McCain strategist Charlie Black recently made the mistake of saying what was on his mind, suggesting that another terrorist attack on U.S. soil “Certainly…would be a big advantage to him [McCain].”
The elite commentariat have coalesced around the idea that this represents a gaffe in the Kinsleyan sense, “when a politician tells the truth.” That is, that Charlie Black’s words, while inartful, were essentially true, and that another attack would indeed advantage McCain.
This is all based upon the assumption that, if attacked, Americans would run to the arms of conservatives. So it’s worth asking: What would McCain do if another attack occurred? What would he do that makes us “stronger”? The best predictor of how McCain would handle a future attack is how he handled the past one. Given that he’s already told us that he’s “totally in agreement” George W. Bush’s anti-terrorism policy, McCain’s response to a terrorist attack would probably go something like this: After attacking, but not capturing, the people responsible, McCain would divert troops to another, unrelated front.
As early as December 2001, McCain was calling for war with Iraq. He continues to believe that an appropriate response to the 9/11 attacks was to invade and occupy a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.
– Like Bush, McCain justified the Iraq war with the theory that ‘we’re fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here.’ Former anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke pointed out that “the evidence is overwhelming that our presence [in Iraq] provides motivation for people throughout the Arab world to become anti-American terrorists.”
– Further demolishing the Bush/McCain “flypaper theory,” a new article in Democracy describes the phenomenon of foreign fighters returning from Iraq to apply their terrorist training in their home countries, another negative consequence of the Iraq war.
McCain seems blissfully unaware of any of the consequences of the policies that he has supported over the past seven years, and continues to advocate an anti-terror strategy that has shown disastrous results. Given all this, it’s a bit frustrating to have to contend with the idea that, were one of those results to take the form of an attack on the American homeland, McCain would benefit.
There are signs that this conventional wisdom is breaking down, however. The Raw Story reports on pundits who have questioned “the assumption that a terrorist attack would play to McCain’s advantage.”
It’s also interesting to note that, after Osama bin Laden’s video release right before the 2004 election, the CIA determined that bin Laden had been trying to help, not hinder, Bush’s reelection. Conservatives, including John McCain, should probably ask themselves why Osama bin Laden prefers their anti-terrorism policies to the progressive alternative.