He attacks head-on the central thesis of the Bush administration, echoed increasingly by Republican presidential candidate John McCain, that, as McCain's Web site puts it, the United States is facing "a dangerous, relentless enemy in the War against Islamic Extremists" spawned by al-Qaeda.That's an understatement. As I observed here, the whole website of "John McCain for President" evokes War on Terror Central Command.
Marc Sageman's point has been made before. Journalist James Fallows interviewed many top anti-terrorism experts who agree the "War on Terror" is a foolish approach to national security. Unfortunately, there is a strong possibility reckless foreign policy will make for good political strategy in the heat of the 2008 election campaign. There are three reason to think so.
First, in the event of terror attack on the US between now and November, McCain's stature is likely to be enhanced. His military credentials will stand out. He may appear the wiser and more prescient candidate.
Second, such an attack is not to be ruled out. The last thing Islamic extremists want is a president likely to give the US a softer public image in the Muslim world, and muffle Islamophobia in the West. Terrorists surely do not welcome the prospect of a US president who talks about hope. Surely they would prefer another president who talks up fear. It is in this respect that the campaign platform of John McCain and the desire on the part of Islamic radicals to retain their high global profile converge.
Third, as Goethe said, boldness has a certain power and magic to it. There is comfort in electing someone experienced who says precisely what matters most to him. McCain's message about the terrorists is simple and clear. As Obama still lacks McCain's aggressive clarity about his position on issues, McCain's experience and focus may yet prove a potent combination.**
Can the hope candidate defeat the dangerous candidate? A lot will depend on what happens in the next eight months. Obama would be well advised to position his campaign to meet the challenge of the unexpected.
* h/t to James Fallows.
** I wrote more about that here.