There was an interesting piece on NPR this afternoon. They interviewed a couple of analysts who study Al Queda and other radical Islamist web sites, posing the question whether the terrorists expressed a preference for one presidential candidate or another and whether they had any plans to try to influence the election (as they did in Spain).
Both of the analysts said that radical Islamist web sites were very quiet about the election, maintaining their standard anti-US rhetoric. But there were a couple of small exceptions.
One of them was an article posted last March that argued that they would be better off if Bush were re-elected president. The terrorist analysis was that as far as policy was concerned, there’s no significant difference between Bush and Kerry; however they felt that Kerry would be more effective at “making unbelief attractive” (i.e. exporting American values) to Islamic countries, something they were concerned about. They also felt that an aggressive United States would make the Islamic countries “wake up”.
The other item summarized chats in Al Queda-sympathizer chat rooms. They also seemed to prefer Bush stay in office, so that they would have the opportunity to exact their revenge on him.
Now I wouldn’t go very far in extrapolating from these two data points.
What I do think is important is the analysis that Kerry would be better at exporting American ideals to Islamic countries than Bush. Many Muslims who are not terrorists nevertheless hate George Bush. Whether deserved or not, Bush epitomizes the great Satan in significant parts of the Islamic world.
Bush, in the debate, seemed to say that all that was necessary to win the war on terror was to catch the last 20% of Al Queda leaders. What he does not to acknowledge is that the same problems in the world that give rise to hopelessness, despair and rage will nurture new terrorists as they read the manifestos of former ones. The war on terror is as much a war of ideals as it is a war of bullets. George Bush is monumentally loosing the first war while he remains preoccupied with Iraq.