Let’s assume that Al Qaeda is planning attacks in the United States in the next few weeks to coincide with the U.S. election and the holy month of Ramadan. We all hope that is not true, of course, but let’s assume, somewhat morbidly, that it is. What kind of attacks might be planned?
I don’t have any particular expertise in this area, but given its importance I thought I would offer some amateurish speculation. First, I think it’s somewhat less likely than it used to be that Al Qaeda would try attacks focused on killing lots of people or destroying symbolic targets. The U.S. response to 9/11 taught that the U.S. isn’t going to back off its policies in response to that sort of attack. Violence perceived as a general “attack on America” boosts morale among those who hate the U.S., but it only stiffens U.S. resolve.
I think the more likely Al Qaeda move would be to try to destabilize the U.S. political system. A weakened United States government might mean a government less likely to pressure Iran, more likely to withdraw from Iraq, and less able to help Israel. I don’t think Al Qaeda leaders care very much whether Bush or Kerry wins; to Al Qaeda, Bush and Kerry probably look pretty similar. The more likely goal would be to get in the way of the government’s functioning regardless of which party it helps in the short term.
What would this mean? One possibility would be attacks (or at least Al Qaeda statements announcing the possibility of attacks) on voting locations on Nov. 2. Fears of attacks at polling places in the U.S. might discourage people from voting; low and uneven turnout could foster a sense that whoever is declared the winner was “Al Qaeda’s candidate” rather than the legitimate winner. Assassination attempts on key politicians and other efforts to target the government (cf. this story) might also be undertaken to try to destabilize the government in other ways.
Of course, this is just uninformed speculation. In the meantime, let’s hope and pray for a safe and quiet election season.