October Surprise?

My admiration for Ed Fitzgerald’s political commentary grows the more I read his unfutz. He was an early commenter to FmH and after 9-11 invited me onto a small mailing list where he and similarly thoughtful friends conducted always high-quality considerations of the urgent events of the day. Regrettably, largely because of the energy I devote to FmH, I was more of a lurker than a contributor to his mailing list.

I particularly like his dissection of the possibilities of an ‘October surprise’ from the administration. He is not talking about the often-mentioned theory that they have bin Laden in custody already and will trot him out to the world just in time to influence the vote; Ed thinks the evidence is pretty good that bin Laden is already dead (I have more doubts). What Ed considers are reports in recent weeks that the US has been stealthily shipping long-range missile parts into southern Iraq. At least some of the weapons are of the vintage of the ’80’s armaments the US supplied to Iraq during its conflict with Iran. The obvious implication is that the administration plans some dramatic revelation in the face of mounting criticism about the absence of WMD in Iraq and the upcoming trial of Saddam Hussein.

How reliable the source of this report is remains to be seen but, as Ed notes, it pays to keep our collective eyes open for corroboration. Ed argues that the bump in public approval from such a ‘discovery’ would be small and ephemeral. I hope this is the case, given that it is an entirely plausible thing to expect of the Bush administration. However, the calculus Ed uses to reach the conclusion that the ‘WMD putsch’ would be a bust for the Bush Leaguers is anything but a sure bet. He relies on an analysis of the sequentially smaller bumps in public approval Bush has gotten from each of the recent milestones in the WoT®, against a baseline of mounting public disapproval. My answer is that you can’t handicap the whims of the electorate and that the vagaries of the next seven months could well prime the pump for such a potential coup. So I join Fitzgerald in suggesting the Democrats be very very prepared for the potential ‘discovery’ of WMD around Basra after Labor Day.

By the way, since admiration is often transitive, I should mention that Billmon, of whom Ed Fitzgerald is very fond, has apparently gotten too popular for his own good. His ISP has just informed him, he lets readers know, that he will have to start paying for his bandwidth, presumably because of how much he uses these days; [That’s why I keep FmH under the radar (grin). — ed.] he estimates it is going to run him $3,000/year, which could force him out of the business, to our great loss. He has put up a tip jar on his site and is probably among those most deserving of some assistance from inquiring minds among the weblog-reading public. He’s right; this may indeed be the future of weblogging.

And then
there’s all the breathless reporting on the possibility that Pakistani forces fighting al Qaeda in the autonomous tribal region may have surrounded Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s number-two man and arguably more important to al Qaeda strategizing than its figurehead. In any case, claims that al-Zawahiri was close to capture appear to be so much hot air. Josh Marshall discusses how much egg this all leaves on CNN’s face. Marshall thinks it is too big a coincidence that the Pakistani engagement came right after Colin Powell’s visit to Islamabad, proposing that that would make Pakistan anxious to show the US what a good job they are doing rooting out al Qaeda from its refuges. If so, Powell’s visit was the icing on the cake rather than the cause. It is more likely this action is Pakistani payment of the debt they owe the US after getting a ‘bye’ on their nuclear proliferation activities from the Bush administration. We allowed Musharraf to blame it on a ‘straw man’ (whom, moreover, he pardoned) when all the evidence says it was a widespread conspiracy within upper-echelon Pakistani circles. I wrote a couple of months ago about speculation that the price the US would exact from Pakistan would be to allow a US military operation to look for bin Laden’s forces, which would be a high price indeed in terms of threatening Musharraf’s shaky hold on power by inflaming Pakistani nationalist sentiments. Pehaps he has lobbied hard to have us let him do it instead; if so, how long will we let the Pakistani charade that they are on the verge of hard-fought dramatic success go on? Or perhaps this is an agreed-upon prelude to the US operation.