Running Against Osama
Howard Fineman argues that Osama bin Laden is the “stealth candidate” in the 2004 presidential race.
Iraq was the war Bush wanted. But it also was the war OBL wanted. Not even in his most fevered prayers could bin Laden have imagined the propaganda coup offered by the pictures of humiliated prisoners in Baghdad. ItÃ¢€™s unfair, really: SaddamÃ¢€™s murderous sadism went on for decades, largely away from the mediaÃ¢€™s eyes. We are conducting our war in public and by standards of decency and law unknown in the Persian Gulf. But pictures donÃ¢€™t come with context, and these paint us the way OBL wants us to be seen.
Bin LadenÃ¢€™s bet was, and is, that the United States is too weak-willed and economically vulnerable to last for long in a war against jihadis motivated by centuries of hatred for the West. The American public will tire of the fight, and the cost will weaken an economy already facing competition from Europe and China. He hoped to provoke an Armageddon, and now he has one.
Will Al Qaeda try to launch another attack in the U.S. before the presidential election? Probably. How would that effect the presidential election? Hard to say. America is not Spain, but the publicÃ¢€™s patience is not unlimited, either.
Actually, it is much more likely that the American public will tire of the war in the absence of another domestic attack. The 9/11 attacks were a galvanizing event but, contrary to the hype, they did not “change everything.” For most of those not directly involved in fighting the war on terror, it is mere background noise. The willingness to absorb the cost of a war whose provocation is receding into memory is indeed not unlimited.