October surprise?

Help me out with something, people.

Conventional wisdom says that one of the reasons Obama is doing so well now is that the economy is in the tank, and Democrats are generally thought of as doing better on economic issues (remember the Clinton years? wasn’t that great? ahhhhh…). So naturally the topic floating to the top of the punditocracy now is what could possibly happen to topple Obama in the two weeks we have left. They need something to fill up the 24-hour news cycle now that any talk of a “horse race” causes spontaneous spit takes. So people are talking about an October surprise, a foreign policy issue that could tilt things back to McCain. And the number one item on everyone’s list is another terrorist attack.

So here’s my question. In a country where we were attacked on 9/11 under a Republican administration, by the very guy the previous Democratic administration kept warning them about, and we turned around and made the attacker stronger by providing millions more recruits to his cause, why would a second attack make us vote for another Republican?

Sorry, but this just doesn’t make any sense to me. I know McCain’s supposed to be tough on foreign policy, but it’s “tough” Republican foreign policy, Bush’s “my way or the highway” attitude that blinded him to Bin Laden while Bush was focused on missile defense (al Qaida, at last count, had zero ICBMs, btw), that got us into this mess in the first place. Obama’s measured, balanced and yes, nuanced approach to foreign policy, being willing to talk to our enemies and then bombing them if they don’t get with the program, seems like a much better way to respond to another terrorist attack than just having McCain blithley reaching for the nuclear launch button while humming Beach Boys tunes.

So please, explain. Why would another attack help the candidate for the same party and the same policies that have given us the last disastrous eight years?

6 thoughts on “October surprise?”

  1. Since you asked for help, I thought I’d offer my perspective.

    The only thing I fear more than having Obama as Commander in Chief is having Palin as Commander in Chief. Thus, I’m likely to vote for Obama.

    Our words and actions have significant consequences. After Kruschev viewed Kennedy as weak, he built the Berlin Wall and tried to send missiles to Cuba. al Qaeda has pointed to our pulling out of Beirut and Somalia as signs that it could defeat us by attacking us. After our invasion of Iraq, Ghadaffi gave up his nuclear program out of fear that he’d be next. (I didn’t quite understand that fear, since he wasn’t important enough to be named in the top three.) And Iran also offered to make peace with Israel and stop supporting terrorists, but the Administration in its arrogance turned them down. North Korea also wanted to talk, but Bush refused them too.

    Obama has signaled that he is likely to accelerate the withdrawal from Iraq. When he was asked what he would do if Petraeus warns against it, he responded that it’s the President’s role to set overall strategy, and the General’s role to implement that strategy. That scares me. Many experts have said that Iraq and the region could descend into chaos if we withdraw too quickly. I think Obama is smart enough to understand that, but he’s painted himself into a corner in order to win the support of the anti-war crowd.

    His nuanced approach to foreign policy concerns me as well. For many years, the Taliban protected al Qaeda in Afghanistan. And Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and others did nothing to help us against them. We made demands, and they did nothing. Only after 9/11 did Bush declare a new doctrine – with us or against us – which was widely derided, and misunderstood. This was not directed at our allies. It was directed at those countries that refused to take sides. Only after we made direct threats – military and financial – we got direct help in fighting al Qaeda from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and many other nations. Just about the only nations to refuse to take our side were Afghanistan and Iraq. (Btw, it’s often said that Iraq had zero ties to al Qaeda. That’s a lie. The 9/11 Commission reported that they had no “operational ties” which means they never plotted anything together. But the Commission also listed repeated contacts between them and described a friendly relationship.) “With us or against us” was the correct posture, and should have been taken years earlier.

    As for missile defense, the point of that is to neutralize the threats from North Korea and Iran. If we don’t have an effective missile defense system by the time that North Korea tests a missile that can reach LA, they will no longer be afraid of us.

    Diplomacy is important. And it’s important to be able to communicate and negotiate with one’s enemies. But it takes naivete to believe that talking can solve every problem. And in some cases, like Kennedy’s meeting with Kruschev, it can be very counter-productive for the country and for the world.

  2. Let me get this straight up front. I’m a veteran. I served in uniform for 6 years, all of them in the Pentagon, walking every day through the E ring where it got hit on 9/11. I signed up in the ramp up to the first Gulf War, and had every expectation of being sent over there if it went badly and we needed manpower to stop what was at the time the world’s 4th largest army.

