President George Bush is “the best recruiting sergeant ever for al Qaeda,” said Sir Ivor Roberts, the British ambassador to Italy, at a closed conference of British and Italian diplomats. According to the September 21 edition of the British-based Guardian, Roberts let the comment slip during a discussion on which candidate Europeans would back if they voted in U.S. elections. Most would vote John Kerry, Roberts said, but “if anyone is ready to celebrate the eventual reelection of Bush, it’s al Qaeda.”
The British government of Tony Blair understandably condemned Roberts’ remarks. But among many international observers, his off-the-cuff comments have become conventional wisdom.
And that should be no surprise: The Bush administration’s religion-laced war on terrorism is precisely the kind of campaign radical Islamists have long accused the West of conducting. The “war of the civilizations” theme evoked by neoconservative ideologues and other Bush partisans neatly mirrors the vision of Osama bin Laden and his fellow Islamists.
That’s one reason recent remarks from various Republican functionaries suggesting terrorists would prefer a Kerry victory ring so hollow and seem so calculated to inject fear into the electorate.
The latest politician to play the terrorist card was House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R‑Ill.), who last week warned that al Qaeda would seek to influence the election and said it would prefer “somebody who would file a lawsuit with the World Court or something, rather than respond with troops.”
Hastert was speaking at an event featuring Vice President Dick Cheney, who struck a similar theme a week earlier when he said terrorists would hit the nation again “if we make the wrong choice” in the election. The speaker and vice president are clearly trying to scare undecided voters off the fence.
Their fear-infected message boils down to this: Democrats are too weak to stand up to terrorists.
The GOP’s chest-thumping rhetoric exemplifies its low-road appeal to the U.S. electorate. Republican strategists apparently believe fear is their best ally, and they have a point: A fearful electorate is more likely to vote for Bush’s swashbuckling, testosteronian foreign policy.
But by trudging down this low road, the GOP opens itself to the much more plausible argument that Bush is Osama’s choice. And by ramping up the fear quotient, the Bush partisans actually provoke the question of whether the administration’s unilateral militarism has made U.S. citizens safer.
As Ambassador Roberts’ comments made clear, Islamists who make up the ranks of al Qaeda and similar groups are much more likely to welcome four more polarizing years of the bellicose Bushites.
In his recently published book Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, a senior U.S. intelligence official (under the pen name Anonymous) said the invasion of Iraq has played right into Osama bin Laden’s hands by inflaming the Islamic world and enhancing the appeal of his beliefs. “I’m very sure they can’t have a better administration for them than the one they have now,” the author told the Guardian in a June 19 interview about the book.
Anonymous is hardly alone in that view. The British-based International Institute for Strategic Studies also reported last year that the war in Iraq has swollen the ranks of al Qaeda and galvanized the Islamic militant group.
And this June, 27 former diplomats and Foreign Service officers formed a bipartisan group called Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change to urge the ouster of a Bush régime it said was unable to handle the responsibilities of global leadership. “Our security has been weakened,” the group wrote. “Never in the two and a quarter centuries of our history has the United States been so isolated among the nations, so broadly feared and distrusted.”
Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a member of the group, told reporters at a Washington news conference, “I think we will in time come to be very ashamed of this period in history and of the role some people in the administration played in setting the tone and setting the rules.”
But we don’t feel that shame, yet. And the Bush administration seems determined to give us more to be ashamed of: its arrogant, extrajudicial unilateralism is feeding the perception that we are targeting the Islamic world for conquest.