By Dick Morris
August 18, 2004
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 -
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?
The current evidence suggests that he will tilt toward an aggressive posture. His recent threat to assassinate American political leaders and the evidence that he may be planning a terror strike to disrupt the elections here indicates that he is planning to become more aggressive as Election Day nears.
If, God forbid, he penetrates our guard and actually succeeds in pulling off a terror strike in the United States, will it help or hurt Bush?
My bet is that it will help. While many will criticize the president for failing to prevent the attack, the immediate reaction will be to rally around the White House and to grasp that we live in a dangerous world and that Bush's superior commitment to fighting terror effectively is the way to go. While nations like France and Spain can be counted upon to react to a terror strike by surrendering and running for cover, the likely American reaction would be quite the opposite - just as Israel's has been.
Voters face a tough decision in November: Are we at war or at peace. Their quandary is reminiscent of that which British voters faced in June of 1945 when they had to vote for Winston Churchill's Conservatives or Clement Atlee's Laborites. Despite the continuing war with Japan, they reacted to Hitler's suicide and Germany's surrender the month before the elections to vote for Labor and embrace a peacetime agenda.
But this year, I think that
bin Laden will remind us frequently and graphically that we are
at war. And I think that may re-elect George W. Bush.
Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Look for his new book, Rewriting History.
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