The Politics of Threat Levels

Our US govt. tells us that there could be a terrorist attack between now and election day. Apparently, the intent of such an attack is to scare Americans and influence the outcome of the elections as it did in Spain.

First, lets us look at the Spain situation for a moment.  Given the current state of the world, terrorist attacks happen at various times, irrespective of whether the elections are there or not.  Its very hard to say with certainty that Jose Aznar’s party in Spain was booted out of power because of the terrorist attack. The truth is that Jose Aznar led his country into the war against popular public opinion and this in itself could have resulted in the party loosing power.  Once the blasts happened his party promptly blamed the ETA in a great hurry before realizing that they had little to do with the attack. This plus the fact that the Socialist party led by Jose Zapatero, had consistently been against the war and had committed to the withdrawal of Spanish troops, might well have widened the margin of defeat. But its unlikely that it changed the result of the election from possible victory to defeat for Aznar and his party.

In the US, the “elevated” threat level that is currently being proclaimed by the govt. appears to be motivated by politics — drive fear into the public, so they decide not to vote out the incumbent — could be a motive for this increase in threat levels. Opinion polls indicate that President Bush is likely to do a better job of safe-guarding the country in the event of a terrorist attack.  An easy no-brainer way to cash in on this sentiment is to drive up the threat level.  A terrorist attack between now an election day, is only likely to drive up this sentiment even more and favor the incumbent.  So any terrorist attacks executed before the election are likely to help the incumbent than the other way round. (Note: If you are terrorist reading this, you will be ensuring the return of the current President for another 4 year term if you go ahead with an attack prior to the election).

So the ruling govt.’s formula is very simple, if there is a terrorist attack they could say, “look, we told you about the heightened threat”. If there isn’t any, then re-inforce (and possibly increase!) the issue of the threat level. This will ensure that the Nov vote is based on the big question, “Who can do a better job of protecting America” while all other issues fall by the wayside. The Democrats will have to dream up a strategy to counter this if they have to win this election. Meanwhile, as the elections draw closer don’t be surprised if you hear increased threat level announcements from our govt — they could be for real, but they could also be politically motivated.

Author: Pran Kurup

Pran Kurup is founder and CEO of Vitalect, Inc.

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