Will Osama Pick the Next President?

Dick Morris seems to think so:

MORE than any other single individual, more than George W. Bush, more than John Kerry, it is Osama bin Laden who will determine the winner of the election in November. If Americans feel that they are at war, they will rally to Bush. By a strong majority, they feel that he is the best candidate to keep America safe, prosecute the War on Terror, and — even on his worst days — stabilize Iraq. But if they feel that the war is over or winding down, they are likely to vote for Kerry. By similar majorities, most surveys indicate that voters trust him more to create jobs, help the economy, lower health-care costs, stabilize Medicare and Social Security, reduce prescription drug prices, help improve education and protect the environment.

So, the key issue is whether America is at war or at peace. And Osama bin Laden has more to say about that than any other person. If he ratchets up the terror threat to the United States and has us looking over our shoulders and thinking twice before we fly, we will feel at war and will back Bush. But if he lets up and backs off for the election, we will revert back to our peacetime posture and likely elect the Democrat.

It is not unusual in Israeli politics for the terrorists to hold the balance of power in the election in their hands. In 1996, the pro-peace process Labor Party led Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party until right before the election. Then, a wave of terror bombings, unleashed by Hamas and Hezbollah — likely with Yasser Arafat’s blessings — torpedoed the chances of the doves and elected the hard-liners instead. The terrorists on the West Bank have historically favored victories by the hard-liners in Israel so that they can have a hate figure against whom to rally their supporters. With a conciliatory leader in the West, they find it difficult to attract supporters and funds, but with a tough opponent, they can attract lots of support. But in Spain, bin Laden chose to play by different rules, bombing a few days before the election with the clear goal of toppling Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and his pro-American center-right party. Just as the terrorists kidnap troops and civilians from the ranks of America’s allies in Iraq to deter their cooperation with U.S. forces, so the Madrid bombings appear to have been designed to knock Spain out of the war.

Which course will bin Laden pursue?

It’s an interesting argument, although I think Morris’ thesis holds true regardless of Osama’s actions. As I’ve noted before, it’s rather clear that many in the Democratic leadership simply don’t believe that we’re at war; or, at least, they still think the election should be decided on the standard domestic issues rather than on national security. The Kerry campaign,so far, seems not to be buying into that vision, although their answer to the security issue is to remind us that Kerry was, after all, in Vietnam. One suspects that’s not enough.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.