Thursday, October 09, 2008

Predicting Al-Qaida’s Next Strategic Move?

Time is short until al-Qaida’s next attack on the United States. The upcoming elections represent an appealing timeframe for Usama Bin Laden (UBL) to order his next major strategic move.

As discussed in a recent seminar, Al Qaida chose its 9/11 targets for many more reasons than simply the death toll. It chose facilities of strategic and symbolic importance. Some are beginning to question if the attacks on the WTC towers are partially responsible for the decline of the US economy. Even if the attacks did not facilitate the recession, they certainly were designed to strike a symbol of US economic power. Additionally, targets such as the Pentagon and the White House represented clear strategic and symbolic targets of military and political significance.

Additionally, the railway attacks in Madrid, Spain in March of 2004 can clearly be seen as strategic attacks designed to affect the politics of Spain. They occurred within the election cycle that brought Prime Minister Zapatero to power. With this as a basic, but obvious historical example, the United States must be more postured to identify or repel and attack now than ever.

According to Frederick Stremmel, a former FBI counterterrorism analyst, “They know our weaknesses and in some cases how to impact public opinion,” he says. “The best example is the timing of the Madrid bombings which occurred near Election Day in Spain. The Madrid attacks probably impacted the Spanish elections and ultimately led to diminished Spanish government support of U.S. foreign policy.”

In Spain, the attacks occurred to affect Spanish public opinion towards foreign policy. The result was a leadership change that resulted in the military withdrawal from Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing”. But this is not the only historical example that matches an election with an al-Qaida attack. Obviously, the attacks of 9/11, which occurred less than eight months into W’s first term, were also designed to test the new President, and to see what type of reaction his administration would provide. Al-Qaida’s actions forced a new President who promised an internal focus during his campaign to focus on foreign policy for almost the entirety of his eight-year tenure.

With these two separate incidents as examples, the US must clearly be postured for a massive terrorist attack. For certain, al-Qaida will either attempt to affect the outcome of the election by attacking over the next month or it will attempt to test the resolve of our next President.

Stremmel believes that al-Qaida prefers Senator Obama. In the mind of the terrorists, Obama would “swing the pendulum back” to more lenient anti-terrorism policies. As of now, Obama leads Senator McCain in most polls, and if this continues, it would logically follow that al-Qaida would hold off on its attack until after he has won the election. Stremmel believes the optimal time for an attack would be between the election and Bush’s last day in office.

I would strongly recommend that the US not look so narrowly at this attack window predicted by Stremmel. Obviously, public opinion polls of the election will tell us how focused we must be leading up to Election Day. If McCain were to take the lead, an attack might soon follow. This situation would greatly reflect that of Spain’s train bombings. Al-Qaida reasonably would not like McCain as the US President. He has vowed to fight terror just as hard as or harder than Bush.

Furthermore, regardless of who is elected, an attack could follow the model of 9/11, and occur anywhere within the 44th President’s first year of office. Though I certainly agree with Stremmel’s assessment that the election year drastically increases the odds of al-Qaida’s next strategic effort, I would warn strongly that America must remain vigilant and postured for an attack over the next 12 months.

On top of all the political and election reasons that drive my assessment, we must not forget that UBL is an expert of financial matters. The fact that the US is inward focused on an economical crisis will provide the distraction that UBL may need to stage his next effort. A successful attack will ensure that the US will continue to spend billions on the Global War on Terror and the reforms required to counter its threat.

(Ronald Kessler’s article from provided great insight into the development of this argument.)

1 comment:

Delta Blue said...

The probability of an attack before the election is probably low because that would push the polls toward McCain. I don't think it would have the same effect here as Madrid. But if Obama wins, it might be possible that there will be attack later, like you say.