted by ParisParamus at 1:41 PM on August 9, 2004


a President's policies/actions would have to be perceived as incompetent in the extreme for, in war time, the incumbent to lose.

How fortunate for John Kerry, then, that President Bush's policies and actions are incompetent in the extreme.

Bush's competence or lack thereof has nothing to do with whether he is perceived as being competent or not.
posted by kindall at 3:27 PM on August 9, 2004


I suspect very few Americans share paramus' view that even if it costs many more lives it's better to kill everyone who doesn't like them at the moment.

PS: Please tell me which countries, experts and/nor international organizations did not believe Iraq had WMDs on the eve of the Iraq War?

Remember weapons inspectors? Remember Saddam bulldozing Al Samoud missiles because they flew 30km too far? The inspectors were doing their jobs. Remember?
posted by Space Coyote at 3:51 PM on August 9, 2004


Space, that wasn't the question. The answer is that EVERYONE thought he had them (I still think they're hidden, or in Syria, or Lebanon).

And actually, Kerry just said he would have voted to go into Iraq even without WMDs there:

http://news.myway.com/top/article/id/381249|top|08-09-2004::17:46|reuters.html

So, who is bullshitting whom? And who is reckless now?
posted by ParisParamus at 5:23 PM on August 9, 2004


(I still think they're hidden, or in Syria, or Lebanon).

Ah, a faith-based program.
posted by Vidiot at 9:40 PM on August 9, 2004


The answer is that EVERYONE thought he had them

Uh, I didn't. (And before 9/11 Colin Powell and Condi Rice didn't either.)

Should I be president?
posted by nath at 1:34 PM on August 10, 2004


In contrast, there have been no attacks on US soil since 9/11, and Iraq--despite the quasi-lunatic rantings of the Left--has actually gone well. ParisParamus

I know I am late to the conversation, but you are wrong FreedomParamus. Does anyone remember Anthrax at all? I'm pretty sure that counts as a terrorist attack on US soil. And as for the Spanish Election, as said above, the reason that it had an affect was because the ruling party lied about it.
posted by plemeljr at 11:06 AM on August 16, 2004


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