In a world where leading Western experts have consigned Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to near-irrelevant status, the gangly Saudi is on the verge of seeing the forces he leads and inspires knock off their third infidel government. Not bad for a guy running from rock to rock and cave to cave.
First was the defeat of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar’s conservative government after the Islamists’ 2003 attack on Madrid’s train station. Spanish voters ousted that rarity, a European leader who recognized bin Laden led much more than a criminal gang, and that Islamists would have to be confronted and smashed with a heavy, prolonged application of Western military power. Sadly, Mr. Aznar allowed himself to believe Washington’s delusion that war in Iraq would be an effective, tide-turning extension of the battle against Islamist militancy. He paid the ultimate electoral price for indulging that lethal pipe dream, and the West lost a man who had accurately gauged the severity of the Islamist threat.
Next down the drain was the government of Thailand via last month’s military coup. After the coup, rumors of deposed Premier Thaksin Shinawatra’s corrupt activities spread, but at base the Thai generals seized power because of the increasing intensity of the Islamist separatist revolt in Thailand’s three Muslim-dominated southern provinces. Nearly 2,000 people have died there since 2003, the central government is losing its grip in the region, and Mr. Thaksin’s military response to the unrest was making little progress.
The Thai generals named a Thai Muslim as the new premier, and he has said it is time to slow military operations and talk about autonomy for the Muslim south. As always, what seems reasonable to the West and the westernized Thai will be seen by Thai Islamists and their backers as a long step toward victory that requires more military aggressiveness.
Bin Laden, his lieutenants and their allies are no doubt pleased by the destruction of the Spanish and Thai governments and the exhilarating message it sends to the worldwide Islamist movement: The infidels are weak, politically divided, terrified of using full military power and think we can be appeased. In short, war works; keep at it.
Even so, bin Laden, et. al, know the biggest prize looms just ahead — the chance that the Republican Party will be ousted from one or both houses of Congress. There are many factors contributing to this possibility: the Foley abomination, other corruption cases, the trumped?up “crisis” over First Amendment rights and the administration’s ill-informed and ham-fisted handling of the Iraq and Afghan wars. If the Republicans are ousted, pundits on both sides of the aisle will find the causes strictly in America’s navel.
But what will bin Laden and his Islamist allies think? Well, if Republican defeat comes to pass, they will first thank the Almighty — “Allahu Akhbar!” or “God is the greatest!” — for tangible proof of approaching victory. In Spain, Thailand, and Britain — where Prime Minister Tony Blair suffered the fate of Messrs. Aznar and Thaksin for the same reason, but is leaving gracefully — al Qaeda and its allies see politicians winning power who argue: “The military option has been tried and it has failed. We must seek other-than-martial means to defuse the Islamists’ appeal and power.” As in Europe and Thailand, this has been the refrain of Sens. Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Rep. Jane Harman, and a swath of Republicans who value their seats more than U.S. security.
If Americans vote for what sounds like sweet reason from the Democrats, bin Laden and company will rejoice. What they will hear is the death knell for any prospect of effective U.S. military resistance to militant Islam. With the Republicans out, the Islamists will be confident that Democrats will deliver the best of both worlds: less emphasis on military force and a rigid maintenance of U.S. foreign policies that are hated with passion and near-unanimity by 1.3 billion Muslims. If Osama approved of music, he would be whistling “Happy Days Are Here Again!”
What the enemy thinks is not the sole reason on which to base a vote. I will vote for Republicans, as I always do, because some know unborn babies are human beings who should not be murdered with the Democrats’ joyful zeal. Enemy perceptions are worth remembering, however, because if Americans elect Democrats believing them likely to defeat al Qaedaism, history suggests they will be wrong.
The combination of Democratic rhetoric and the indelible fact of the Clinton administration’s relentless refusal to try to kill bin Laden — preferring to protect its Arab, arms-buying buddies at the cost of American corpses — ensures that voters will receive what Clinton-era Democrats are best at giving: barely disguised pacifism that has and will continue to allow al-Qaeda and its allies to steadily destroy U.S. security.
Michael F. Scheuer, a 22-year veteran with the CIA, created and served as the chief of the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center.