Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Osama's Health and the Election

There are reports that "Israeli Intelligence sources" are saying that Osama bin Laden is dead "but his colleagues have decided that Al Qaida and its insurgency campaign against the United States will continue."

This report, if true, appears to deprive Democrats of yet another campaign argument: That the Administration is failing in the war on terrorism because bin Laden has not been personally captured or killed. If Israeli intelligence is the source of this report, it is generous of them towards the Republicans. Things seem to be warming up between Israel and the current administration generally, since President Bush is telling the media that Israel would be right to respond militarily if Israel is attacked by Iraq - which is quite different from his father's approach in the Gulf War. Israel has long made clear its obviously genuine support for an Iraq invasion, even as opponents of that invasion have sought to use Iraq's possible retaliation against Israel against the President's plans.

The issue of bin Laden's personal fate seems to be - and seems to be taken by many Democrat politicians as being - politically important. For over a year, a large number of Americans have viewed bin Laden's fate as an important factor in determining whether the "War on Terrorism" is being won. Already in January of this year, a CBS poll reported:

Despite strong public support for the war, most Americans do not think the United States can claim victory in Afghanistan unless Osama bin Laden, the man believed to have planned the September 11th attacks, is captured or killed. Now, 56% of Americans feel the war in Afghanistan will NOT be won unless bin Laden is captured, while 29% feel the war can be considered won regardless of whether Osama bin Laden is caught or not.

Apparently bin Laden being "caught" and his being "killed" are sufficiently similar for the purposes of this article that the CBS reporter slides from one to the other without comment. There have been some curious patterns in the public's reaction, as the same poll reported:

More women (61%) than men (51%) believe it is necessary for bin Laden to be captured in order for the U.S. to claim victory in Afghanistan. Also, Democrats more than Republicans feel the capture of bin Laden is crucial. Two-thirds of Democrats think if bin Laden is not captured or killed, the war will not have been won, compared to 48% of Republicans who feel the same way.

In February, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said that the United States will have failed in the war on terrorism unless it "finds" (presumably including "kills") Osama bin Laden. Continuing in March. And he has not stopped.

More recently, Florida Democrat Senator Bob Graham, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee who has assumed a significant role opposing the President's Iraq plan, is convinced that bin Laden is still alive. Senator Graham voted against the resolution authorizing an attack on Iraq in part because Osama bin Laden remains on the loose, he has said. Indeed, the argument that capturing or killing bin Laden should take priority over and precede any action against Iraq was used by many, especially Democrats and Democrat aligned commentators, who opposed the Iraq resolution.

And, of course, the Democrat reliance on this theme fades to the ridiculous with Missouri Senator Jean Carnahan's comment: "I'm the No. 1 target of the White House. ... They can't get Osama bin Laden. They're going to get me."

Well, if Senator Carnahan and Israeli intelligence are both right, then it looks like Senator Carnahan can relax. However, since she is an incumbent trailing by 41% to 47% in the polls, it looks like either she or Israeli intelligence is probably wrong.

More generally, if Israeli intelligence is the source of the reports and they are correct, it looks like the Democrats have at least one more problem and one fewer argument.

And, if Israeli intelligence is the source of the reports and they are not correct or adequately supported and the sources know it, their gesture is perhaps even more generous to the Republicans than it would have been if they were just reporting the facts.

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