Did you go to the polls yesterday believing that if the wrong candidate won, Osama bin Laden and his ilk will be emboldened to attempt further attacks on the United States? If so, this was not the smartest vote you’ve ever cast.
It ought to have been clear a long time ago that it doesn’t matter very much to our terrorist enemies who is in the White House. Republicans suggested that the terrorists were rooting for John Kerry; the Democrats suggested that George W. Bush’s re-election would make the nation less safe. In the end, neither argument made much sense. Terrorists will continue to target the United States regardless of the outcome on Nov. 2.
Many of us regarded John Kerry and George W. Bush as very different individuals with very different policies. To a jihadist living in a cave and praying for the day he might kills dozens or hundreds or thousands of us, however, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush were and remain infidels and crusaders, different only on the margins.
They called Mr. Bush a “Christian dog.” They would call Mr. Kerry the same thing, and we don’t need an especially active imagination to know what they would call, say, Joseph Lieberman. The shame of it is that we seem to have forgotten this very basic idea: Islamic fundamentalists seek destruction of us all, regardless of how we voted this year, regardless of how we feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, regardless of how tolerant we may be of our Islamic neighbors on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights or in downtown Paterson, N.J. We may count Muslims among our best friends, but that won’t count for much if we cross paths with a self-proclaimed holy warrior.
While about half the country seems to disagree with Mr. Bush’s strategy in the war on terror and the other half approves, it’s all the same to the jihadist. The jihadist doesn’t specialize in American political distinctions: He will happily kill liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, Jews and Christians. He will show no mercy, even if you share his opinion of the Bush administration.
How do we know this? Because the tactics of Islamic terrorism do not allow for distinctions between civilians and combatants. We are combatants by definition, regardless of our age or our religion or our political opinions. To be an American, to be a Westerner, to be a non-Muslim, to be a Muslim but an ally of the infidel, is to be targeted as an enemy deserving of slaughter. Militant Islamic clergy call on the jihadists to kill Americans wherever they are to be found. They don’t say “Just kill the Bush voters,” or “Seek out only the Kerry voters.”
Obviously, Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry offered very different policies to combat the war on terror. But in the sharp rhetoric and political posturing of a tight Presidential campaign, it was hard to notice that both men agreed that we are faced with an implacable and dangerous foe. Mr. Kerry, in one of his last campaign speeches, called our terrorist enemies “barbarians.” What else to call men who delight in bloodshed, who behead civilians who coordinate elections or work for humanitarian agencies in war-torn nations?
Regardless of the election’s results, the question for Mr. Kerry’s supporters is this: Do they agree with his analysis of the terrorist enemy? If so, will they support moves that may be necessary to defeat “barbarians,” understanding that the tactics will not be pleasant?
If Mr. Bush has been defeated (the results were not available at this column’s deadline), here is the question for his supporters: Will they rally around Mr. Kerry in this moment of peril, accepting him as the duly elected commander in chief?
It is hard to say with any certainty that the answers to the above questions will be “yes.” Some on the left seem to believe that Islamic fundamentalism can be wished away; some on the right apparently do believe that John Kerry was and remains a traitor who will stand idly by as terrorists gather strength here and abroad.
Political rhetoric in this cable-television age has become so poisoned that it’s hard to imagine any national coming-together in the face of a ruthless terrorist organization that regards not just our leaders or our soldiers or our institutions as its enemy, but all of us. In the campaign’s final days, as the candidates scrambled for every vote in a tight election, neither Mr. Kerry nor Mr. Bush attempted to set the stage for post-election realities. Their job, in the campaign’s final hours, was to divide and divide again.
The terrorist enemy would like to keep those divisions fresh and even more embittered. The new President, his supporters and his foes must see to it that the terrorists fail.