Terrorism: What Kerry Should (But Will Not) Say

Whatever the precise odds that the U.S. will be hit by a Madrid-style terror attack before the November elections, the possibility of such an attack hangs over our public life like a cloud. Our leaders tiptoe around the specifics of the issue. Indeed there probably isn’t much that the Administration can do, beyond what it is already doing, at least in its foreign policy.

But John Kerry can help to deter such an attack. A pre-election terror wave would likely be intended to get Kerry elected and therefore to shift U.S. policy toward accommodationism. That might not be what would actually happen after an attack, but it’s probably what the terrorists expect.

Kerry could lessen the odds of an attack by reducing its expected payoff. He could do this by stating, unambiguously and repeatedly, that he rejects appeasement and that, if he is elected, he will redouble President Bush’s efforts to eradicate Islamist terrorists and the regimes that support them. Of course, to state the issue in this way is to make clear that Kerry is unlikely to follow through. (See Dick Morris’s analysis of Kerry’s political dilemma.)

In this regard, the fact that Kerry has had his running mate state publicly that some of America’s more flaccid allies prefer Kerry to Bush is reckless. It encourages the terrorists to see a big payoff if, as they see it, they hit us hard enough to get Bush defeated. NATO is weak, Chirac is weak — our enemies see this even if some of us do not, and will correctly conclude that a country that chooses weak allies is itself weak. The kind of political posturing that Kerry and Edwards are doing is dangerous, and for this reason alone they are not qualified to be elected.

8 thoughts on “Terrorism: What Kerry Should (But Will Not) Say”

  1. To quote Paul Krugman (who, I’m sure, is particularly popular on this blog) from his 7/21 column: “[W]hen Tom Ridge offered a specifics-free warning about a terrorist attack timed to ‘disrupt our democratic process,’ many people thought he was implying that Al Qaeda wants George Bush to lose. In reality, all infidels probably look alike to the terrorists, but if they do have a preference, nothing in Bush’s record would make them unhappy at the prospect of four more years.”

    Hard not to agree with the last sentence.

  2. How wonderful! Another terror attack is all but inevitable, and only one man can prevent it: John Kerry! The terrorists probably read all his news releases very closely. All he needs to do is post one on his website in which he lets the terrorists know that he will come after them even more forcefully than President Bush has. And the terrorists will mumble “Oh, well, okay. Guess not, then” and go back to sleep. Fantastic! I think you’re just after Tom Ridge’s job, aren’t you? Come on, Jonathan, admit it!

  3. Craig B.,

    Krugman hasn’t answered the question of why the terrorists struck just before the Spanish election. The Spanish electorate appears to have gotten the message. Even if the election outcome wasn’t a consequence of the attacks, it looks like a consequence of the attacks and thus encourages similar attacks in the future.

    The interesting thing about Krugman’s last sentence is that it begins with the words, “In reality,” but is composed entirely of opinion and unsupported assertions. I don’t agree with Krugman’s speculations, so perhaps I am out of touch with reality. In any event he hasn’t made his case.

    Herb Richter,

    You seem to be responding to a different blog post than the one that I wrote. I wrote that Kerry “can help to deter” and “could lessen the odds” of an attack. You haven’t shown why I am unreasonable to think so. Sarcasm isn’t a substitute for argument.

  4. Great link, Scott! Thank you.

    Jonathan G ewirtz, actually sarcasm can be a substitute for argument, but you have to be able to read between the lines a bit to understand what it’s getting at. But I’ll humour you.

    First off, many, many months of planning and preparation go into a terrorist attack (e.g. more than 20 months in the case of the 9/11 attack). Do you seriously believe that the terrorists would abandon months and months of planning because of a few statements by John Kerry saying that he would go after them as well?

    Second, according to your logic, the terrorists are smart enough to keep up with day-to-day statements by John Kerry and the President, but too dumb to figure out that Americans would unite around President Bush in the event of another terrorist attack inside the U.S. This doesn’t add up, in my opinion.

    Third, we cannot run our lives (nevermind our country) according to what we think that the terrorists might think. Many commentators condemned the Spanish electorate after the Madrid attacks for not re-electing Aznar because ” you … don’t give al-Qaida the appearance of a victory because then they’re going to be bombing another election in other countries” (David Brooks on 3/19). It seems to me that what people like Brooks are saying is this: even if Spanish voters felt that their government had deceived them (by trying to blame the attack on ETA for electoral gain), they should still have re-elected Mr. Aznar’s party because Al Qaeda could perceive the opposition’s win as a victory and try to influence other elections with similar attacks. This kind of thinking gets us into dangerous waters. While Al Qaeda may indeed perceive the Spanish election results as vindication for their tactics, should a democracy really let the fear of future terrorist attacks in other countries keep its citizens from ousting a government that it no longer trusts? If we no longer vote our conscience in an election because of how we think terrorists might perceive the outcome, democracy becomes a futile exercise.

    In the case of the U.S., this means it’s pointless to try and influence terrorists with statements of intent. They don’t care what President Bush does, and they don’t care what a President Kerry would do. The terrorist’s war on the Western world is a war of ideology (David Brooks). These bastards are in it for the long haul.

  5. Herb,

    The issue here wasn’t my ability to read between the lines, but rather the fact that you exaggerated what I wrote, to the extent of changing its meaning, and then mocked the straw man you had created.

    I’ll respond in a separate post to the points which you made in your second comment.

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