WASHINGTON -- Do the bad guys -- the terrorists in their Afghan caves and Iraqi redoubts -- want George Bush defeated in this election? Bush critics, among them the editors of The New York Times, have worked themselves into a lather over the mere suggestion that this might be so. A front page ``analysis'' in The Washington Post quoted several Republican variations of this theme -- such as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage saying that the terrorists in Iraq ``are trying to influence the election against President Bush'' -- then noted that ``such accusations ... surfaced in the modern era during the McCarthy Communist hunts.''
Intimations of McCarthyism constitute a serious charge. But the charge is not remotely serious. Of course the terrorists want Bush defeated. How can anyone pretend otherwise?
Why are we collectively nervous about terrorism as the election approaches? Because, as everyone knows, there are terrorists out there who would dearly love to hit us before the election. Why? To affect it. What does that mean? Do they want to affect it randomly?
Of course not. We know the terrorists' intent and strategy. We saw it on display in Spain, where a spectacular terror attack three days before the election set off the chain of events that brought down a government that had allied itself with the United States. The attack worked perfectly. Within weeks Spain had withdrawn its troops from Iraq.
Last month, terrorists set off a car bomb outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in the middle of a neck-and-neck Australian election campaign and just three days before the only televised debate between the two candidates. The prime minister, John Howard, is a staunch U.S. ally in both Afghanistan and Iraq. His opponent, Mark Latham, has pledged to withdraw Australia from Iraq by Christmas.
The terrorists may be medieval primitives, but they know about cell phones and the Internet and fuel-laden commercial airliners. They also know about elections. Their obvious objective is to drive from power those governments most deeply involved in the war against them -- in Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere else. The point is not only to radically alter an enemy nation's foreign policy -- as in Spain -- but to deter any other government contemplating similar support for the American-led war on terror.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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