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From Boston to Baghdad

Matt Zalaznick

Say you’re the homicidal leader of a homicidal terrorist cell. Who would you rather have as your No. 1 enemy – an American president who seems heaven-bent on infuriating the world, refreshing your suicide squads with determined lunatics; or a resident of the White House who at least says he’ll try to rehabilite our poisoned, infidel image?Do terrorists think this strategically? The most ambitious and well-armed ones probably do, having an unpopular enemy is a clever PR move. And because a big terrorist attack right before Election Day might torpedo the Bush administration and its sinking approval ratings, why would the terrorists want to take votes away from such a belligerently inspiring bunch?Now, the Bush administration might have Americans so bleakly twisted in their thinking after another terrorist attack that voters would be afraid to boot out of office the very administration that had failed to secure the homeland. Bush’s political squad has caught on. In the most recent wave of terror warnings, they ratched up their intelligence from hazy, non-specific chatter to photos of actual buildings in New York, D.C. and New Jersey. This, of course, is all wild speculation. But had the Bush and Clinton administrations speculated a little more wildly – or listened to the few wild speculators in the FBI and on their respective National Security Councils – they may have put a few hurdles in the way of the Sept. 11 death squads.And this is not to say support for Kerry-Edwards guarantees the detonation of dirty bombs in Times Square between now and Election Day. But could there be a big attack, say, on John Kerry’s Inauguration Day? Maybe. Because it’s likely we’ll continue to hear a lot from Kerry about boosting America’s approval ratings with the rest of the world – which would be a bigger threat to terrorists than a color-coded fear-o-meter. It’s not wild speculation that the day after a second major attack would be vastly different under a reannointed Bush than an ascendant Democratic administration. With W. in Crawford or Riyadh on the extended vacation he seems to want so badly, the world could probably give the old USA a sympathetic second chance. And perhaps that second time around, a blue-state president and his advisers would not immediately draw up a war plan against some uninvolved dissident regime like Cuba, Venezuela or, hey, why not, Vietnam. A leader from the blue states might actually put America’s and the world’s willingness to help us recover to more powerful effect than inspiring people to storm the shopping mall. But if W. is still in office the second time around, he and his cronies are likely prey even more viciously on the country’s basest fears. They’ll use whatever slim margin of victory keeps them in power to assume they’ve got the mandate to crack down even further on civil liberties – replace librarians with government literary agents, round up every Arab from Manhattan to Minneapolis, seal the borders and send our brave, weary military down any spiderhole the neo-con brain trust says can be easily, even if fatally, occupied. In days like those after the next Day After, America might more closely resemble Saddam-era Baghdad, in all its local tyranny and international isolation, than modernday Boston. We’ll be living in Fallujah, not Philadelphia – maybe even through 2008, when savvy terrorists refuse to endorse the Hillary-Obama ticket and scare us in making Rudy or the Terminator commander-in-chief.City Editor Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or mzalaznick@vaildaily.com


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