In The War Of Ideas, Bush and McCain Wield A Wet Noodle

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Commentary’s Gabriel Schoenfeld warned of a “growing pro-Obama/anti-McCain axis,”* an Ecumenical Legion of Doom that, in Schoenfeld’s telling, includes Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the leaders of Hamas, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmedinajad, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il:

The obvious possibility…is that one or more of these players might do everything in its power to hurt Mr. McCain and help Mr. Obama. Dramatic action keyed to our internal politics is, after all, already a page in some of our adversaries’ playbooks.

Today, Alex Koppelman notes that Schoenfeld’s argument manages to ignore everything that we have learned about the way that groups like Al Qaeda use media:

Schoenfeld…reached back to the 2004 presidential election, writing, “In 2004, Osama bin Laden’s television appearance only a weekend before the presidential election may have been a naked attempt to influence the outcome by reminding voters that he was still at large and President Bush’s policy had failed.”

Conspicuously absent from Schoenfeld’s argument that these various groups would want Obama as president and would take some action to help him, and from his discussion of the 2004 bin Laden videotape, is one very important point: The CIA believed that bin Laden wanted the tape to help President Bush, not his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry.

Indeed, it’s important to recognize what a propaganda bonanza the neoconservative “war on terror” has been for Osama bin Laden, as well as for extremists, Islamic and otherwise, throughout the world. (The only thing that Kim Jong-Il, Ahmadinejad, Putin, and Hugo Chavez really have in common is the extent to which Bush’s arrogant unilateralism has helped justify the further consolidation of their political power.) The attacks of 9/11 made bin Laden a major figure in Arab media and culture; the decision by Bush and the neocons to cast him as the sinister leader of a global Islamofascist movement made him a legend. Simply put, Bush’s policy response to 9/11 has done more to promote bin Laden’s ideology than a hundred 9/11s. John McCain’s insistence on treating “Islamic extremism” as the “the transcendental challenge” indicates that he simply doesn’t grasp this.


*Why do neocons love that word, “axis” so much? Partly because the World War II allusion allows them to indulge their Churchill fetish. But mostly because it enables them to create the impression of an enemy “alliance” where there is no real evidence of any such thing, in order to conflate various extremist groups with differing, and often conflicting, goals and ideologies into a single Islamofascist Frankenstein’s monster, which they can then use to scare the simple villagers who read their magazines into voting for their preferred candidates.

There’s no denying that there are real threats out there in the world. The problem is that conservatives by and large have demonstrated over the past seven years that they are incapable of actually tackling the 21st century threats. They are stuck in a World War II mindset that is irrelevant to today’s challenges — after spending nearly a trillion dollars and grinding down our military, terrorist attacks have increased, the Al Qaeda threat remains real and present, and the positions of autocrats from Pyongyang to Moscow to Riyadh has gotten stronger.