July Surprise?

I saw a link to this story yesterday but never got around to it. It seems that John B. Judis, Spencer Ackerman & Massoud Ansari have found evidence that President Bush would like to arrest Osama bin Laden or another “high value target” soon, preferably in time to draw attention away from the Democratic National Convention, thus creating a “July Surprise” ( a clever variation on the “October Surprise,” which would come right before the election).

This spring, the administration significantly increased its pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban’s Mullah Mohammed Omar, all of whom are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan. A succession of high-level American officials–from outgoing CIA Director George Tenet to Secretary of State Colin Powell to Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca to State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black to a top CIA South Asia official–have visited Pakistan in recent months to urge General Pervez Musharraf’s government to do more in the war on terrorism. In April, Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, publicly chided the Pakistanis for providing a “sanctuary” for Al Qaeda and Taliban forces crossing the Afghan border. “The problem has not been solved and needs to be solved, the sooner the better,” he said.

This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November. The Bush administration denies it has geared the war on terrorism to the electoral calendar. “Our attitude and actions have been the same since September 11 in terms of getting high-value targets off the street, and that doesn’t change because of an election,” says National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack. But The New Republic has learned that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce HVTs by the election.

Even Kevin Drum is skeptical of the motivations of the Pakistanis and others making these claims, however.

Further, even if one ascribes the basest of motivations to the evil lying Chimp-Who-Stole-the-Election-Supreme-Court-Liar-Yellowcake-Plame-Partisan wingnut Bushco, there’s not much here. Presidents always try to speed up ongoing projects to achieve electoral benefit. For example, Clinton stepped up the pressure on both sides to achieve an Israeli-Syria-Palestinian Authority peace treaty in time for the 1996 elections. Second, there’s suggestion in the article that the Administration has avoided capturing these people in order to achieve proper timing. That would be a scandal.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Campaign 2004, Media, Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.