Wednesday, October 22, 2008

McCain aide fumes over al Qaeda story

Al-Qaeda is watching the U.S. stock market's downward slide with something akin to jubilation, with its leaders hailing the financial crisis as a vindication of its strategy of crippling America's economy through endless, costly foreign wars against Islamist insurgents.

And at least some of its supporters think Sen. John McCain is the presidential candidate best suited to continue that trend.

by Frank James

A lot of push back from the McCain campaign, as one might expect, to the Washington Post's story today on a posting on an al Qaeda linked website that expressed a preference for Sen. John McCain to win the White House over Sen. Barack Obama.

In a teleconference for which the McCain campaign provided a partial transcript, Randy Scheunemann, McCain's top foreign-policy adviser, questioned why the WaPo would run the story in the form it did, with what he called an "inflammatory" headline: "On al Qaeda web site, joy over U.S. crisis, support for McCain."

He also suggested the WaPo cherry-picked information, implying that it was an anti-McCain hatchet job.

Scheunemann said:

"Now The Washington Post can explain why it used the quotes it did. Minimal perusing of the same website they quoted finds many, many other quotations including one which says quote, 'regardless of who wins the election, the old man or the climber, I inform you it will be dealt with according to your policies towards the land of Islam and Muslims.' So they had many alternative postings that they could have chosen to write about but they obviously chose one, for whatever reasons, wherever they found it, why ever they did it, to create an inflammatory headline that is not even supported by its own story and certainly not supported by a full reading of the Post.

To be honest, I had some qualms about the story when I read it. While the posting was attributed to someone named Muhammad Haafid who was identified in the story as "a longtime contributor to the password-protected site" linked to the terrorist group, the story went on to say:

It was unclear how closely the commentary reflected the views of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who has not issued a public statement since the spring. Some terrorism experts said the support for McCain could be mere bluster by a group that may have more to fear from a McCain presidency. In any event, the comments summarized what has emerged as a consensus view on extremist sites, said Adam Raisman, a senior analyst for the Site Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamist Web pages. Site provided translations of the comments to The Washington Post.

"The idea in the jihadist forums is that McCain would be a faithful 'son of Bush' -- someone they see as a jingoist and a war hawk," Raisman said. "They think that, to succeed in a war of attrition, they need a leader in Washington like McCain."

Islamist militants have generally had less to say about Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. Leaders of the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah expressed a favorable view of Obama during the primary campaign but later rejected the Democrat after he delivered speeches expressing support for Israel.

So we're uncertain if the posting reflects al Qaeda's leaders' real thinking. We also don't know whether or not the posting and other jihadi postings reflects some form of psy ops. What if al Qaeda, for its own strategic reasons, would really prefer an Obama presidency but is using reverse psychology?

McCain supporter James Woolsey, a former Central Intelligence Agency director, made a somewhat similar point during the teleconference.

"... If one takes one individual Islamist blogger from one terrorist Islamist blog, who has come up with this statement that it would be good to have McCain in the White House, I think one has to consider the motives. This individual knows that the endorsement of people like him is a kiss of death, figuratively and literally, so it seems to me it's pretty clear that by making this statement that he wants, that it would be a good thing for McCain to be President, he is clearly trying to damage John McCain, not speaking from his heart. So I must say I think the overall structure of the debate as one analyzes it coming out of this story taken at face value is quite remarkable."

This isn't to say that it's not worth knowing what the enemy is thinking. It's always important to know what's on the enemy's mind. It's just hard to be sure if that's what we're truly getting on these jihadi websites.

But even if terrorists prefer one candidate over the other, what do we do with that information? Are we going to allow terrorists to choose our nation's leaders? I doubt that. We're not going to let them or their sympathizers choose our leaders any more than they let us choose theirs.

Which connects to something else Scheunemann said. He tried to turn the tables on Obama by suggesting that if terrorists support anyone, it's the senator from Illinois. This seemed like misdirected anger, kind of like invading Iraq if you're outraged at al Qaeda.

"Now let me be clear. If we are going to talk about who had got support from terrorist groups in this election I am going to read some quotes, I am not going to characterize them, I will let others judge whether the amount of expression of support or opposition whether they amount to expressions of endorsement or opposition. First this week a Hamas spokesman, Ahmed Yousef said quote, 'I do believe Mr. Biden is a great man and we do count on him as also a good partner with Mr. Obama to put the right policy regarding how to handle problems in the region. It is good for America to have the new administration with someone like Mr. Obama and his vision for change. I do believe actually with this administration, the Bush administration, we don't have luck in ending our isolation. We as Palestinians are thinking we might have better luck with the new administration if Obama wins the election. I do believe that he will change American foreign policy in the way they are handling the Middle East.' Now this has been publicly available for several days. Again this is terrorist group Hamas and their spokesperson Ahmed Yousef. The Washington Post did not find time to write a story about that. Not a single story, not a single mention about a very clear statement from Hamas.

"Second, last month when Iranian President Ahmadinejad was in the United States, he was asked by a student whether he supports Democratic nominee Barack Obama or Republican John McCain. This is what president Ahmadinejad, who has called for the extinction of Israel has said, quote, 'the American government 28 years ago decided to cut its own ties with Iran. We do prefer to have relations whereas one of the candidates in this election would prefer that.' I think everybody on this call understands which candidate for president has endorsed unconditional meetings with president Ahmadinejad.

"Three, from Muammar Qaddafi of Libya, he said talking about Obama 'all the people in the Arab and Islamic world and in Africa applauded this man. They welcomed him and prayed for him and for his success and they may have even been involved in legitimate contribution campaign to enable him to win the American presidency.' I'm not sure if The Washington Post ever reported on that. So we have three clear examples here of very strong statements, none to my knowledge have ever been covered by The Washington Post, all are on the record, all are clear, they are not on an obscure website by an obscure individual where words have to be twisted to create headlines that The Washington Post chooses to put on its stories."

I'm not sure Scheunemann win many points from the fair-minded by doing to the Democratic presidential nominee the exact same thing he excoriated the Post for doing to McCain.

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