    In short, I’m no sandal-wearing anti-war hippie. When we have to fight, I’m all for it and I’m all for doing it right. I’m a big proponent of the Powell Doctrine, the use of overwhelming force to break and demoralize the enemy, as we did in the first Gulf War.

    That said, there’s a difference between being strong and being belligerent. Bush’s attitude has alienated former allies and caused our enemies to dig in their heels and become stronger than ever. al Qaida is far larger and more far-reaching today than it was on 9/11 as the direct result of our failed and ignorant response. Terrorism, at its core, is really no different than organized crime. The goal is political change rather than profit, but the patterns are the same. And it is best combated not with tanks and bombs, but with intelligence and law enforcement. The Europeans get this, which is why they’re so much better at catching terrorists than we are.

    We could have neutralized the threats from Iran and North Korea years ago, but instead we’ve pushed them right where we don’t want them to go. They feel they have to pursue nuclear weapons now, because we have them, have talked openly about actually using them (Rumsfeld) and are going to attack them for wanting nukes even if they don’t.

    The Bush Doctrine, that of preventative war even more than pre-emptive war, the determination to never let any other state get to the point were it could threaten us if it wanted to, just makes a lots and lots of people want to threaten us. How to lose friends and alienate people, as it were. It works only because we’re the biggest bully in the playground, but at one time so was Germany. If the rest of the world gangs up on us the way we ganged up on the Nazis (and this is a legitimate, historical reference, so no invoking Godwin’s Law), we lose.

    Obama won’t let it come to that. And if you have any doubts about Obama’s qualifications to be Commander In Chief, ask Colin Powell.

    And please, show me where the 9/11 Commission Report showed that there were “friendly” ties between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaida. He hated Islamic jihadists almost as much as he hated us.

  3. I think Bush has been incompetent, so I can only defend the actions and principles that I support.

    Re alienating former allies, in the lead up to the Iraq invasion, Chirac led the opposition to the US, with the strong support of Schroder and Putin. We now know that both France and Russia had a strong conflict of interest with Saddam paying off senior government officials. Honestly, I blame Chirac for the falling out. And now Chirac and Schroder are gone, and US relations with France and Germany are very strong again. As for Russia, I think Bush’s aggressiveness in supporting democracy in Russia’s neighbors helped to isolate Russia and provoked a backlash. Russia could have been handled much better, but I don’t know if I would sacrifice the freedom agenda.

    Re treating terrorism as a crime, that ignores the broader threat of state sponsors of terrorism with WMD programs. Once a terrorist organization gets control of a biological or nuclear weapon, it’s game over. There’s no effective defense. Smallpox (for example) can be carried into the country in a wallet, and a nuclear bomb can be delivered via sailboat. The principle of mutually assured destruction protected us during the Cold War, but it no longer works when you’re dealing with state-less terrorists and weapons that might not be traceable to their source. This is what’s driving the policy of pre-emptive war.

    Re neutralizing Iran and North Korea, keep in mind that these problems are decades old, and North Korea has broken every promise it’s made, and Iran lied about its nuclear program to the IAEA. It’s easy to say that we could have made a deal, but a deal is worthless if the other side fails to live up to its obligations.

    Re Colin Powell, I’m cynical about anyone who waits ’til the last minute to make an endorsement. I think those people just want a role in the new government. Powell has denied that he’s seeking a role, but admits that he’d have to consider any offer. And Obama has said that Powell will have a role.

    And from page 66 of the 9/11 Commission Report:
    “There is also evidence that around this time Bin Ladin sent out a number of feelers to the Iraqi regime, offering some cooperation. None are reported to have received a significant response.According to one report,Saddam Husseins efforts at this time to rebuild relations with the Saudis and other Middle Eastern regimes led him to stay clear of Bin Ladin.
    In mid-1998,the situation reversed;it was Iraq that reportedly took the initiative.In March 1998,after Bin Ladins public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladins Egyptian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis. In 1998, Iraq was under intensifying U.S. pressure, which culminated in a series of large air attacks in December.
    Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Ladin or his aides may have occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban. According to the reporting,Iraqi officials offered Bin Ladin a safe haven in Iraq. Bin Ladin declined, apparently judging that his circumstances in Afghanistan remained more favorable than the Iraqi alternative. The reports describe friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides hatred of the United States. But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.”

