The Al Qaeda Factor

In case you missed it, yesterday the McCain campaign was dealt the embarrassment of some al Qaeda sympathizers getting caught on what they thought was a private website discussing what they could do to help McCain win the election. The McCain campaign’s response? “It’s reverse psychology!”

I happened to catch Rachel Maddow talking about, or rather, mocking this line last night, and I came away thinking that was decidedly the wrong tactic to take. You’ll recall that in 2004 there was a lot of noise made about bin Laden’s quasi endorsement of John Kerry just before the election, which the CIA concluded was an effort in reverse psychology on bin Laden’s behalf to drive support to Bush. Bin Laden is a lot of things, but dumb enough not to know how an “endorsement” from him would play in the West is not one of them. Indeed, that’s been a pretty consistent line of operation for al Qaeda, say some nice things about Democrats, let Republicans and the press run with them, and watch the public gravitate towards Republicans who expand the wars that help al Qaeda gin up sympathy.

The difference here, of course, is that this wasn’t al Qaeda deliberately sending out information for public consumption. They were on what they thought was a “safe forum,” talking amongst themselves. It’s only because we were able to hack the site that we know what was being said, and the takeaway is simple. When they think no one is listening, al Qaeda spends their time thinking up ways to help Republicans win elections.

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