23 October 2008

Who Really Gets the Jihadist Endorsement ?

News has broken that messages celebrating the USA's economic worries have appeared on a Jihadist website. Said website also features posts that endorse Senator John McCain's candidacy:
"Al-Qaeda will have to support McCain in the coming election," said a commentary posted Monday on the extremist Web site al-Hesbah, which is closely linked to the terrorist group. It said the Arizona Republican would continue the "failing march of his predecessor," President Bush. [. . . .] In language that was by turns mocking and ominous, the newest posting credited al-Qaeda with having lured Washington into a trap that had "exhausted its resources and bankrupted its economy." It further suggested that a terrorist strike might swing the election to McCain and guarantee an expansion of U.S. military commitments in the Islamic world. "It will push the Americans deliberately to vote for McCain so that he takes revenge for them against al-Qaeda" (Washington Post)
So is there a terrorist plan in the works? First, we need to be clear that the people posting on the Jihadist website aren't plotting something--they're just speculating. ABC news reinforces this point in noting that "experts" have been all over the website. Moreover, there's been a "lack of chatter" elsewhere about the presidential elections (AP). It looks like someone is simply trying to stir up Americans' fear and anxiety.

As far as al-Qaeda wanting John McCainelected--recall al-Qaeda's previous attempt to influence US elections. Bin Laden issued a tape "endorsing" John Kerry, which effectively ended Kerry's presidential hopes. One theory explaining bin Laden's motivation, as expressed in Ron Suskind's book about the War on Terror, The One Percent Doctrine, has become something akin to conventional wisdom:
According to the book, Osama bin Laden apparently wanted Bush reelected in 2004, and therefore issued a video message which, in the US media, was described as “Osama’s endorsement of John Kerry.” Why he wanted Bush in office remains unknown. In the book, unnamed CIA analysts speculate that this can be attributed to the view that the controversial policies Bush advocated would help recruit Jihadists and would cause the image of USA decline globally due to aggressive foreign policy. [Also see here].
So if al-Qaeda produces a new videotape, an "official" message, which expresses support for Obama, we'll understand why. However, as Jonathan Alter argues, such an event would be an opportunity for Obama to "seem muscular on national security."

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