  4. So basically, Iraqi intelligence operatives sat around over beers (non-alcoholic, of course) with some guys from al Qaida and commiserated about how much they hated the US. Meanwhile, Saddam himself continued to undermine jihadists wherever he could find them, thinking them a threat to his authority.

    That’s a pretty far far cry from “state-sponsored terrorism”. In fact, the only provable states that sponsored terrorist acts, like Libya’s involvement in the Pan-Am bombing, have been sussed out by law enforcement and punished by diplomatic means. Such action has seen positive results, such as Libya dropping their nuclear program.

    al Qaida has no state sponsors. They’re international and independent. They have received aid from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, neither of whom we’ve officially attacked in response, but for the most part they don’t need a national government to support them.

    This is a key distinction Republicans who came up during the Cold War tend not to grok in fullness. Terrorists aren’t nation-states and they aren’t necessarily connected to nation-states. Attacking them the same way we attacked the Soviet Union and its satellites doesn’t work.

    In a very real way, Osama bin Laden is the 21st century Al Capone. He’s a crime lord, behind a large and well organized network of criminals pushing drugs and smuggling arms. And if we ever catch him, we’ll catch him by law enforcement, not trying to level central Asia.

  5. I posted here because you seemed like a rational, thoughtful person. But it’s clear that you’ve formed very strong opinions based on misinformation.

    You seem to believe that Iraq was not a state sponsor of terror. That’s completely false. You’ve been lied to by a lot of Democratic politicians as well as liberal blogs.
    Here’s an executive summary of a report about Saddam’s terrorist training and support: http://abcnews.go.com/images/Politics/Saddam%20and%20Terrorism%20Redaction%20EXSUM%20Extract.pdf
    (Don’t get excited about the mention of a lack of a smoking gun between Saddam and al Qaeda. It only confirms what I mentioned earlier about a lack of operational ties.)

    You ignore the fact that Libya gave up its nuclear program only after our invasion of Iraq. Articles at the time described how Gaddafi’s wife was panicked that their children would end up dead like Uday and Qusay. Gaddafi gave in less than a week after Saddam was captured.

    You make an odd blanket statement about “the only provable states that sponsored terrorist acts.” You are apparently unaware of the proof behind terror sponsorship or activities of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

    You seem to be unaware that Afghanistan provided sanctuary to al Qaeda until late 2001. That’s why we launched a military invasion of Afghanistan. Diplomacy and police work failed to solve that problem.

    You seem to be unaware that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have been on our side in fighting al Qaeda. Pakistan probably captured more terrorists than any other country (aside from Afghanistan and Iraq). Saudi Arabia revoked bin Laden’s citizenship in the 90s. He considers the Saudi government his enemy. There are organizations as well as government officials in both countries who side with terrorists, and Pakistan’s position has wavered seriously in the last several years. But it would have been silly to attack them considering that they were actively helping us.

    You seem to believe that bin Laden has central control over an organized terror network. But experts describe his current role as more of a cheerleader than a commander.

    You claim that only law enforcement will ever catch him. But it’s unclear how that would be possible, given that most experts believe he’s hiding in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that it would take either a military force or a missile to reach him.

    And finally, you seem to misunderstand the point of military action, despite your background. Diplomacy and police action failed to get the Taliban to give up bin Laden and al Qaeda. An invasion with tanks and bombs was necessary. If you want to pull out of Afghanistan and leave it to the FBI, you should have a talk with Obama about that. 🙂

    This is my final post here. If you continue to hold onto the same position after this, or if you simply don’t believe what I say, then there’s no point in attempting to continue a discussion. Oh, and please stop reading Huffington Post. They lie.

  6. Okay, admittedly it did take military action to unseat the Taliban, and I wish we’d finished that job rather than letting them back in by distracting ourselves with Iraq.

    But the Taliban didn’t control al Qaida, they just gave them some real estate. al Qaida doesn’t work for any nation-state. They’re not furthering the agenda of any nation-state. And if the aid given them by the Taliban government of Afghanistan was worth committing military force, why haven’t we invaded Pakistan? Or Saudi Arabia?

    And finally, the statement “Youve been lied to by a lot of Democratic politicians as well as liberal blogs” says a lot more about you than it does about me. You’ve clearly consumed too much of the neocon kool-aid if you’re convinced sites like the Huffington Post are conveying liberal lies. Huffington Post doesn’t go anywhere near as far to the left as O’Reilly, Limbaugh and Hannity go to the right. On the left, we try to stay within the realm of truth.

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