- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

The current race has been portrayed as a referendum on President Bush. One votes “no” on President Bush by voting for John Kerry. In the post-September 11 world, however, this election is more than a report card on a sitting president. The outcome will define the presidential office, our posture versus terrorism and future American possibilities in the international theater. Security, terrorism and the situation in Iraq, then, are the transcendent issues of the campaign. Three points: one on Iraq, two on the implications of the election.

First, to give context to Iraq ,some background on terrorism. During the mid-1980s thousands of Muslims, many of them recruited and supported by Osama bin Laden, came to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. (This was bin Laden’s first major international involvement.) For the expatriate Islamists the conflict became a jihad.

When the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, it was interpreted by Islamist militants as a religious victory — and a sign: Allah had signaled that the time is now to rise up against infidels everywhere and by violent action to establish fundamentalist Islamic theocracies the world over. If one infidel super-power could be defeated so could the others. For the Muslim fundamentalists regarded the United States and Soviet Union as infidel mirror images.

Thus was spawned the al Qaeda terrorist jihad against America. It is the ancient religious war of Islamism vs. Judeo-Christianity, a war dating back nine hundred years to the era of the crusades — recrudescent with the horror of modern weaponry. So the terrorists are waging a religious war, not a political one.

Not for politics, therefore, have terrorists flocked to Iraq, nor to protest the defeat of Saddam Hussein. They have come to make war against United States and Iraqi “infidels,” democratic elections, insufficiently religious Muslims — against anything and anyone unaligned with their objective of establishing a dictatorial Islamic theocracy.

This means that the Iraq involvement has had two phases. The first was against Saddam Hussein and the Ba’athists. It resulted in a decisive and efficient military victory. The second is the current insurgency which, while involving some remaining Ba’athists, consists mainly of attacks by infiltrated terrorists. It no longer matters that this second phase appears to have been unforeseen by the administration (and by most everyone else). Iraq is now a front line in the fight against organized world terrorism; and we are better off fighting the terrorists in Iraq with our military than in New York with our civilians. But as with all wars involving religious fanatics, a protracted commitment will be required, regardless of who is elected.

It is axiomatic that terrorism must never be rewarded or encouraged, because to do so will beget more terrorism. This basic principle projects two potential implications of the 2004 presidential election.

The terrorists hope to claim credit for sabotaging the electoral course of the United States It is not that they “prefer” John Kerry or George Bush. But if the incumbent loses the presidential election, Islamist terrorists will boast that Allah has blessed their insurgency in Iraq with the political demise of the leader of their greatest and satanic enemy. Their cause will be encouraged, and their ranks will swell with fanatical, homicidal and suicidal recruits. The rewarding of terrorism (as perceived by the terrorists) will generate more terrorism. Thus the security/terrorism issue transcends the cadidates.

Furthermore, if Mr. Bush loses the election, he will become the second president in a row (after President George H. W. Bush) to fail in a re-election bid after having undertaken a successful military mission (with a coalition but mainly under U.S. initiative), with very modest casualties, against a criminal tyrant and for no imperial objectives. That such an endeavor both times begot political rejection would not be lost on future presidents.

A new caution will enter the political lexicon, as advisers counsel presidents to “Remember the Bushes.” It will make the United States more hesitant to lead in international affairs — even in humanitarian causes, such as Kosovo. Such reluctance will discourage our friends and embolden our enemies. In a dangerous world with deadly forces pursuing objectives inimical to Western Civilization, a weaker, irresolute America portends a foreboding future.

Avi Nelson, a political analyst in Boston,was an issues consultant to Reagan campaign.

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