09 February 2008

Cue the Fear

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

The news did not receive two-inch headlines, but it was there nonetheless – on the Associated Press wire, in the New York Times and Washington Post, and other many places. To quote the Times quoting Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence: “Al Qaeda was also improving what he called ‘the last key aspect of its ability to attack the U.S.’ — producing militants, including new Western recruits, capable of blending into American society and attacking domestic targets.”

On the question of terrorism on American soil, I am more cynical than others, and less inclined to trust politicians, especially ones whose beliefs are as doggedly partisan as those of President George W. Bush. Intellectually, I want to resist the conspiracy theorist’s mindset that imputes terrible, Machiavellian motives to Messrs. Bush and Cheney. Nor am I in any position to disprove or discount Mr. McConnell’s assertions that America is, once again, an increasingly high-profile target for attacks by Al Qaeda.

Still, I as wrote a few weeks ago: “I cannot shake the admittedly cynical sense that our incumbent administration will engineer an October surprise in order to frighten the nation into electing the GOP candidate – the one who will undoubtedly be cast as the law-and-order choice to save our nation.” A slow news trickle about a renewed capability to attack the United States on the part of our Public Enemy #1 – now, as the presidential race takes on a different shape with a presumptive nominee for the Republicans – fits this pattern. It serves a valuable purpose for the tail end of the Bush administration, shifting focus away from the reeling economy and back towards the fear that provokes bad decision-making on the part of both voters and our Congress. It is also convenient that McConnell’s remarks come at the end of Bush’s time in office – when terrorism will soon cease to be his problem, despite the Bush administration’s failure to capture bin Laden six and a half years after the September 11th attacks.

This analysis does not require Machiavelli, and it isn’t very hidden. Today’s front page article in the Times even notes this deliberate shifting of the agenda: “As the party began to coalesce around Mr. McCain, Mr. Bush’s remarks were part of a broader Republican move over the last day and a half that has set the stage for a campaign focused on the nation’s security.” Unfortunately for the average American, what this means is a campaign focused once again around invoking and provoking our fears: fears of being attacked, fears of foreigners in our midst who might attack us. The outcome will be an election more likely determined by emotion than intellect – the results of which do not bode well.


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