Manipal, India — In 2004, this columnist annoyed some of his U.S. friends by rooting for George W. Bush for the U.S. presidency over his rival, John Kerry. The reason was simple: It was the first presidential poll since 9/11, and a Bush defeat would have given oxygen to the fanatics now hiding in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas. They would have ascribed a Bush defeat to no factor other than themselves, as would thousands of others of like mindset.
George W. Bush has his faults – including a blindness toward the deeds of his financial backers – but his pulverization of both the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Saddamites in Iraq ensured that al-Qaida must cross a very high bar to ensure its geographical preservation before taking on the U.S. homeland again. Unfortunately, the gains in Afghanistan are being reversed by a disastrous follow-up strategy.
Kerry would almost certainly have been tested early in his term with a determined probe, if not an actual attack – though the odds that this war veteran would respond less forcefully than Bush may have been close to zero.
By this logic, it may seem preferable for John McCain to become the next U.S. president, for even Barack Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, believes that Obama would be tested early in his term, the way Kerry would probably have been.
The odds are high it will be Obama rather than McCain who will be speedily tested by the fanatics. But 2009 is not 2005. Outside Pakistan and those parts of Afghanistan where NATO has shut out the Northern Alliance, al-Qaida is weak – relying on life support from a network of sympathizers fired up by perceived U.S. injustices in Iraq.
Should Barack Obama be elected on Nov. 4, the odds are high that most of this network would decide there was insufficient reason to risk hitting a population that had just elected a president with a Kenyan Muslim father. They would most likely either withdraw or dilute their support for such an action, thus weakening the blow substantially.
The mindset of those who provide a support base for Osama bin Laden and his cohorts is based on their own concepts of morality and ethics. A McCain win would indicate to al-Qaida sympathizers that the "international anti-Muslim global conspiracy" still retains its presumed grip over the United States, and would therefore energize their support for operations against the world's most powerful democracy. Hence, although the blow may take longer to fall, it would likely be much harder and more deadly were McCain to become the 44th president of the United States.
In 2004, this columnist looked only at the immediate threat of an attack on the United States, forgetting the impact Bush policy would have on the spread of the jihadi mindset within vulnerable populations. In 2009, worry about an individual attack is less crucial than the need to dry up the breeding grounds of the fanatics, which Bush-Cheney occupation policies have helped create.
In the last four years, hatred toward the West has increased considerably within the Muslim world. This has manifested in the willingness of even middle- and upper-class women to wear the traditional abaya in many countries. This is less a religious statement than a sartorial protest against what is seen as a resurgence of Western colonialism in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Barack Obama is partly wrong in thinking the Afghan theater needs more NATO troops. What is needed is the mobilization of anti-Taliban elements within the population, as was done in 2001 and 2002, before NATO began its Pakistan-induced policy of eliminating the Northern Alliance.
Also needed are attacks on safe havens within Pakistan, to snap the supply network that has given muscle to the Taliban. Obama seems to support this. If the United States follows in the footsteps of the Soviet Union and leaves the bases inside Pakistan unmolested, NATO will go the way of the Soviets before long.
Under a President Obama, the silhouette of the United States within the Muslim mind would likely shift to a less oppressive imprint. This would lower the ability of al-Qaida to win recruits and cash, thus helping to defeat an organization that is spreading like a cancer in societies across the globe.
Were Obama to do what he has said and complete a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, the result would be not chaos but stability. Sadly, most within the United States and Europe still seem to buy the argument Winston Churchill used to withhold freedom from India – that the country "would descend into chaos if the British were to leave." Certainly John McCain thinks so.
As for the present financial meltdown, Obama is much more likely than McCain to ensure that those responsible for the present situation are punished. This needs to take place before the rest of the world will again trust Western financial institutions and governments with their surpluses.
Finally, the election of an African-American by an electorate still dominated by white voters would draw the poison from those who claim that people of color will never be allowed to succeed in a white-majority country – even though this proposition has already been discredited by the success of Indians and other Asians in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
President Obama would be the herald of the ancient Indian dream of "vasudhaiva kutumbakam" – the world is one family – he of mixed Kenyan-Kansan blood, with people of so many nationalities as his close relations. Almost a year ago, this columnist wrote that "an Obama win could win the world." Nothing has taken place since then to change this view.
-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)