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National Security The War on Terrorism

Al Qaeda v. Barack Obama

[digg-reddit-me]Interviewer: If McCain is elected, then how will the world react?

Bernard Henri-Levy: …The world will react badly. McCain may not be a bad guy, but he will mean – his victory will mean – the revenge, freezing, frightened, shy, rear-guard America. Rear guard. Not vanguard. Not victorious. Not optimist America.

That’s from a new interview with the American conservative movement’s favorite French leftist.

That’s also what former United Nations official Shashi Tharoor said several months ago. Obama represents the confident America, attracting other nations to it’s causes, standing for diversity and freedom and democracy – a country tolerant enough and open-minded enough to elect a black man whose middle name is Hussein president. Obama represents a country that could inspire people like Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan who Colin Powell referred to in his endorsement yesterday and Ali Soufan whose story I first learned from Lawrence Wright and now am reading about in Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side.

Barack Obama is – in the words of Andrew Sullivan:

…the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology… [He] proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.

Perhaps that is why former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke suggests that Al Qaeda may attempt – through the release of a well-timed video or possibly an attack – to affect the election:

Opinion polls, which, as noted above, al Qaeda reads closely, suggest that an attack would help McCain. Polls in Europe and the Middle East also suggest an overwhelming popular support there for Barack Obama. Al Qaeda would not like it if there were a popular American president again.

And of course, Obama’s focus on limiting our involvement in the Middle East as much as possible would help counter Al Qaeda’s plan to defeat America by drawing into multiple conflicts in the Middle East. (Of course, even as this strategy has clearly hurt the United States, this strategy hasn’t been working out too well for Al Qaeda either.) Further, Obama has promised to focus on the central front in the war on terrorism – the Afghan-Pakistan border – rather than the sideshow in Iraq that Bin Laden has been begging us to focus on while he reconstitutes Al Qaeda.

As most citizens of the world see Obama as the clear choice for America, they see the main reason to oppose him to be as being racism – an idea fueled by many Americans at recent McCain-Palin rallies who speak of “Obama’s bloodlines” and use the words Muslim and Arab as epithets. This is an unfair characterization of many McCain supporters – but it is the clear international perception.

The overall point is – the world sees this election as a referendum on Barack Obama, a referendum on whether America will move confidently in the world and re-brand itself in the face of the disaster of the past eight years. John McCain – as good of a man as he may or may not be – cannot be this – which is part of what Powell meant when he said we needed a “transformational” leader. Neoconservatism has been tried and failed (and John McCain clearly self-identifies as a neoconservative); muscular liberalism and bipartisan realism need to be tried.

A victory by John McCain will make Al Qaeda’s job easier. A victory by Obama will make it harder – it will defy the worst stereotypes of America that Al Qaeda draws upon. It will be a victory for the American ideal.

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