A lot can happen in three weeks, and it will. The steady stream of “October surprises” from the media (more scandals, mostly media-contrived) will be poured out on the front pages and television screens. The parties will use every buck in the bank to buy radio and television ads, the Dems trying to nationalize and the Republicans trying to localize (each trying to do what the opponent should). And the highest-paid campaign brains will work day and night to electrify voters in what may turn out to be a low-voltage election. But other hands are at work.
It’s a low-risk, high-stakes game for foreign powers and players. America’s enemies want President Bush’s power reduced and before an election they can stir the pot to do political damage without risking much of a response. Most presidents, and George W. Bush perhaps more than most, want to avoid major problems blowing up in voters’ faces.
To damage Mr. Bush — and perhaps install a Democratic Congress that would thwart his every move — our adversaries need to create doubt in voters’ minds and time their plays to be close enough to the election to prevent an effective response. To say that terrorists and adversary nations want to hobble the president with a Democrat Congress is not to say that the Dems are in league with bin Laden or Kim Jong-il. They’re not. But those who would benefit most from Congressional actions such as hobbling the NSA terrorist surveillance program or reducing funds for the Iraq battle aren’t America’s friends. Who benefits most from blocking the appointment of conservative judges who reject the application of European law to American cases? It’s not the ACLU: it’s nations that sponsor terrorism and want it to be a matter for the Justice Department to handle, not the Pentagon.
Foreign powers and terrorist groups have, for longer than any of us can remember, tried to influence American elections. In 2006, we haven’t had another Hurricane Katrina, so the bad guys need to score points in Iraq, the UN and wherever else opportunity can be created. Their record in the 2002 and 2004 elections was about as good as Mark Brunell’s Washington Redskins. Despite rising violence in Iraq, videotaped messages from Osama bin Laden, French posturing and the usual Russian gambits, nothing seemed to move American voters to conclude the Democrats would do a better job of conducting foreign policy. Since the North Korean missile tests in July, there has been a steady stream of challenges to the president, but none were clearly aimed at the election until the NoKos’ now-verified nuclear test. Now the usual suspects will be working overtime.
This week, Hugo “Bush is Satan” Chavez will see if the bribes he paid out in the form of low-cost oil contracts will buy him a seat in the UN Security Council. Chavez doesn’t have the Oil for Food program to run the bribes through, but he may well succeed. Chavez’s campaign wouldn’t be something to take seriously but for the reliance the president has placed in the UN on the North Korea and Iran nuclear issues. Having banked on the UN foolishly, the president will suffer media gloating and another round of international harrumphing if Chavez gets a Security Council seat. Fortunately, most Americans take the UN much less seriously than their government does. I predict that the result of Chavez’s campaign will have no effect on the election. None.
Iraq could be another matter. The Maliki government’s ability to suppress the sectarian fighting is still declining and may be on the brink of failure. For weeks, a variety of sources — some good, some not so — have been predicting a massive attack against the Iraq government and American leaders in the Green Zone just before the election. One such attack was thwarted about two weeks ago. There may be others, and one could succeed. If such an attack succeeded, it’s not clear what the political effect would be here. There would be another tidal wave of condemnations of our Iraq policy from the Dems, but they’ve already taken their best shot and missed. I think the Dems have missed the single key point: Americans believe that the real reason we haven’t suffered another 9-11 is that we’re wreaking havoc on the terrorists Over There. They understand that the best defense of their homes and families is an offense that takes the battle to the enemy. Prediction #2: Americans have assimilated the Iraq conflict sufficiently to reduce its impact this year. Unless something catastrophic happens, Iraq will be only a marginal factor in voters’ decisions.
Concomitantly, to have a significant effect on the election, our adversaries have two choices. They can either produce a significant event on an issue that is at the forefront of voters’ minds, or force those minds to focus on something that’s off the radar.
The hottest issue is nuclear North Korea. The Bush administration intends to capitalize on its UN North Korean sanctions success by sending Secretary Rice to make the rounds among North Korea’s neighbors this week. But sending Rice — instead of the Vice President — casts the trip in the diplomacy-as-usual category, likely to produce neither bankable victory nor damaging failure. Rice minimized expectations saying yesterday that her goal was only to emphasize our willingness to return to the six-party talks. Soon after her return, the NoKos will, if they can, conduct another, larger nuclear test and may couple it with another missile test. Vichy John Kerry is already out there calling the NoKo nukes “the Bush Bombs.” If another nuclear test occurs, this could have a measurable effect on our election. Prediction #3: another NoKo test, a week or less before the election, and a minor negative for Republicans. Iran’s nuke program will stay quiet during this election cycle.
For months, rumors of another attack on Israel — a much bigger one from Iran or Syria — have been circulating. But Iran is too smart to do this now: it doesn’t yet have the nuclear deterrent it needs before making such a move. This may be the October Surprise of 2008, but not 2006. Syria is incapable, and deterred by Israeli air power. That leaves the wild cards. There are plenty of them but only one has any prospect of having a major effect on our election.
It’s a very good thing that Osama bin Laden isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. If he were, he’d send one of those European-looking al-Q members to Havana to kill Castro. With Fidel dead and the assassin suitably shot to pieces, the world would be in an instant uproar, and we’d see a media feeding frenzy in Turtle Bay that would make the UN look like the courthouse in the Michael Jackson trial. America would be blamed and Chavez (Fidel’s most ardent admirer and greatest supporter since Brezhnev) would go to Havana personally to supervise the restoration of the Castro regime. The Cuban-American community would be up in arms — literally — and President Bush would be caught in the middle. And what a fine mess that would be. Like I said, it’s a good thing OBL isn’t that smart. But both Bad Vlad Putin and his funny-named sidekick, Hu Jintao, are.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, May 2006 — click here).
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
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H/T to National Review Online