The Endorsement From Hell
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, New York Times, October 26, 2008
John McCain isn’t boasting about a new endorsement, one of the very, very few he has received from overseas. It came a few days ago:
“Al Qaeda will have to support McCain in the coming election,” read a commentary on a password-protected Islamist Web site that is closely linked to Al Qaeda and often disseminates the group’s propaganda.
The endorsement left the McCain campaign sputtering, and noting helplessly that Hamas appears to prefer Barack Obama. Al Qaeda’s apparent enthusiasm for Mr. McCain is manifestly not reciprocated.
“The transcendent challenge of our time [is] the threat of radical Islamic terrorism,” Senator McCain said in a major foreign policy speech this year, adding, “Any president who does not regard this threat as transcending all others does not deserve to sit in the White House.”
That’s a widespread conservative belief. Mitt Romney compared the threat of militant Islam to that from Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Some conservative groups even marked “Islamofascism Awareness Week” earlier this month.
Yet the endorsement of Mr. McCain by a Qaeda-affiliated Web site isn’t a surprise to security specialists. Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism director, and Joseph Nye, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, have both suggested that Al Qaeda prefers Mr. McCain and might even try to use terror attacks in the coming days to tip the election to him.
“From their perspective, a continuation of Bush policies is best for recruiting,” said Professor Nye, adding that Mr. McCain is far more likely to continue those policies.
An American president who keeps troops in Iraq indefinitely, fulminates about Islamic terrorism, inclines toward military solutions and antagonizes other nations is an excellent recruiting tool. In contrast, an African-American president with a Muslim grandfather and a penchant for building bridges rather than blowing them up would give Al Qaeda recruiters fits.
During the cold war, the American ideological fear of communism led us to mistake every muddle-headed leftist for a Soviet pawn. Our myopia helped lead to catastrophe in Vietnam.
In the same way today, an exaggerated fear of “Islamofascism” elides a complex reality and leads us to overreact and damage our own interests. Perhaps the best example is one of the least-known failures in Bush administration foreign policy: Somalia.
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