Monday, July 11, 2005

Of Tin Foil and Terrorism

Immediately after the London bombings on Thursday, the tinfoil hat brigade was in full force, announcing their latest theory: that the July 7 attacks on London were planned by Bush and Blair to hoist their flagging approval ratings. Mm hmm.

Now I'm not predisposed to conspiracy theories anyway, but this one seemed to me to be particularly problematic. First of all, the theory presumes that a terrorist attack is by definition a plus politically for those in power at the time. Yes, we've seen Bush deftly use 9/11 to his political advantage for almost 4 years now but it was most definitely a loser for the Spanish now ex-president after their subway system was attacked on his watch. In addition, neither Bush nor Blair needs to get elected ever again. They've crossed that hurdle. Now, granted, higher support among their respective electorates can only be positive for the leaders, both for Blair's longevity in power and for Bush's ability to ram through legislation and/or judges back in the US. But this attack on London took the "leader of the war on terror" spotlight away from Bush and placed it squarely on Blair. And the world knows, Bush included, that Tony is so much better at this stuff than Bush is. No, W would never go for it, he's the leader of the War on Terror, god dammit, and would never want anyone to forget it.

Now even if I grant the conspiracy theorists all of the above points, I am still troubled by one big problem that an attack in either the US or Britain would seem to cause for Bush: it proves the lie that Bush has been peddling about the Iraq War, perhaps his fifth or sixth justification for going into Iraq, that we're fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them on our own streets. Hmm, turns out we ARE fighting them on our streets after all, Georgie. As Keith Olbermann so eloquently said on his 7/7 edition of Countdown:

Nine days ago, speaking of terrorists and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush told this nation, quoting, “There is only one course of action against them, to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home.” Last October, he had said that the goals of the conflicts around the gulf—we're quoting again—“so we do not to have face them in the streets of our own cities.” Londoners, still steadying shattered nerves and inventorying family and friends, may be questioning the logic of those statements right now.
Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, Olberman seems to be the only mainstream media figure making this connection. The other end of the media spectrum is represented by The LA Times, whose front page yesterday had a "news analysis" piece that would seem to valildate the conspiracy theory rationale. The headline?

After Flagging Support, a Second Wind for Bush
But the article doesn't quote one new poll or any evidence that there is indeed renewed support for Bush or the War on Terror after the London bombings, merely speculation:

"The bombings will give both Bush and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair a boost," said Christopher Gelpi, a political scientist at Duke University who studies public opinion in times of war. "I think the attacks may help slow the ebbing of [public] support over Iraq, because the bombings make [Bush's] point about linking Iraq and terrorism."

"All our data show that Bush's greatest strength is on terrorism, as opposed to other parts of his job," said Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll. "These attacks will remind people … of what Bush's strength is. The most probable effect is that support for the president and his policies will go up in the short term."
Yes, in this media climate, speculation = news and the mere reporting of this speculation is enough to declare in a headline on the front page of a leading newspaper that indeed:

After Flagging Support, a Second Wind for Bush
If anything positive can be said to come out of the horrible events in London last week, it's that there may be an renewed focus on al Qaeda, the organization that actually attacked us on our soil. In addition, it will likely refocus our legislators on securing our ports and our transit systems. As Tim Russert reported on Meet The Press yesterday, the 2006 budget calls for $600 million to be spent on such security; remarkably, this is what is currently spent on Iraq every 3 days.


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